We each relate to work in our own personal way. We may be employed or self employed; we may have just entered the workforce and have specific goals or we may be enjoying well-earned retirement. Working to earn a living is a salient feature of bourgeois society. It defines social status and belonging, while unemployment and not working bears the menace of being ostracized. From its earliest beginnings, photography has captured how, where and under what conditions people work not only by in-house photographers, adhering to the perspective and specifications of the management but also by freelance photographers with an open-ended, unfiltered approach to places of production and trade.
The exhibition,Arbeit/Labour, on view until 8 May 2011 at the Fotomuseum Winterthur
(Gallery of Collections), builds visual and thematic bridges, from the continuing transformation of physical labour in the photographs of Jakob Tuggener and Sebastião Salgado to the automated and computer-assisted work in the photographs of Henrik Spohler. Across continents and decades, it charts the gradual, barely perceptible movements of migration captured in the works of Richard Avedon, Volker Heinze, Ad van Denderen and Beat Streuli.
One year after it was first founded, Fotomuseum Winterthur 1994 presented an exhibition called Industriebild, showcasing the film and photographic archives held by various companies throughout eastern Switzerland (Bühler, Maggi, Sulzer, and others). At the time, the underlying idea was to heighten awareness of the historical value of such archives. In the current exhibition, documents such as those are placed in inter-media dialogue with the present. Albumin prints by Bourne & Shepherd (1870) from the Volkart Fotoarchiv, showing the colonial era of world trade, are juxtaposed with contemporary portraits by western Swiss photographer Nicolas Faure showing families of various ethnic backgrounds under the title Citizens of the World Meyrin.
In individual form, with no external constraints, photographers and artists have created images of labour, ownership and wealth in their own time. Photographs and videos by Lewis Baltz, Joachim Brohm and David Goldblatt are presented here as historical documents that go far beyond the scope of merely recording the facts. These are works that illustrate, comment on, evaluate and interpret different life and work situations.
Applied documentary materials and art photography alike highlight how labour, barely visible as it may be, forms a sediment throughout various aspects of society. The extent to which that affects areas of daily life that are far removed from the actual work process can be seen in photographs of housing projects from the Von Roll photographic archive intended to document the companys social commitment. Peter Gransers aerial view of the grid-like Sun City retirement community in Arizona or Joakim Eskildsens emotionally charged images of the Roma in Greece bear witness to different notions of inner security and outward order.
The exhibition includes a selection of pictures from company archives (Haldengut, Maag, Volkart and Von Roll) on deposit at the Fotomuseum Winterthur as well as works by Richard Avedon, Joachim Brohm, Raphael Dallaporta/Ondine Millot, Joakim Eskildsen, Nicolas Faure, Peter Granser, Guido Guidi, Hans Hansen, Volker Heinze, Boris Mikhailov, Sebastião Salgado, Bruno Serralongue, Jules Spinatsch, Henrik Spohler, Joel Sternfeld, Beat Streuli, Shomei Tomatsu, Jakob Tuggener, Ad van Denderen, WassinkLundgren, Herbert Weber, Garry Winogrand and others.