I met former OCA tutor, Jose Navarro, at Mshed on Good Friday and we looked around the Open for Business exhibition which features 9 Magnum photographers who have covered manufacturing in the UK.
The exhibition would appear to have benefited from the guidance of Martin Parr who lives in Bristol and is head of Magnum in the UK. He has photographed the local Aardman Animations who are responsible for the Shaun the Sheep film. Parr has one of his photos on front of the catalogue, a free newspaper, available on entry. Are Parr’s photographs the most outstanding images in this exhibition? They appear to occupy more wallspace than that of any other photographer but there is other work to see that seems to have as much depth possibly more.
Jose was struck by the work of Mark Power whose images formed an interesting web that almost formed a photograph of it’s own. Here were dark shadows out of which machinery and faces loomed. At the bottom of this matrix were two images that revealed feet; the shoe of one of these showed a worn shoe inside which the bottom of a green sock could be seen. British manufacturing, no longer the innovative global force it once was, starting to come apart at the seams perhaps.
Some of the contributors, three out of the nine, are from abroad. Bruce Gilden with his characteristic in-you-face approach has nine close up facial portraits of workers. All of the faces seem a little stressed, at Gilden perhaps, but the creases in their faces might be revealing the tensions of the workplace rather than a reaction to a photographer with whom they have such a brief encounter.
On a wall opposite is the work of Allessandra Sanguinetti from Argentinia who has captured people at work. There is the head of a woman, her hair neatly held back by a net, the headless body of a uniformed worker and the full body of another worker who is crouching in front of a robot. These three images form a triptych the meaning of which is something for the viewer to contemplate.
The other foreigner, the view of those from outside the UK is surely to be valued, is by a Norwegian called Jonas Bendiksen. His colour images are nice slices of industrial life but what makes them of peculiar interest is the fact that some of these colour images are videos and hence change as one watches, their animations giving life to the overall display; there is both stillness and motion. Perhaps the exhibition could be pared down to just a line of animations yet the photographer has not made it that simple.
David Hurn is one of the senior photographers here and he has chosen to photograph a drapers from his home town in Wales. These photos are nicely made and arranged with an interesting triptych.
Peter Marlow has photographed the Black Country and provided some impressive images. One that stands out for me is a close up of machinery. There is a subtle correlation between images with a few portraits standing out to illuminate the dominant mechanical processes with a sense of the human who devised them.
Chris Steele-Perkins shows some interesting but not very striking photographs. In one, a number of workmen peer through a fabricated wall.
Some of the nicest photographs to look at are the large black and white prints of Stuart Franklin. These are not just aesthically pleasing in their tonal range and form, the subjects are also striking such as that of what appears to be a submarine breaking surface (this might actually be some kind of machinery for testing tidal power if the accompanying newspaper catalogue has been correctly understood) it’s’ ominous hull sending water rippling in every direction.
This is a great exhibition tucked away in a part of Bristol that many people do visit but who are probably unaware of the importance of this exhibition. It is due to tour further afield.