A Factory Through a New Lens
8 April 2013
Think of factories, not just as cold churning machines, but as secluded containers of hidden mysteries. In Format Exposure: Therblig, photography collective Wideyed portray SCA Prudhoe Mill tissue factory as a stimulating space; a living organism that breeds the products we rely upon. The exhibition plays homage to motion pioneers Frank and Lillith Gilbreth, whose ideas about worker's conditions and innovative use of photography has revolutionised factory practice over the past 100 years. Through enticing photography, tactile installations, and atmospheric sounds, Wideyed photographers, Richard Glynn and Lucy Carolan present the wonders of SCA.
Wideyed's photographs are displayed within an atmospheric industrial themed installation. Photographic prints are presented on paper which is mounted upon cardboard tubing and displayed in a uniformed assembly-line arrangement. Each cylinder displays two images, juxtaposing the exterior and interior views and forming a dialogue between a visitor's and worker's perspective. Like the Gilbreth's, Wideyed entered the factory as outsiders with fresh ideas, able to perceive special and intriguing aspects of the environment that workers often overlook in their familiarity with the functional space.
Despite displaying under the collective title Wideyed, the collaborators, Richard Glynn and Lucy Carolan, provide two complimentary yet distinguishable photographic representations of SCA Prudhoe Mill. On the left hand wall Richard Glynn presents his insight, which largely concerns the architectural qualities of the factory and how this suggests usage. His exterior shots, captured through a wide angle lens, present an expansive countryside dusted with a misty winter's morning sunlight. SCA Prudhoe Mill features as an anonymous looking grey oblong nestled into the trees in stark contrast to the rural environment. Although this is an unspectacular and familiar scene, Glynn's photography invests the space with intrigue and mystery through framing the ambiguous and unknown factory as a focal point amongst attractive natural textures in the foreground.
Glynn's interior photographs hint at the workers relationship to their environment through representing the factory's architectural qualities or hidden details. Each photograph takes its name after a basic motion element called "therbligs" which was coined by the Gilbreth's to analyse movements in a task. Glynn's title's such as "search" "select" "rest" "and inspect" may appear ironic as workers are often absent from the compositions, yet the workers presence is always felt. The empty rooms and unattended machinery allows viewers take a more active role in imagining factory activity. These works recall Frank and Lillian Gilbreth's time-lapse photography where they would attach lights to workers hands to leave an impression of their movements. The photographs do not reveal the workers physical appearance, allowing the Gilbreth's to focus objectively on their work patterns. In one of Glynn's photographs 'Transport Empty' the tread marks in the dusty floor results in a similar chaotic line pattern achieved through Gilbreth's method. Many of Glynn's composition show expansive rooms dominated by an elongated floor space, which invites viewers to mentally step into the photograph and imagine the sensation of occupying the environment. Occasionally Glynn chooses to depict a lone worker, but they feature as an element of the environment rather than the sole focal point. The workers are undeniably presented as individuals with internal thought process- not a mere cog in a system.
Lucy Carolan's photographs displayed upon the right hand wall are characterised by a more painterly aesthetic and they reflect her personal interests in SCA. Whereas Glynn's exterior shots establish location, Carolan is fascinated by the outdoor areas belonging to the factory that contain cubes of recycled material that will become tissue paper. The paper blocks feature pleasing colours and textures and they reminded me of ice blocks gleaming in the sunlight. One photograph features a magical cloud of tissue paper dust that looks spectacular like dry ice. Close inspections of the recycled paper reveals interesting details reflecting a personal history. Loved books and magazines now take on new form. Whilst viewing these photographs I became aware of the display and the life cycle of paper- how it was formed industrially, enjoyed as a product, and then is potentially recycled into tissue at SCA.
Carolan is more concerned than Glynn with depicting the identity of the workers within the factory. She combines human expressions with machines, in a way that suggests a natural marriage. My personal favourite, 'Ben MacFarlane', features a working man lit by a florescent light, but Carolan creates an enticing composition filled with expression and resembling a Caravaggio painting. The subject, presumably called Ben, looks directly out at the viewer suggesting pride in his identity as worker. Naming the photograph after a worker places emphasis on individuality rather than just the job. The even sepia colouration has an inviting and nostalgic effect, and the machine feels as though it is an extension of Ben's body. The light shining upon Ben alludes to Gilbreth's study of workers through lights, but Carolan does not present a scientific scene- instead it privileges individualism and emotion.
Perhaps the most eye-catching work within the exhibition is a film of inside the tissue mill, which is projected upon a roll of muslin fabric. Its unusual presentation has an ephemeral quality, and although it clearly resembles toilet paper, it is not conveyed as a mundane domestic object, but as a delicate semi-transparent material. The projection shows a dancing ribbon of toilet roll appearing to have a life of its own. In contrast to the mechanical environment, it regains spontaneity and unpredictability through its fluid pulsing movement. The film plays to a backdrop of industrial sounds, but it is not offensive and jarring; it is a soothing rhythmic sound evocative of a beating heart or a sleeping lover.
The exhibition plays homage to Gilbreth's ideas through showing how work spaces have benefitted from their insight by respecting human needs. I also believe Wideyed plays homage to their photographic innovation which preceded art photography, and influenced artists such as Man Ray and his 1935 'Space Writing' series. Like the Gilbreths', Wideyed unique perspective promotes the special and distinct elements that are not associated with heartless mass-production. The exhibition is filled with curiosity and magic and it has transformed my expectations of factories as banal sites.
Listen to an Interview with Wideyed
Communications Manager Emma O'Neill talks to Lucy Carolan and Richard Glynn from Wideyed about their latest exhibition, Therblig, currently showing at New Art Exchange.