Open for Business @ Street Level Photoworks
Now something of a curiosity thanks to a dominating service industry, modern UK manufacturing is the unlikely subject taken up by Open for Business.
In the short while since the phrase 'capitalism in crisis' became fashionable and the stability of Western countries became uncertain once again, an exploration of the evolving British economy's impact on UK industries has only become more relevant.
Entering the now nearly anachronist spaces of factories and yards, there are also images of the inner workings of car manufacturing and Aardman Animations (of Wallace and Gromit fame). A strangeness is cast on the expected large heavy machinery and tools, as Peter Marlow’s photographs are almost alien with striking contrasts and billowing steam. There’s something a bit sci-fi about them.
In contrast, matters become more literal when Bruce Gilden attempts to put a human face on the subject with some portraiture. Known primarily for his unforgiving close-ups, he features several shots of manufacturing labourers. He refuses to glamourise his subjects, and the results are unnerving in their candour. There is an attraction to their untouched starkness and the works grant moments of access to these otherwise closed working communities.
Jonas Bendiksen also takes a person-based approach in his photographic work. However, his most interesting work comes in his short films, which shift the emphasis from the human aspect of manufacturing to a fascination with the symmetry and pattern of basic man-made machinery.
Outside this exhibition, most of the nine photographers commissioned to take part have primary interests that are quite separate from industry. Paradoxically, it’s this lack of conventionally relevant experience that qualifies them to make less predictable response to the subject. As a thoughtful experiment, it pays due respect to the sharply politicised context of industry.