British workers photographed, Manchester exhibition

Miner, photo at exhibition Grafters: Industrial Society in Image and Words

By Peter Lazenby in Britain:

Lives of industrial workers celebrated in Manchester

Monday 8th February 2016

THE story of the lives of industrial workers spanning two centuries is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the weekend at the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

Grafters: Industrial Society in Image and Words centres on photographs taken of working people from the 1840s to present times.

Among the earliest images is a photo of “pit brow lasses” — women who worked above ground at coalmines, picking stones from the coal hewn below — captured during the 1880s in Wigan, Lancashire.

And the latest is a photo taken of workers on the last shift at Kellingley colliery, Britain’s last deep coalmine, which closed on December 18 2015.

“Grafters is so much more than a memorial to industrial life, it offers an evolutionary record of working life,” explained museum head Chris Burgess.

“With the final death of coalmining, and seemingly ever more redundancies in the steel industry, Grafters questions what the term ‘work,’ and pride in it, means in 21st-century Britain.”

As well as working life, the photos also capture communities at leisure.

One shows miners playing ring o’ roses with their children in the streets surrounding Fryston colliery in West Yorkshire in the 1940s.

The curator of the exhibition is Ian Beesley, award-winning and internationally acclaimed artist and photographer, who is from an industrial background.

After leaving school he worked in a mill, a foundry and eventually a sewage works during the early 1970s.

He became interested in photography and started by photographing his colleagues and the environment in which he was working.

“I became aware that the majority of contemporary and historical photographs of industry I saw bore little or no resemblance to my experience of industry,” he said.

“Grafters is an attempt to understand the history and development of this troubled relationship, from its beginnings in the 1840s through to the present day.”

To accompany the images, the museum has commissioned a series of new poems from writer, poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan which seek to give a voice to the mostly unknown workers photographed.

More information from The exhibition runs to February 14.

UK: ALMOST three people are killed at work every week, trade unionists warned as they marked Workers’ Memorial Day today, with 142 workers dying on the job in 2014-15: here.
The museum Internet site says it runs to August 16.

1 thought on “British workers photographed, Manchester exhibition

  1. Tuesday 18th July 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Arts

    John Green reports on why artist Phil Collins has just shipped a statue of Friedrich Engels from Ukraine to Manchester, where it’s now on permanent display in the city centre

    PHIL COLLINS is an unusual artist, in that his strong left-wing political sympathies are directly expressed through his work.

    With a passion for, and commitment to, people and human progress, he’s drawn to political movements and ideas, deploying his art as a vehicle for intervention and to make an oblique commentary on contemporary social and political processes.

    In the past, his work has often originated in areas of conflict, shifting the focus from sensationalist news coverage to uncover unexpected aspects of life in contested territories, be it from Belfast to Belgrade or Baghdad to Bogota and Berlin.

    In They Shoot Horses, he organised and filmed a disco-dance marathon in Ramallah with a group of young Palestinians.

    “For me,” he says, “there really is a heroism to live in a place it’s impossible to leave, to be split from families, imprisoned by an apartheid wall and, maybe worst of all, to be forgotten by a world which refuses to understand you.”

    His work Marxism Today, shortlisted for the Turner Prize, is two short interconnected films based on experience of life in East Germany which examines what happens when a whole system and culture is demolished overnight.

    And his latest project, a statue of Friedrich Engels permanently located in Tony Wilson Place in Manchester city centre, keeps that German connection alive.

    Collins feels strongly that Engels, Marx’s friend, financial mainstay and collaborator, should be properly celebrated in the city where he lived for most of his life and which gave him many of the ideas for which he and Marx have since become world-renowned.

    It was there that Engels wrote his most celebrated work, The Condition of the Working Class in England.

    After two years of seeking a suitable Soviet-era statue of Engels, Collins managed to locate one mouldering away in a scrap yard in the village of Mala Pereshchepina, in eastern Ukraine.

    It is 3.5 metres high and made of concrete — not easy to put it in the boot of your car and drive to Manchester, so Collins hired a flatbed lorry to transport it there.

    On the way, he visited places of importance in Engels’s life and work, a journey which was filmed and which forms part of the Ceremony event.

    The statue also marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution, inspired by the ideas from the Communist Manifesto written by Marx and Engels, and Collins is particularly interested in the history of communism and what happened in eastern Europe during the Soviet era.

    He’s also fascinated by the idea of transmission, how ideas travel through time and space.

    Ironically, all symbols and icons of the past socialist era have been banned in Ukraine in a manner highly reminiscent of the way the nazis banned such symbols.

    That’s how Engels ended up in a scrap yard.

    Collins sees Manchester as a meeting point, where the birth of capitalism brought about the emergence of an industrial proletariat. But he stresses that Manchester is also a city with a strong tradition of resistance to the capitalist system, from early demonstrations for parliamentary representation in 1819 that went down in history as the Peterloo Massacre after peaceful demonstrators were attacked by government troops, through the Chartist movement to the battles of the Suffragettes for women’s voting rights.

    The inauguration of the statue at the weekend was marked by an innovative ceremony, with music from Oscar-nominated composer Mica Levi and Demdike Stare and a new anthem written by Gruff Rhys, together with a live performance featuring stories of today’s Manchester workers collected by Collins.

    They are accounts of everyday resistance to the current political crisis. “In harrowing times for so many, it’s more important than ever to remember Engels’s legacy,” Collins says, “and the spirit of solidarity and dignity which beats at its core.”

    Thus the statue marks poignant moments in the city’s history.

    But it also chimes with the new mood in the country since Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party, something Engels would surely have been excited about.

    John Green is the author of Engels: A Revolutionary Life (Artery Publications, £11.99).


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