Post war factory floors and other Island Stories

I must have been pretty desperate for distraction the day i went to see Island Stories: Fifty Years of Photography in Britain at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This Summer now seems like it has been a long, relentless photo exhibition dedicated to London, England and/or Great Britain. I thought that even an anglophile like me wouldn’t stomach yet another exhibition celebrating the joys and wonder of the country. But Island Stories: Fifty Years of Photography in Britain is such a gem of a little show, i’m on my way to see it for the second time. Incidentally, i’m left hoping that one day my own country will develop such propensity for navel-gazing, but that’s another story.

Drawn exclusively from the V&A collections, this display features a selection of more than 80 photographs made in the UK since the 1950s. It focuses on individual projects, each of which tells a story. Collectively, they give a picture of life in Britain that reflects upon subjects ranging from landscape and industry to family and community.

There are work by Jeremy Deller, by Don McCullin and by Martin Paar but most photographers were new to me. I loved the show and i’ll keep the comment short:

Maurice Broomfield‘s prints of post-war British industry are particularly fascinating. For 30 years, his images celebrated as much as they documented the labour of factory workers. Most photo series were commissioned by industrial clients. Most of them I suspect have now outsourced their assembly lines to other shores.

0nylonstocki121646.jpgNylon Stocking Testing, British Nylon Spinners, Pontypool, Wales, 1957

0aBpreparingwrapTR0166H_09.jpgPreparing a Warp, British Nylon Spinners, Pontypool, Wales, 1964

0somersetwiire2.jpgSomerset wire company, wire manufacture, late 1950s

0a2foam012FE6347_jpg_l.jpgTest spraying foam insulation, Shell International, 1963

0o2coolingotwer012FE6351_jpg_l.jpgCooling tower under construction, 1954

0CsalacreamCF0021E_04.jpgBottling Salad Cream, Crosse and Blackwell, Bermondsey, London, 1951

0GbearskinETIMAGE-24.jpgCombing a Guard’s Bearskin. The workshop of J Compton, Sons and Webb, London, 1957

0BfryoluxTR0166H_04DM.jpgFryolux Solder Paint operator, Fry’s Factory, Bermondsey, London

I think you’re not supposed to laugh at this one:

0Bchecking a transormerVU0051A_03DM.jpgChecking a transformer, English Electric, Stafford

0JinspectorbearingsN446334-04.jpgTaper roller bearing, Daventry works of British Timpkin, 1957

0a1paper21659.jpgPaper Making, Bowater Paper Company, Thames Mill, Nothfleet, 1960

0Binside aboilerU0051A_07.jpgElectric Arc Cutting Inside a Boiler, T Ward, 1958

Elsbeth Juda‘s 1952 series Milling around Lancashire also takes the factory floors as its main setting and the photos are as staged and polished as Broomfield’s. This time however, the industrial context serves only as a backdrop for fashion shoots.

0aa0lanappe4.jpg0aavoile892s.jpg00aamillinagni.jpgElsbeth Juda, from the series ‘Milling around Lancashire’, 1952

The text accompanying Grace Robertson‘s photos at the museum says “Using a compact Leica camera, Robertson was able to capture the unrestrained and unselfconscious mood of a women’s annual pub outing.” Annual? I’d better keep the snarky comment to myself. The photo below is based on this one by Kurt Hutton. But Robertson’s models are middle-aged and wearing, i read, whalebone corsets.

0Grace-Robertsons-best-sho-001.jpgGrace Robertson, from the series ‘Mother’s Day Off’, 1954

In 1999, Peter Fraser photographed from up-close details of the apparatus used for the study of matter at the Physics and Applied Physics department at the University of Strathclyde, where research was being undertaken into the fundamental nature of matter at a subatomic level.

amterialUntitled2002.jpgMaterial, Untitled, 2002

There you go! A lovely show, entrance is free.
Island Stories: Fifty Years of Photography in Britain remains open at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London until 19 March 2013.

Related stories: Once upon a time in London, The London Festival of Photography (part 2), Don McCullin, about the London homeless and The Family.