Walker Evans, Labor Anonymous in Fortune magazine (1946)

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‘The feature is in fact subtitled ‘On a Saturday afternoon in Downtown Detroit’, suggesting this may not be a day of work at all, even if this is one of America’s foremost industrial cities. These may well be workers but they are not working here. The text occupies a space the size of one of the portraits, as if word and image were of a piece and interchangeable, but once read it is clear the purpose is to uproot that assumption. Evans reminds the reader that there is no classifiable physiognomy on show here. Labourers cannot be stereotyped, niether in appearance, nor disposition, nor dress: ‘His features tend now toward the peasant and now the patrician. His hat is sometimes a hat, and sometimes he has moulded it into a sort of defiant signature.’ In other words these photographs offer no sure measure and the reader will still have all their interpretive work ahead of them. He concludes: ‘When editorialists lump them as “labor” these laborers can no doubt laugh that one off.” It is an obvious point but easily forgotten: a person cannot be anonymous in and of themselves but only to, or for, another. ‘Labour Anonymous’ is revealed to be an ironic title, critical of the assumptions of mainstream editorialists and readers, including those of Fortune  itself (the feature appeared in an issue dedicated to ‘Labor in U.S. Industry’)’ (Campany, 2012:85-86).

Passage extracted from David Campany’s essay – Recalcitrant Intervention: Walker Evan’s Pages in The Photobook: From Talbot to Ruscha and Beyond (2012) London, New York. I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd.

Stuart Brisley ‘Beneath Dignity’ (1977)

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Beneath Dignity Bregenz 1977 by Stuart Brisley born 1933
Beneath Dignity Bregenz 1977 Stuart Brisley born 1933 Purchased 1981 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03315

23 photographs, black and white, on paper on card

A performance work which for me embodies the complicated and conflicting feelings and psychic landscape of class and working class struggle.

‘Beneath Dignity, Bregenz’ (1977) was performed in conjunction with an exhibition of British art in Austria (Englishe Kunst der Gegenwart in September 1971); Brisley was invited by Norbert Lynton to take part. Brisley had worked during this year on an Artist Placement Group project in Peterlee in a community of miners and the title is indicative of his sympathy with the miners, and the lowness (and implied loneliness) of their working conditions. The work that preceded it had a similar preoccupation with digging and working in appalling conditions.

In Bregenz he was presented with a strikingly different environment: a picturesque town by the side of a lake (Lake Constance) with a small mountain behind. This work is a response to this setting, the movement from mountain to flat ground and the lake (from the vertical to the horizontal). He chose to work on a quayside, using five roughly constructed frames which marked the limits of his physical reach. The materials which he employed were water, chalk, powder (flour) and paint (black and white). He made five separate statements using each of the materials, working in all for four days. In order to reduce the drama of the work (a character that Brisley abhors) the fifth frame was a mixture of black and white. On the last day the audience was large and Brisley avoided a climax to the work by jumping into the lake and swimming, replicating his drawing action in water, another medium. He describes his action here as similar to the other works in the Tate’s collection, showing a preoccupation with formal, sculpturalproblems. It is possible however that Brisley may, in hindsight, be emphasising this aspect at the expense of his political concerns.

The photographer for this work was his friend Janet Anderson; he preferred her photographs to those of a trained photographer, who he felt would have a particular and exclusive aesthetic. The viewpoint for these photographs was fixed and decided upon by discussion between Brisley and the photographer ‘(Tate on-line).