The work photo is a genre that interests me, whether it is occupational studio portraits or more casual snapshots of the crowd from the office. Photographs showing workers with the tools of their trade were regularly commissioned in the first decades of photography. These mirrored earlier painted portraits and this example from Dublin was taken by Louis Werner sometime in the 1860s when his studio was based at 15 Leinster Street South, Dublin. The unknown man ‘works’ on an unfinished chair and the fact that he is shown in his shirt sleeves (without an overcoat or jacket) singles him out as a worker rather than a ‘gentleman’. Unfortunately there are no clues as to who he was or which firm of cabinetmakers he worked for.
This group (possibly from Tipperary) reminds me of the workers in Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Upon closer inspection it is full of great details including the various styles of hats; the trowels held by some of the men; the photographer’s shadow and the well-worn overalls. It is also brings to mind August Sander’s portraits of dock and road workers.
The austere young clerk pictured at his desk is captioned only with his surname – Barcroft -and could be the legal apprentice of that name living in Donnybrook in the 1901 census. It is a typical turn-of- the-century office. I love the industrial style lamp and the glass-fronted cases behind him. You can nearly hear the clock ticking in the background and imagine the stifling atmosphere of the office.
The final image is a snapshot of my mother and her workmates at the office of the solicitor’s Porter Morris, 10 Clare Street, Dublin taken in 1960. The snapshot is casual and all are smiling /performing for the camera. It gives away none of the tensions of the working world: the petty jealousies and bickering nor does it reveal who pulled their weight or was popular with their co-workers. Then again, it may have been a very pleasant place to work.