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Posts Tagged ‘Occupational Portraits’

Another workplace photograph, this time showing the staff outside R.J. Bolger’s grocer, 18 Main Street, Bray, County Wicklow. This image is very like a previous post which showed the workers at Hodgins and Sons, Nenagh, County Tipperary and it also dates from the 1930s.

The sign writing is excellent and you can just about glimpse the lace curtains in the upper windows. According to the 1901 census, Richard Joseph, lived over the shop with his wife, Lizzie May and two-year old daughter, Annie Mary.

What really captured my imagination was the elaborate window display which revealed the wide range of alcoholic beverages distributed by Gilbey’s wine merchants. These include Spey-royal scotch whiskey and my favourite, Invalid Port!

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Henry Dunbar based his business in a premises on O’Connell Street which had a long association with the photographic trade. Between 1859 and 1890, number 39 was the building from which Thomas Millard ran his photographic studio. Firstly in partnership as Simonton & Millard; then for a short period in the 1860s trading solely as Thomas Millard and finally working with J.V. Robinson between 1864 and 1889.

Mr Dunbar’s business was not as long-lasting. He appears at this address for the first time in 1889 and died on the 13th December 1905 at the age of 54. The winding-up of his affairs was conducted by his son, Arthur Dunbar, who was a resident of Regent’s Square, York.

I know little more about Dunbar, except that his early adoption of the name O’Connell Street rather than Sackville Street is an indicator of nationalist leanings. In late 1884, the largely nationalist Dublin Corporation had voted to re-name the city’s main thoroughfare in honour of Daniel O’Connell, the champion of Catholic Emancipation. This was not to the liking of the majority of the street’s traders who got a court order preventing the name change. Dunbar was, of course, making a political point by his use of the street’s new name!

The verso of the cabinet card is nicely executed and alludes to the artistic nature of photography. The ‘photographer as artist’ is displayed alongside some typical studio props. This generic design was probably purchased from France or Germany which is where most photographers sourced their card backs.

The photograph itself provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of work during the period. Certain details are typical of Victorian or Edwardian tradesman, for example, the apron and white shirt sleeves. Most wear hats and have impressive moustaches. I love the individual who is posed in the act of ‘hammering’ a basket! Baskets were used to house and transport a wide variety of goods and as late as 1924, Dublin street directories listed nine basket-makers in the centre of the city.

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This post features another workplace photograph showing staff standing in front of Hodgins Drapers, Nenagh, County Tipperary at ten to two on the afternoon of Wednesday 19th May 1937.

Some of the shop girls look like they are wearing the one-bar shoes shown in a 1937 advertisement in The Nenagh Guardian. Most of the women wear slim fitting, belted dresses and all appear to have had their hair cut into bobs and slightly waved. The remind me of the characters in one of my favourite films The Shop Around the Corner (1940) which focuses upon the lives of the staff in a Budapest department store. This was later remade into the terrible You’ve got Mail (1998).  

Hodgins was in existence for over 110 years when the last member of the family, Reggie, sold the business in 1991. 

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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.

 

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