The Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries radically changed the nature of human labor. That era is defined by a global shift from producing goods by hand to manufacturing by machines and technologies that emphasized efficiency. Photography was itself introduced to the public in 1839 as, among other things, a time- and labor-saving technology to record images from the visible world more quickly and accurately than painting or drawing. The subsequent development of photographic media has thus been intertwined with the culture of labor ever since. In addition to the camera’s technical use as an instrument to record, photographers have also created images over the decades that have helped shape how we think about work and the politics of labor. This exhibition explores the myriad ways in which photographs have communicated ideas about labor since the nineteenth century through examples from The Ringling’s photography permanent collection.
This exhibition is curated by Christopher Jones, Stanton B. and Nancy W. Kaplan Curator of Photography and Media Art. Special thanks to Anna Gliwski, 2023 Coville Intern in Photography at The Ringling, for her assistance.
Image: Bill Owens (American, born 1938), Industrial burger maker, Tri-Valley Area, Northern California, from the series Working, 1974-1976. Gelatin silver print, 6 7/16 x 9 1/16 in. Gift of John Chatzky and Debbie Mullin, 2021, 2021.51.31. © Bill Owens