Open for Business: Magnum photographers tell the story of British manufacturing and industry

By Richard Moss | 19 June 2014

British industry has changed so much and yet so little in these images taken by Magnum photographers

Click below to launch a gallery of images from the exhibition

The 1830 Warehouse of Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry is providing a unique setting for a photographic study of contemporary British business.

In its working life, the 19th century workplace was a hive of industrial activity. Today it is witness to a new generation of creativity and commerce via the lenses of nine contemporary photographers.

Open for Business tells the story of contemporary British manufacturing and industry through the work of Magnum photographers Jonas Bendiksen, Stuart Franklin, Bruce Gilden, David Hurn, Peter Marlow, Martin Parr, Mark Power, Chris Steele-Perkins and Alessandra Sanguinetti.

Between them they visited over 100 workplaces across the UK, from one-person businesses to FTSE 100 companies. The results are surprising; showing how much and how little the business of manufacturing has changed.

Of particular interest to local visitors will be the work of Argentinean born Alessandra Sanguinetti, the only female photographer in the nine, who was assigned Manchester. 

Entering a world normally hidden from view, she captured the new industries of Manchester -  including Siemens, Croft Filters, Wigs up North and nightwear manufacturers Headen & Quarmby – to reveal how these new businesses echo the city’s great past as the Cottonopolis whilst reflecting its diversity.  

“I did not know what these places would look like or how people would react to being photographed while on the job, or how I would feel about it,” says Sangunietti, “so I did not go in with a plan, but rather let the work unfold on its own and show me the way.

“I found myself drawn to individual faces, to finding the personal even in the most impersonal of settings.

"At their desk, whether it be sewing bicycle bags, brewing beer, boxing up a hard drive, or thinking up the next big thing, each worker is a fundamental thread in the intricate web that links us all together in this economy and while we are all replaceable in our jobs, we are not in our peculiarities and individuality. That’s what I found myself paying attention to.”

The last 50 years may have seen British manufacturing change dramatically, but this photographic project reveals the human factor that has remained a constant at its heart. 

  • Open for Business is showing at MOSI until August 3 2014, admission is free.

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