19th century glass plate negatives reveal the people of Ireland, captured in the subdued quiet of their places of work. A new exhibition, Working Lives, 1893-1913 opening in October at the National photographic Archive (NPA) in Temple bar, selects images from the Mason and Poole collections to exhibit an industrial family album: men, women and children employing the tools of their various trades.
Guest curator Mary Jones evokes the mood of the exhibition: From one horsepower, bringing in the harvest, emerge legions of agricultural labourers to enter a brave new world of steam-fuelled turbines, the unremitting noise of power harnessed to industrial labour.
Industrial relations evolve: from deference to defiance, from ‘knowing one’s place’ under the master and Servant Act, and into the most difficult and contentious berth of early modern times. Markets and machines, the imperatives of control hooked to a web of sustained tension, a diversity of working people seeking rights and common cause, and a negotiated rate for the job.
Consider this largely unmapped field of vision: imagine the world in which such lives were formed; the hewing of rock, the casting of tools, the skills of mind and muscle caught in the art of laying a line of rail, or mining a seam of copper; the imaginative engineering implicit in the construction of a lace collar, within the linen woven to grace a royal table, or to carry a plane into flight.