Industrial worlds

From the MAST collection of photography on industry

In some circumstances industry is alluded to as society’s grey area. This can be seen in the controversial relationship with images of the industrial world. For decades, photos of factories have been treated with total indifference and it was rather common for them to be thrown away when a company moved site. It is only recently that we have started to re-evaluate and retrieve them, thus realizing we have eliminated the evidence of almost half of the world, the history, the universe of industrial production: a world that provides a valuable key to understand our lives, our thought and our activities.
With this exhibition and the works of 47 photographers, MAST begins the writing of a history of industry and opens a discussion on industry itself, starting from its own photographic patrimony. (Curator: Urs Stahel)

Lewis Wickes Hine, Spinner, Cotton Mill, Macon, Georgia, USA, 1909

Henrik Spohler, From the book Global Soul, 2008

Joachim Brohm, From Areal – 98 15-7a, 1992-2002

Guido Guidi, Elblag, Poland, 1994

Industrial Worlds by Urs Stahel

We live in the western world, in what is generally referred to as the post-industrial era. Many factories have been closed and production processes delocalized. Europe is changing face, turning itself into a great service providing continent.
The concept of post-industrial is only effective, however, if we relate it to the fact that, despite having moved many enterprises to Asia and delocalized production processes, we continue to derive profit from the economic results obtained. It is less fitting if we consider that the cardinal points are still those of an industrial type economy: inventiveness, investment, production.
In the past, society has often experienced a certain unease in its relationship with industry. It was clear right from the start, and continues to be so, that industry responds to our needs, brings enormous benefits, creates prosperity and makes our lives easier. But how do we talk about it?
It is evident to everyone how pleasure in beautiful things is strongly embedded in our society. We talk about the beauty of the landscape, of works of art, fashion, beautiful people, beautiful cars. In contrast, we speak much less willingly when referring to production processes. It is as if a recurring image, evoked by the heavy industry of the past, still loomed over the entire sector of industrial production. So, if on the one hand we readily discuss extraordinary results and exceptional products, on the other we tend to overlook the difficulties production and producers encounter.
And in some circumstances industry is alluded to as society’s grey area.
This can be seen in the controversial relationship with images of the industrial world. For decades, photos of factories have been treated with total indifference and it was not uncommon for them to be thrown away when a company moved site.
It is only recently that we have started to re-evaluate and retrieve them, thus realising we have eliminated the evidence of almost half of the world, the history, the universe of industrial production: a world that provides a valuable key to understand our lives, our thought and our activities.
The exhibition has been created from a selection of works in the Fondazione MAST’s collection of industrial photography and is divided into five thematic sections: the portrait of the worker and the image of the industrial landscape are presented over the course of time, from the early 20th Century to the present day. The theatre of industrial production is examined through pairs of contrasting images.
“Once upon a time and now”: the black, sweltering factory of the past, overflowing with workers, and the white, aseptic, empty pavilions of our own day. Then the contrast between the imposing, visibly decipherable machinery of the beginnings and the silent, enigmatic instruments of modern times. And concluding the itinerary, what no process of industrial production can do without: energy, transport and communication.
With these five chapters and the works of 48 photographers, of which this catalogue represents 15 out of the 180 works that are present in the exhibition, MAST begins the writing of a history of industry and opens a discussion on industry itself, starting from its own photographic patrimony.