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January 15, 2014
by Magnum Photographers
In 2013, Multistory and Magnum Photos commissioned nine of the world’s leading photographers to document contemporary British manufacturing. During a period of great economic instability, and where questions are being raised about the strength of western economies within the worldwide market, there has never been a more relevant time to explore the condition of Britain’s manufacturing future.

As a country built on the success of the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing is intrinsically linked to Britain’s worldwide economic position. The Industrial Revolution also marks a significant period of visual recording, including the paintings of Joseph Wright and L.S Lowry. This documentation was continued and expanded on with the invention of photography and by post-war photographers such as Maurice Broomfield and Walter Nurnberg, creating a rich and diverse historical archive. Magnum’s own collection of British industrial photographs begins with WWII and shows the very resilience of British manufacturing being explored by Open for Business. The new commissions build on this photographic history of recording manufacturing and create a contemporary British archive, to be gifted to some of the UK’s most significant collections.

The photographs here provide the means of exploring a wider change that globalization has had on production and process. Magnum’s UK photographers: Stuart Franklin, David Hurn, Peter Marlow, Martin Parr, Mark Power and Chris Steele-Perkins; alongside three international photographers: Alessandra Sanguinetti (Argentina), Bruce Gilden (America) and Jonas Bendiksen (Norway) have visited over one hundred workplaces across the UK; from one-man businesses to FTSE 100 companies. Their photographs take us from traditional, handmade crafts to modern, intelligent automation; from foundries and assembly lines to research laboratories and high tech cleanrooms, showing an economic sector of extraordinary resistance and diversity.

British industry faces several challenges and Open for Business reveals the daily struggle as businesses attempt to cut costs, streamline processes and level up to international competition. However, the overall tone is optimistic. Although manufacturing makes up a smaller part of total British GDP and employs fewer people than it did 50 years ago, its financial value has rocketed. Today, our tiny island, with less than 1% of the global population, can count itself among the world’s top twelve manufacturers.

The big shift over the last few decades has been to ‘smarten up’: to invest more in research and development and this has been captured by the photographers in a range of visual approaches. Britain is now a world leader in aerospace, pharmaceuticals, scientific instruments and electrical machinery. It exports luxury fashion and food brands to every corner of the globe: from crisps to cars, sausages to mattresses, neurosurgical robots to carbon-neutral technologies. To say something has been ‘Made in Britain’ carries an assurance of innovation and quality.

The photographs in Open for Business show what this means at a human level. They reveal the shifting balance between white and blue-collar workers, the physical reality of process automation and of environments in which a growing staff manage activity from a computer screen. The project raises questions about the corporate responsibility of employers to their employees, highlights the significance of migration to our workforce and shows the pride exuded from our workers who make a huge variety of products. The project captures the current landscape of British manufacturing and its effect on culture and community life, celebrating the work, activities and lives of the employees critical to driving our industry forwards.

Open for Business is a collaborative project funded by the Arts Council England and in partnership with UK cultural institutions: National Media Museum; Manchester Museum of Science & Industry; National Railway Museum; London Science Museum; University of South Wales, Newport; Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery; MShed Bristol; and Street Level Photoworks. The result is an ambitious, national touring exhibition throughout 2014 and 2015. The programme also includes a comprehensive website, a series of newspapers and a bespoke education programme.

The exhibition runs concurrently at the Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester and the National Railway Museum, York. featuring Mark Power's stunning shots of Bombardier in Derby and Holdworth Fabrics in Huddersfield.

Open For Business Website
View Exhibition Photos