Art in Context | Industrial Inaction: Early British Photography’s Labor Shortages

Free admission
About this program

During the first decade of photography in Britain, practitioners struggled to engage their new medium with the pressing challenge of depicting labor. This challenge was in part the result of the camera's extended exposure time, ill-suited to recording the dynamism and motion associated with work. The paradox of the situation soon became clear: one could represent work only by bringing it to a halt. In an atmosphere roiled by strikes, such a strategy was a dangerous proposition, particularly as photography saw its own modes of production become increasingly industrialized. This talk identifies the strategies and the consequences—pictorial and political—of photographers' signification of labor, particularly in its actual absence.

About Jordan Bear

Jordan Bear is associate professor of art history at the University of Toronto. His scholarship has focused on the historical intersection of visual representation, knowledge, and belief. His book, Disillusioned: Victorian Photography and the Discerning Subject (2015), tells the story of how photographic trickery in the 1850s and 1860s participated in the fashioning of the modern subject. The book received the Historians of British Art Book Award for exemplary scholarship on the period after 1800. Bear is currently engaged in an extended study of the concept of trust in nineteenth-century visual media.


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Art in Context

Presented by faculty, staff, Student Guides, and Visiting Scholars, these talks focus on a particular work of art—often in the museum’s collections or special exhibitions—through an in-depth look at its style, subject matter, technique, or time period.

Top image
William Henry Fox Talbot, The Building of Nelson’s Column, ca. 1843, salted paper print, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund