Photo Histories
The Photographers' History of Photography

TITLE: Open For Business (newspaper)
PUBLISHED: 2014, Multistory & Magnum
SIZE: 295×370 mm

Open For Business

Working with a community arts organisation, nine members of the Magnum photo agency photographed British industry in nine different regions of the UK. Their images form part of a touring exhibition and a newspaper. Graham Harrison takes a look.

Open for Business is a single issue colour newspaper on the subject of British manufacturing. It contains 80 pages of photographs taken by nine members of Magnum Photos in nine regions of Britain. The paper was published by the community arts agency Multistory in collaboration with Magnum and is part of a larger project also called Open For Business. The project is financed by £329,404 of Arts Council funding.

The newspaper complements a web site and a touring exhibition which were launched at the National Media Museum, Bradford in January 2014. Now midway through the tour, Open For Business is at the University of South Wales, City Campus, in Newport until 2 January 2015.

There are nine Open for Business newspapers. Although basically the same publication each photographer working in each region has their own front and back cover and poster insert in the middle (above is Bruce Gilden’s cover of a Vauxhall worker in London). All the workers featured are given a print and a copy of the Open For Business newspaper.

The photographs were edited from thousands of images taken at more than 100 manufacturing companies in England, Wales and Scotland. They reveal the extraordinary diversity of work undertaken every day across Britain, from the heavy duty maintenance of wave power machines that Stuart Franklin photographed in the Orkney Islands to the detailed hand finishing of socks, assembly of medical products and millinery in South Wales shot by David Hurn and the processing of organic foods which Chris Steele-Perkins recorded in Devon.

In West Yorkshire and Derby the traditional industries of wool processing, locomotive engineering and textiles were photographed by Jonas Bendicksen and Mark Power, while Peter Marlow documented metal foundries and jewellery making in Multistory’s backyard in the Black Country.

Bruce Gilden took on the workers at a sugar refinery and a car plant in London, his fellow American, Alessandra Sanguinetti, the manufacture of underware and industrial filters in Manchester. Dividing his time between Bristol and Barrow in Furness, Martin Parr photographed electronics assembly, an animation studio and aircraft construction.

Chris Steel-Perkins was let in to three micro-breweries but refused entry by a high-tech electronics company, he told the press at the Open For Business exhibition when it opened at the Science Museum in London in August 2014. Photo © Graham Harrison.

For more than a century assembly lines, furnaces and smoke stacks billowing grime were among the favourite subjects for photographers documenting British manufacturing. In the 1930s and 1980s dole queues and empty factories predominated. As the industrial landscape changed into a consumer landscape of assembly, logistics and supermarkets photographers found themselves confronted with a more challenging subject.

The announcement ‘Multistory Open for Business with the help of Arts Council England touring grant’, published on 21 November 2012, seemed to take up that challenge. The proposal was for a detailed and contextualised study of British manufacturing “capturing the current landscape, good and bad, and its effect on people, community and culture”.

What we actually get is a “behind-the-scenes look” at British manufacturing, which is something very different. With the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) acting as intermediary and the Financial Times as media partner Open For Business gives us a predominently enclosed, at times PR controlled, world of offices, workshops and assembly plants. So Stuart Franklin’s Orkney trip and his other black and white images of shipbuilding and a wind farm near Glasgow provide a vital breath of fresh air.

David Hurn and Bruce Gilden seem to be the only photographers to have escaped the working environment entirely, albeit briefly. Like a butterfly Hurn alights on an array of Alison Todd hats worn at a wedding in Cardiff while Gilden, with three much starker images, gives us the prosthetics and amputee rehabilitation unit at Queen Mary’s Hospital in London.

Back inside the factory gates Gilden moved in close for some head shots. Socialist Worker suggests his portraits “allude to the stresses of work”. There are indeed “furrowed brows and strained expressions” but Tate and Lyle and Vauxhall should be proud of their employees. Surprised, no doubt, by the speed the New York street photographer works, their faces say “Here I am, mate: the British working man. The British working woman.”

“Once a British workman sees an idea they quite often run with it,” Chris Steele-Perkins told the press at the Science Museum in London in August. “Never make assumptions of what people are open to.”

Following the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act there was a 73 percent drop in fatal injuries at work in 20 years. As working conditions improved the global economy decimated heavy industry in Britain and business shifted to high-tec and logistics and consumer-led industries.

The high-tech nature of much of British manufacturing, and a global economy, means human involvement in manufacturing is often reduced to assembly. Less physical and psychologically more internalised for the workers, this suggests less romance than we might have seen in the past. In this context the personal history that Jonas Bendicksen glimpses in the sinewy arms of Trevor Rowe, a sixty-year old labourer at the Calder Dying works in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, stands out.

Four miles down the A644 at Camira Fabrics in Mirfield, Mark Power, shooting his first digital project, saw something else and was “sportingly indulged”, he writes in the newspaper, by a woman as he lay on his stomach photographing her black high heels. And David Hurn, again, shows us what he learnt from Hollywood movies and the work of Cartier-Bresson and the other greats at Magnum and then passed on to his students at Newport: that relationships make good photographs.

Alessandra Sanguinetti saw a relationship and reduced it to eight pairs of hands and some products laid out on a table.

That is the exception. It is individuals who people the rest of Sanguinetti’s work. One of her photographs, among the most painterly images in the newspaper, shows “The quiet beauty,” as Maev Kennedy in The Guardian points out, of Trudi Madden, “a cashier in the Siemens canteen in Cheshire, somehow as elegant as a Vermeer lady in her blue hairnet and nylon cap”.

The beauty of the Madden image lies not so much in the colours and light, but in its ambiguity.

There is an anecdote told by Jeremy Isaacs, the television producer. Working on a BBC series on Ireland in 1980, Isaacs marvelled at the former Picture Post journalist and broadcaster Robert Kee. What impressed him was Kee’s “Unerring ability to marry the word to the image as he sat in the cutting room typing”. When Kee died in January 2013 the art of creating powerful journalism by combining the best of two professions died with him. [1]

In Open For Business Jonas Bendiksen, writes “The rhythms and choreography of the machine has its own aesthetic, harking back to the Industrial Revolution”. Elsewhere in the paper the captions written by some of the photographers reflect 21st century PR. So when they describe “a growing customer base”, “the world’s leading manufacturer of premier billiard cloths” and “a world leader in hot air balloons” you begin to wonder whether or not they are being ironic.

The hot air persists. Sophie Howarth, a former advisor to the Cabinet Office and Number 10 Policy Unit, who’s six essays intersperse the portfolios in the newspaper, gives us this: “Mary’s frilly undies now sell in all the major department stores in the UK and, at £15 a pair, prove that even in lean times consumers are willing to push the boat out for brands they want to be associated with”.

Just as public relations has permeated politics and business, the photography newspaper and the art newspaper (which are now practically the same thing) have proliferated throughout Britain’s art galleries and annual festivals.

Emma Chetcuti, Director of Multistory, introduces David Hurn to the press at the Open For Business exhibition preview at the Science Museum in London. Photo © Graham Harrison.

Among the first newspapers in Europe were the Dutch corantos, or ‘currant of news’. They were printed bulletins of events gleaned from other topical publications. The earliest corantos in England appeared in the 1620s.

Due to strict censorship enforced by the Stewart crown the corantos published only foreign news. Although suppression continued there was an abundance of titles by the 1640s. These papers were printed locally and published in a newsbook format. When a paper or scandal sheet was banned people hand-wrote their own. [2]

The first journal of official public record appeared on 17 November 1665 in Oxford where the court of Charles II resided as the Great Plague ravaged London. Called The Oxford Gazette it was renamed The London Gazette when the plague subsided and the court returned to the capital.

Still published today and called simply The Gazette, the journal moved entirely online in 2013 as an open data source. Among the oldest newspapers in the world The Gazette celebrates its 350th anniversary in 2015. [3]

The first issue of The Oxford Gazette was a double-sided single sheet of paper. Unillustrated and without headlines, it reported 1050 deaths from the plague in the capital and the appointment of county sherifs and a new Bishop of Oxford.

In his diary entry of 22 November, Samuel Pepys noted approvingly “very pretty, full of newes, and no folly in it”.

More than half the entries concern the business of shipping, so the reports would have been useful to Pepys, an Admiraly official, and to the merchants, brokers and agents who’s dealings would have been compromised because fairs had been banned for fear of spreading the plague and trade with London and other plague towns stopped:

Oxon, Nov 13 – A report from Major Palmes Fairbone arrived from Tangiers – “The Dutch are said to have pursued our Merchants up to the very mould [structure] of Tangier, whence, by the fire of the great battery & of the Musketeers the Lord Bellasis had very fearsomably disposed there, they were beat off & the Fleet of Merchants preserved, riding in defiance of them.” [4]

Southwold, Nov 11 – An uncredited notice – “Yesternight came by this Town a Fleet of laden Colliers; about 30 Sail of great Ships, and many small Vessels were in flight before night: what passed afterward we know not; ‘tis hoped this night, or to morrow morning they will be in the River of Thames.”

The printed image first appeared by means of the woodcut in 8th century China.

By the 15th century the process was established in Europe. The woodcut was gradually replaced by photoengraving as a means of illustrating newspapers in the latter part of the 19th century.

The dramatic effect that the news image can have on the public was realised when the Illustrated London News first appeared in 1842.

A woodcut of the Great Fire of Hamburg featured on the front page of the first issue, inside the paper was a report on the war in Afghanistan and a further 31 engravings. Perhaps the greatest interest lay in an illustrated report about young Queen Victoria hosting a fancy-dress ball at Buckingham Palace just two days previously. 

The idea of an illustrated newspaper spread quickly and the Illustrated London News was copied by L’Illustration in France and the Leipziger Illustrierte Zeitung in Germany in 1843.

Despite their best efforts photography’s two great pioneers Niépce and Fox Talbot failed to create either a direct printing process from plates or a suitable method of breaking up an image by use of a screen.

It wasn’t until 1880 when the first mechanical reproduction of a photograph, printed from a halftone screen, was published in a newspaper, the New York Daily Graphic.

Mark Power and Peter Marlow at the Science Museum. Both photographers concentrated on heavy industries. Photos © Graham Harrison.

The art newspaper, of which there are now so many, seems to have originated in the Dada-influenced Fluxus movement which began in the USA in 1961 or 1962. And Fluxus may have been influenced by the art manifestos popular at the beginning of the 20th century, indeed the Dadaists published their own manifesto in 1916.

Among Fluxus artists are Joseph Beuys, the German artist who used animal fat and felt in his artworks, who died in 1986 and Yoko Ono, widow of the former Beatle John Lennon.

Numerous Fluxus newspapers were published. Out of the same American DIY underground tradition as the Fluxus papers came Rolling Stone and Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, which was launched in 1969. Following Warhol’s death in 1987 former ArtForum editor (and Janet Malcolm’s Girl of the Zeitgeist [5] ) Ingrid Sischy steered Interview away from its pop-culture, alternative, roots towards chic mainstream fashion and the art establishment.

Since the 1960s the introduction of relatively cheap and easy to use colour web offset printing meant that small businesses, using digital technology, could print almost anything. This is how newspaper publishing took off in Britain in the 17th century – with different technology, of course – but there was then, and is again today, the option to publish your own newspaper, even if you type or hand write it yourself.

Often there have been few adverts in many of these short-run publications. In the 17th century the journals and scandal sheets were financed by subscription. Today, the paper is itself the advertisement.

At the Science Museum in London the Open For Business exhibition was situated on the first floor, a stop on the way to Cosmos and Culture. In August Mark Power told the press that his work was not so much about the factories but work inspired by them.

Peter Marlow had the dirtiest job of the whole group. He reveled in the processes of making Bugatti gear boxes, some of them unchanged for a hundred years.

“The best times,” Marlow said, “were when I was left to wander by myself”.

A total of 27,000 copies of the Open for Business newspaper were printed by the online service Newspaper Club, 3000 for each of the nine locations.

The process used was web offset, the paper 52gsm improved newsprint.

The Open For Business exhibition is at the University of South Wales, City Campus, Newport until 2 January 2015.

Davd Hurn open lecture at the University of Wales, 27 November 2014, 7:00 to 9:00 pm: Magnum photographer David Hurn talks about his “60 year self indulgent meander through friends and photographs whilst at no time suffering from malnutrition”.

• • •

• In January the Open For Business exhibition moves to the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, opening on 16 January 2015. It then travels to MShed, Bristol and finally Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow where it closes on 6 September 2015. Before the University of South Wales, Open For Business was shown at the National Media Museum, Bradford; MACH 2014, Birmingham; the National Railway Museum, York; the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester and the Science Museum in London.

All participating venues will be presented with a portfolio of selected photographs printed by Metro Imaging at the tour’s end.

The Financial Times is media partner for Open for Business. A PDF download of the FT Weekend Magazine special issue on British manufacturing dated 4 January 2014 is available from the Open for Business web site.


[1] At Picture Post, writes Michael Leapman in The Independent, “Kee was given freedom by the editor, Tom Hopkinson, to develop the measured and insightful reporting style he would later carry over into television.”

[2] The Concise History of the British Newspaper in the Seventeenth Century.

[3] The Oxford Gazette was published by Sir Joseph Williamson, who with Henri Muddiman, retained a virtual monopoly on news publishing until the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The dropping of the Newspaper Licencing Act in 1695 led to a free press in Britain.

[4] Major, later Sir, Palmes Fairbone (1644-1680), a former mercenary, became governor of the English garrison at Tangiers where he was shot and killed during a siege by Moroccans forces. Fairbone’s monument, which once showed the shooting, is in the nave of Westminster Abbey. Fairbone’s epitaph is written by John Dryden. Tangier was acquired by the English in 1661 on the marriage of Charles II to the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza. The occupation lasted until 1684, it’s evacuation the year previously was documented by the diarist Samuel Pepys who was treasurer for the colony.

[5] Janet Malcolm, according to The Paris Review, “is admired for the fierceness of her satire, for the elegance of her writing, for the innovations of her form”. A Girl of the Zeitgeist was published in the New Yorker on 27 October 1986. Malcolm’s books include Diana & Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography (1980) and The Journalist and the Murderer (1990).

Open For Business web site: “The story of British manufacturing and industry told through the lens of 9 Magnum photographers’.

Open For Business newspaper front page photograph Employee at Vauxhall. London, 2013 © Bruce Gilden, Magnum Photos

Black & white photos and text © 2014 Graham Harrison

Browse more Photo Books