The Changing Landscape of Labor
In 1989, I began to photograph factories and mills in New England in order to demonstrate visually the effects of the changing economy on working people. Many of the workers I interviewed felt our nation had turned its back on them. One said, "I've been working in this factory for 40 years and no one's ever asked to take my picture." This made me want to make dignified portraits of workers as a way to contradict the notion that only movie stars, presidents, and college-educated people deserve recognition. We live in a society in which social class plays an important role, and I wanted to know more about what working-class people had to say. The factory seemed to be a good place to begin. I believe that making things is important. For many people, factory work has been a way to enter the workforce, a way for immigrants to begin a new life in this country. And we are throwing it away. The new technology requires college-educated people, and those who do not fit in fall behind. We have internalized the sense that working with your hands is dirty work. But many of our parents and grandparents worked in these mills and factories. "We were like a family," said a woman rag-room worker in a paper mill. She (like so many factory workers) lost much more than a job when her mill shut down.