In the early 1900s, motion study pioneers Lillian and Frank Gilbreth used film, photography and ‘therbligs’ – units they invented to notate the movements workers make when performing tasks – as tools in their analyses of industrial practises. Loosely inspired by the Gilbreths’ observational approach, Therblig is an exhibition of new work by Wideyed’s Lucy Carolan and Richard Glynn, produced in response to SCA Hygiene Products’ tissue mill in Prudhoe, Northumberland.
Situated by the banks of the Tyne, there has been a paper mill on the Prudhoe site since 1969, when a former ICI chemical works was demolished to make way for the factory. SCA is currently one of the largest manufacturing employers in rural Northumberland, with a workforce of more than 400 people – the youngest is 17, the oldest 70, and so far this year eight employees have clocked up 40 years of service. Every 15 seconds the mill produces enough tissue to cover a football pitch, and the factory is the source of one in five of all toilet rolls sold in the UK today.
In the century since the Gilbreths used hand cranked motion-picture cameras to film factory workers, image making and industrial technologies and practises have all greatly changed. One legacy of the Gilbreths’ innovative use of imaging is that, in a neat reversal, present day factory employees use the same tools in their own work – cameras inserted into the machines allow the workforce to keep a constant eye on how they are functioning. The video footage produced for Therblig has been inspired by factory floor video feeds that show, in a sense, the pulsing heart of the machinery that drives Prudhoe Mill. The installation also presents photographs that pair external viewpoints of the factory with images of its interior, contrasting the mill’s anonymous architecture with the people and processes within.
This work was an EXPOSURE Award winner, selected for exhibition by New Art Exchange in Nottingham for the 2013 edition of FORMAT International Photography Festival. A free exhibition Walk & Talk took place 12-2pm on Saturday 16th March. More installation shots can be seen here, and short podcast about the exhibition can be found here.