Union | Noel Bowler
Noel Bowler’s expansive project ‘Union’ looks at the spaces of organised labour. ‘Union’ explores the meeting rooms and back offices at the coalface of the ideological war between labour and capital that has shaped our lives since the industrial revolution. Made over a 5-year period in union offices in 14 countries, the work offers a glimpse into the places where the decisions and policies that affect so many are made. Bowler gives us a unique insight into the pressures and challenges facing unions in this era of political and economic uncertainty, radical changes in traditional work practices and increased worker insecurity.
The images in this show act as a deliberate counterpoint to the familiar representation of Unions. In place of dramatic, photojournalistic, event-driven images circulated during times of industrial unrest, Bowler’s meditative, understated images are marked by stillness. Mostly unpeopled, these interior spaces are quietly revealing. Some organisations occupy the simplest of functional spaces. Other spaces confidently demonstrate their rootedness within the established order of things, their architecture echoing the boardrooms of corporate power. The ‘ordinariness’ of many of these workspaces is undercut by the knowledge that these are in fact sites where historic and contemporary battles around workers’ rights are taking place.
The interplay of photographs of unoccupied busy office spaces with the portraits of union leaders presented here suggest an anxious world where the apparent certainty of the past is contrasted by an increasingly challenging future. There is lightness of touch, too. The ZNP Union of Polish Teachers will convene in what is, in every sense, a classroom, complete with blackboard; while at The Brotherhood of Teamsters in Washington DC even the chairs huddle in conference.
The work of the Union movement has never been so relevant for so many throughout Ireland and the world. This timely photographic study continues Bowler’s ongoing consideration of the political forces that shape our world, reflected through the organisation of social space.
“It’s heartening to spend time with Bowler’s quietly anchored work, to recognise the value and richness of all these sustained labours and understand that there are still sharp minds and strong hands ready to navigate difficult waters” – Ken Grant
UNION by Noel Bowler, with essay by Ken Grant, is published by Kehrer Verlag. It is available for sale in our bookshop priced €48.00. A special limited edition case-bound book is available priced €300.
About the artist
Noel Bowler is a Photographer and Educator. Born in Ireland in 1978, he holds an MFA in photography from University of Ulster, Belfast and a BA (Hons) degree in Documentary Photography from the University of Wales, Newport. His work has been exhibited worldwide including New York Photofestival and Les Rencontres Arles, with solo exhibitions in Gallery of Photography, Ireland, Millennium Court Arts Centre, N.Ireland, and Impressions Gallery, UK. Previous bodies of work include: The Joy a thoughtful study of Mountjoy Prison and Making Space – a timely exploration of the expansion and coexistence of Islam in Ireland. Noel Bowler was the winner of the Gallery of Photography Artists Award in 2005. He was nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2011 and for the Prix Pictet Photography Prize in both 2012 and 2015. He is currently a Lecturer in Photography at University of Suffolk.
Special thanks Noel Bowler would like to thank the many individuals and organisations who have helped make this work possible. In particular: IMPACT (Dublin), USW (United Steelworkers of America), MEBA (Marine Engineers Benevolent Association, USA) and University of Suffolk.
Reception kindly supported by Teeling Whiskey