HOW HARVARD USED INDUSTRIAL PHOTOGRAPHY TO TEACH THEIR STUDENTS
When writing a “History of…” about any topic it’s important to focus in on certain aspects of what made the greatest impact during a specific period of time. This could be a person, event or even an innovation of some sort. The history of industrial photography can arguably date back to the birth of photography and the amount of information from this period is endless.
I could discuss photos that captured the development of the transcontinental railroad or even dive into the industrial revolution but lets zoom in to what I believe to be most fascinating about the history of my career!
This angle takes a look at a time when labor was visible – as the activity of work but also, and more importantly, as a force. Whether it is a force to defend a nation during wartime or a force used to produce consumable goods, the collection of photographs at the Harvard Business School has successfully brought to our attention the impact that industrial photography made on our understanding of the relationship between the “Human and the machine”.
After all, industrial photography has become so significant for that exact reason. This field of photography takes us beyond what meets the ordinary eyes and it delivers us a final product that lasts practically forever.
I’ll explain the relationship between the industrial photography research carried out by the Harvard Business School and the works of Margaret Bourke White.
In the 1930’s, two Harvard colleagues Donald Davenport and Frank Ayres requested photographs for classroom instruction with the purpose to “reveal the courage, industry and intelligence required of the American working man”. All of these 2,100 photographs were used to help aspiring corporate managers gain insights into how industrial progress was made.
In between world wars, industrial photography had evolved into an art form that shined a light on America’s industrial might. The photography in the 1930’s depicted factory workers as a commodity rather than mere bodies part of a mundane production chain.
One of the main reasons that the Harvard Business School sought these photos were to help students solve problems by studying real-life business situations.
Professor Ayres was particularly interested in documentary records that illustrated action and labor-saving devices. For all their faithful rendering of detail, however, the publicity images donated by businesses depicted workers and machines within the conventions of a highly refined art form. From the simple expository illustrations of early industrial photography, the genre had evolved by the 1930s into a stylized medium of iconic imagery that celebrated America’s industrial might.
As seen in the picture above (left), one of Bourke-White’s clients was the Otis Steel Company. She played at major role influencing the Cubist movement through her machine age photography and her work set a standard for the future of industrial photography. Both her people skills and her technique opened up opportunities one after the other and she romanticized the power of industry by “capturing beauty in a world not usually considered beautiful”.
The use of photography in education allows students to better understand the subjects in which they study. Industrial photography gave students at the Harvard Business School a better representation of what was really going on in the factories and Bourke-White is credited to have bridged the gap. The Otis Steel Company commissioned Margaret during a time when steel making was a defense industry. It was in the best interest for Otis to protect national security, making it difficult for Bourke-White to simply carry her camera in to do her job. Furthermore, in the eyes of the pubic, people wondered if a lady with a camera could withstand the hazard, heat and grimy conditions inside a steel mill.
When she got permission, the technical problems began. Black and white film in that era was sensitive to blue light, not the reds and oranges of hot steel—she could see the beauty, but the pictures were coming out all black. She solved this problem by bringing along a new style of magnesium flare (which produces white light) and having assistants hold them to light her scenes. Her abilities resulted in some of the best steel factory pictures of that era, and these earned her national attention
But Margaret was not the only photographer to reveal these times from a different perspective. Photographer Lewis Hine set out to “dispel the notion of the soulless corporation and at the same time encourage workers to view themselves as vital parts of a meaningful whole.”
The more you see of modern machines, the more
may you, too, respect the men who make and manipulate them. ~ Lewis Hine 1932
The Harvard Business School archive of industrial photographs taken during a time when economic climate was high between the two world wars is strikingly similar to my approach to create visual images to educate, communicate and sell.
How do you think industrial photography has changed over the years? Drop a line in the comments below and lets talk about it!
1. Get Your HUET (Helicopter Underwater Escape Training) Certification
It’s not everyday that you wake up and realize how awesome a birds-eye-view of the world really is until you’ve seen it for yourself. I guess you could say this perspective is addicting (if you could only imagine the view from space) and that there’s no wonder why so many pilots enjoy their office 40,000 feet in the air.
But not all is bright when you put your faith in just a few blades spinning at 500 RPM and there has already been 20 helicopter accidents in the first quarter of 2014. However, compared to the number of helicopters flying, these stats are not intimidating. Especially considering the fact that we are terrestrial creatures and shouldn’t be doing this in the first place!
The HUET course is designed for “Personnel who are required to regularly travel by helicopter over water” and it takes just one day to complete.
As most industrial photographers know there are a few laws to obey and this one should not be ignored. Essentially, the HUET certification is a photographers gateway to “explore a new angle”.
What are the opportunities out there for industrial photographers with the HUET certification?
Let’s first define the two types of aerial photography; oblique and vertical.
Oblique aerial photography is the process of taking pictures from an angle to provide a sense of definition and depth while vertical as the name implies, includes photographs from a direct birds eye view looking straight down on the subject.
Oblique photography is often used for advertising and promotion work, aerial construction progress reports and for commercial and residential property land up for sale. On the contrary, vertical photography fits in for mapping projects, farm evaluation and scientific studies such a flood risk assessment and so on.
Although I have done aerial photography over land, the main reasons to obtain the HUET certification is to allow me to do offshore work. Personally, I am not HUET certified but it’s definitely in the pipeline.
2. Join Various Oil and Gas Groups and Other Industry Related Organizations
Industrial photographers in the midwest region have access to a growing number of oil and gas groups that are just starting to realize their full potential. Oil and gas groups such as the Illinois based Midwest Energy Partners are constantly seeking available minerals and geological zones with the ability to produce commercial levels of oil and gas. These new ventures raise the demand for professional industrial photography, especially specific types such as aerial. Refining natural oil and gas is a long process which presents photographers with more chances to get in on the action. It’s important to understand the production cycle of the various gas and oil products such as methanol, solvents, greases, diesel fuel and more. There’s a time and place to capture everything behind the scenes and that’s the job of an industrial photographer.
3. Attend Trade Shows Related To Industrial Manufacturing Per Year
Even though social media has become a popular and useful method of networking, trade shows payoff of in the short run and are much more fun. Trade shows are the perfect platform for engaging in face to face communication and staying up to date on new technology and industry standards.
When I attend a trade show I always wear a safety green shirt with a QR code on the back that directs people to my website. Following the trade show I dive into my site analytics to see how much website activity I receive.
During the trade show I’ll also upload images to instagram and then repurpose them on my other social media accounts. Curating this content is a great way to reach out to everybody involved in the trade show and it’s a great way to stay in touch with new contacts.
I am planning on attending The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in September which is one of the largest industrial trade shows in the world, featuring 1,900 exhibitors and 100,000 visitors. The event is held every two years at McCormick Place, Chicago.
4. Show Off On Social Media, Don’t Just Show Up
Creating your accounts and inviting all your friends to like your pages is the easy part. The challenge is maintaining a consistent presence and engaging with thought leaders and industrial manufacturing related groups. Hashtags have proved to be the best way to turn leads into likes by pushing out photos and blog posts with #industrialmanufcaturing and #photography related tags.
- Use hashtags to connect with your industry by tagging your content with hashtags that are trending and related to your field.
- I usually add new images to Flickr and Pinterest 2 to 3 times a month. And repin other peoples pins 2 times a month.
- I spend time on Twitter each day posting 3 tweets.
Of course I’m on instagram and here is my first selfie.
In the end, the most important part of being an industrial photographer is to remind myself why I started this profession in the first place. Never lose sight of why you started something and always look for ways to be better at what you love doing.
As an industrial photographer I enjoy capturing everyday life and communicating the way in which society sustains itself.
5 Ways Industrial Photographers Can Get A Piece of Mind and Stay Safe On The Job.
Don’t be scared?
Scared about what?
Standing at what seems like a few yards from a 300 tonne ladle full of scalding hot molten steel with $4,000 worth of camera gear strapped around your waist?
Reading a safety guide about industrial photography for which you already know all the answers to?
Both, you may have replied.
Even though the first option is much more frightening, this safety guide is everything but boring. It’s more of snap shot of my personal experience working for industrial clients in some of the most insecure and dangerous environments.
As you know, the best pictures are those that capture life in the most realistic way possible. Spontaneous but planned. Candid but professional. I have my opinions on stock photography but that’s another story.
Pre Plot Your Exit Route
Believe it or not, the way you entered may not be the best way to exit in the case of an emergency, especially during facility operations. Many industrial facilities are obliged by law to implement safety exits and you need to know them.
- Prior to your shoot, walk the facility with the plant manager to cover all ground for safety.
- Although safety exit signs are lit up and salient, they may be hard to spot if they are hidden behind machinery or out of power.
- Confirm with the plant manager that all exits are safe and secure.
You don’t need to have a fire drill, but when danger strikes, follow the lead of the workers!
You’ve already made your professional impression at the pre production meeting but the work zone is no place for fashion, unless your taste in fashion is hard hats and steel toe boots.
I have my own hard hat and keep it on me for all industrial photography shoots but safety gear that is required by facilities must be provided for visitors. Grab a hat that has a small front brim and fastens tightly on your head to prevent obstructing your view and moving while you kneel and crouch.
I always wear a bright yellow shirt to make it easy for workers to spot me; “Caution, photographer on site, but lets pretend I’m not here!”
Steel toed boots. Strap em’ on, double tie the laces and tuck them inside the boots.
Pack Only What You Need
Once I flew to Louisiana for a shoot and had two checked bags full of gear and my carry on with my essential gear. (I’ve lost my bags a few times and recommend to keep your essentials by your side). I arrived on the jobsite and decided I only needed my carry on kit! The lesson to be learned is to always bring the whole kitchen sink to the job site and only use what you need. I need to be light on my feet.
For a peace of mind the next time you need to check bags full of expensive photography gear, place some kids stickers on the luggage and make it look as cheap as possible.
Know The Work Schedule of Your Environment
Typical operations of complex industrial facilities can include anything from gigantic equipment installations to normal day-to-day routines but when I’m hired to shoot specific operations like the installation of a new machine or the progress of a renovation project, the risk of danger is much higher.
Getting into the middle of ongoing operations can be extremely hazardous to your health — there is moving equipment that can easily crush people to death, potential chemical exposure, extremely high pressure, swinging crane loads, and so forth.
Once on a shoot at a sawmill I positioned myself four or five feet from a conveyor belt not realizing my shin was in front of an air pressure release valve. It released and startled me half to death but I carried on unharmed.
The industrial world follows strict maintenance schedules at precise times. You need to know where you can be at what time and for how long. Take a wind turbine field for example. I may climb the ladder of one turbine to capture an aerial view with a wide lens. In this situation, it’s good to know that turbines are programmed to begin generating electricity when the hub-height weight reaches 8 miles per hour and it’s better to know exactly where to read the wind speed.
Protect Your Gear!
My number one rule about my gear at industrial photo shoots is to not change lenses. Even though there may be a ventilation system in place, debris and dust are everywhere and I’d rather not take the risk of damaging my sensor.
If I have to change my lens I use a light tight film changing bag I still have from my large format film days.
Items and parts may appear harmless but they can be hot or toxic. there maybe Infrared / Ultraviolet Hazards. Catwalks and stairs can be uneven and I always check handrails for stability and avoid leaning on them. Always keep your gear as close to you as possible.
As an industrial photography there are no limits to what I can capture and my favorite part is learning about new and emerging industries. I’m looking forward to attend the Ohio Valley Regional Oil & Gas Expo at the end of April where I will be one of many guests eager to discover new opportunities for America’s energy independence.
Curious to what’s going on at this expo? Check out the video below!
I live by the philosophy that’s it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. However, this philosophy only turns out for the better when you know your rights and boundaries as a photographer. Take for example the time I reached out to the staff of an industrial manufacturing trade show and was declined to photograph the event although the event was public.
Of course everyone there was tappy happy on their smart phones capturing everything and the chances were slim that I would’ve been detained for bringing my camera. So I decided to grab a few video clips. Did I make the right choice to ask the staff prior to the event?
It’s important for industrial photographers to understand the basic laws that impact our work and I understand if you fell asleep in ethics class. We’d rather take pictures than read books about law, right?
Cops and cameras are a suspicious combination and 90% of the time photographers aren’t out there to break laws while on the job but sometimes we skirt the boundaries in order to capture those atypical images.
Here’s a look at the laws through my lens told from personal experience.
There’s No Stopping Me On Public Property
I was once threatened by a police officer while doing street photography when I lived in Pittsburg. This was even prior to 9/11 and I was shocked. Although you have the right to photograph anything in plain view when standing in a public space, you may be confronted.
- Federal Buildings, Railroad Stations, Airports and other transportation facilities can be photographed from a distance while standing in public property.
- Telephoto lenses may attract attention from law enforcement and if ever confronted, be polite and understanding.
- Police may not confiscate your camera, SD cards or film in any circumstance without court order, on public or private property.
- Your right to take pictures in public spaces is protected under the first amendment. Big Brother is watching the public, but the public is able to watch Big Brother.
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. ~ Benjamin Franklin
Moving Beyond Public Spaces
There has been a recent widespread phenomenon about revealing the truth behind what we eat. Documentary filmmakers are going behind the scenes of some of the largest factories and manufacturing plants in the United States to tell their stories.
There is a balance between the stories we want to tell and the laws we must obey and the magic happens somewhere in the middle.
On the industrial manufacturing side, I’m usually asked to sign a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA). Even though I usually retain the copyright, I need permission to publicly show some of the work. Manufactures are always worried about disclosing trade secrets and reverse engineering.
Did you know?… British and American forces noticed that the Germans had gasoline cans with an excellent design. They reverse-engineered copies of those cans which were popularly known as “Jerry cans”.
Once on a shoot in Toledo the client needed images to show the facility capabilities but without revealing machines in action. In response to this dilemma, we took an inventive approach and ended up shooting abstract and detailed images.
Photographers are entitled to express their opinions and share their stories to educate, communicate and fuel business endeavors. There are laws that impact every choice we make in some way or another and we live within a constructed and developed society that embraces freedom of speech.
If you haven’t learned yet, I am an industrial photographer working in a town called Lewis Center. This area sits right outside the capital city of Ohio, Columbus. I never go a day without hearing the tracks of the railroad rumble and I will always be mesmerized by the endless surrounding rows of corn fields.
Here’s a quick glimpse at these scenes!
It’s a solid location for any industrial photographer to stake out a studio. Cleveland, the industrial hub and nationwide ranking city is on one end and Akron, the rubber capital of the country sits right below. I am about three hours from the primary industrial cities such as Indianapolis, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
There’s a lot to get my hands (lens) on in this area and no matter what working conditions I find myself shooting in, I strive to produce powerful visual images designed to educated, communicate and sell.
But just where do my pictures go? What are they used for? Who and what do I take pictures of? The list of questions goes on and on so let’s reveal some answers.
Hard Work, Hard Work, Read All About It
Pictures that reflect the environment and hard work of employees in action are just a part of industrial photography. I also capture images of groups and teams for companies to show their appreciation for a work in progress or a job well done. These pictures will be published in news articles and company brochures and come in the form of group shots.
A point and shoot camera can rarely capture the appreciation and glamour surrounding such teams. Certain lighting techniques, props and themes are what separates the photos I take from those captured with smartphones or point and shoot cameras. The picture used to show the pride of a team are just as important as the pride itself.
Shine A Light On Me
You have a new product that you are bringing to the market soon and your company needs pictures for brochures, catalogues, websites and marketing materials. This is when I take your product to my studio and execute lighting techniques to capture every angle possible.
Product photography can be captured outside of the studio and inside the environment it’s used.
Progress Shots on Facility Projects
There’s something special about watching home videos. We see ourselves at a certain point in time looking and acting differently and we can reflect on our past times. These videos essentially capture the progress of our lives. In the manufacturing industry, it’s no different but the focus transfers to machinery, facilities and gigantic industrial plants.
These images become great reminders to reflect on the past and serve to show appreciation for your company. The reason top notch photography provides the best outcome in these situations is because people want to see the best part of what happened and it takes a special eye to document these events.
Catch My Attention!
Professional photographers aim to portray the most real life aspects of your business. Rather than choosing a picture of a model that is striking a pose that’s been done a thousand times, I will understand your vision and bring the uniqueness of your company to life.
Stock photography does not reveal professionalism of a company in todays visual driven media world. Anyone can bust out an iphone and snap a picture of their new machine and products but there is a higher demand on quality images in order to break out from the crowd and be noticed.
This is the most common type of work I do and I enjoy it most. These pictures go in marketing materials, product catalogs and business websites. Therefore, they will have the highest viewership among my published work.
These pictures can either be taken in my studio or on the location at your companies facility. It depends on the medium where you will be publishing your portraits but I am flexible enough to travel on site or work from the comfort of my studio.
An ‘Infographic Interview’ with Industrial Manufacturers
Well that was fast! The annual Manufacturing Day came, saw and conquered its’ objective to help educate our society and spark the curiosity of the youth on industrial manufacturing. On October 4th, 832 manufacturing facilities across the country opened their doors in an effort to address the skilled labor shortage they face, connect with future generations, take charge of the public image of manufacturing and ensure the ongoing prosperity of the whole industry.
Cameras and photography were prohibited during my tour of the EWI facility so I had to think of another way to visually reveal the inner workings of the companies on Manufacturing Day. I created an infographic to bring you inside Manufacturing Day that you can view below, but first lets recap the event.
EWI along with various other industrial manufacturing companies that participated in Manufacturing Day were kind enough to answer a few questions of mine. This is a good way to reflect on the success, outcome and perspective of Manufacturing Day from the business’s that eat, breath and sleep manufacturing!
What makes this holiday so unique is that just about every type of manufacturer participates.
From an aerospace products manufacturer to a leading manufacturer of bearing technology, each company provided insight into their specialty.
Isaiah Industries showcased stamping, roll forming, and powder coating operations, all of which go into creating amazing metal and steel roof top solutions. Over at EWI, we got to check out the ultrasonic nondestructive evaluation of spot welds, which can be used to test the strength of a welded or joined piece without having to break it apart. Ever wonder about machine tool spindle manufacturing, custom seal manufacturing and power transmission services. A visit to SKF Solution Factory-Cleveland would’ve showed you how it’s done!
Apart from the diversity among the companies, there is a common connection between them that can be summed up by the words of Lynn Vaughn of FC Industries.
The tours through the plant which showcase our employees doing the excellent work that they do every day while proudly showing others “how it’s made” was the highlight of Manufacturing Day for us.
I want thank the following companies for the time they spent helping me with this post and for their contribution to Manufacturing Day 2013.
- Isaiah Industries
- SKF Solution Factory
- FC Industries INC.
Did you get the opportunity to pay a visit to a company of your choice on Manufacturing Day or did you open up your doors for tours? I’d like to hear about your experience in the comments below.
Lefty Loosy, Righty Tighty: How To Educate and Influence The Youth To Pursue Hands-On & Well-Paid Manufacturing Jobs
During my childhood I spent time on the big rig machines with my father, laid hands on my first camera at the age of 9 and opened up my very own toolbox shortly after. The “Do It Yourself” mentality was an actual lifestyle rather than just a tagline for Home Depot.
Today, kids spend more time with smart phones in their hands playing angry birds than they do building treehouses. Unfortunately I don’t have much research to back up this ‘generalization’, however:
In the last 25 years, schools have eliminated all their shop courses. Where would our kids learn manual skills? When was the last time you met a kid who built a treehouse? That’s where all these skills start. You build something or fix a bike, then you fix a car or build a boat.”
The Problem Is The Perception of Industrial Manufacturing Jobs
Western Civilization is based on one’s ability to put a nut and bolt together but manufacturing is just not “sexy” anymore. A 2009 research of American teens revealed that more than half had little or no interest in a manufacturing career. Another 21 percent were ambivalent. Here’s a snapshot of the point of view shared by the youth and their parents:
- It’s a failure if you don’t send your kids to college
- If you don’t study you will end up working in a factory
Industrial manufacturing is the backbone of American society and the last thing we want to do is cut shop courses from study curriculums and engrain the belief that these types of jobs are not worthy.
It is not in the interest of the industrial manufacturing society to convince our youth not to pursue higher education in order to increase the labor force for our factories, steel mills and power plants. Actually, the ultimate goal is to shine light on the opportunity of such a career in this field and to do so through teaching, workshops and revealing the truth.
The overall trend is that factories are having trouble finding electricians and other skilled trades people without a steady influx of young people.
Craig McAtee, interim vice president of advanced manufacturing at Cuyahoga Community College remarks on the specifics of the jobs:
These jobs aren’t the semi-skilled positions that fled the U.S. for China or Mexico over the past couple decades, but are what I call “gold collar” jobs, where workers use computerized machines and welding torches that require deft touches. And they can pay $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
How did the fast food chains of the nation stand up against the criticism they received for their contribution to high obesity rates? They added yogurts and salads to the menu as an alternative to the greasy burgers.
Likewise, industrial manufacturing needs to direct our youths attention to the benefits these jobs offer and the type of work they include.
A major player in shaping the future of industrial manufacturing is John Ratzenberger, the Co-founder of Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs.
The mission of the Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs foundation is to engage, nurture and excite individuals of all ages to pursue careers in manufacturing.
Kids can attend summer camps and earn scholarships to programs like the Introduction to Manufacturing Concepts through electric guitar building or GADgET (Girls Adventuring in Design, Engineering & Technology).
There is a factory behind every business and hard working people behind every machine and piece of equipment.
As an industrial photographer, my favorite piece of equipment so happens to be a camera that I use to create visual images designed to educate, communicate and sell. Whether you’re in need of an all inclusive photo shoot of a factory or want to partner up to help raise awareness of and influence the future of industrial manufacturing, please contact me.
While we’re on the topic, I will be visiting EWI in Columbus, Ohio for the newly celebrated and most anticipated holiday, Manufacturing Day on October 4th 2013. EWI specializes in aerospace, automotive, government/defense, heavy manufacturing, consumer products and light industrial energy. As of today there are 454 events planned for which companies and factory facilities will open their doors for different types of tours with the purpose to expand knowledge about and improve general public perception of manufacturing careers and manufacturing’s value to the U.S. economy.