Spring 2018

Industrial light

Philip Sayer’s photography for Management Today in the 1980s and 90s forged a vivid connection between workers, managers and their companies

In the 1980s and 90s, the monthly British business magazine Management Today, art directed by Swiss designer Roland Schenk, took an idiosyncratic approach to photography for the world of commerce.

Schenk commissioned photographers such as Brian Griffin, John Claridge, Paul Constant, John Ellard and Philip Sayer to create resonant images for its features and covers. The typical subject matter was managers, their companies, and workers on the shop floor.

Cover of Management Today, May 1983. The photo shows a worker at NEI, the Tyneside manufacturer of power turbines. Top. Portrait of a worker at Sinclair Research in Cambridge, UK, early 1980s. This image accompanied an interview with the company’s founder, Clive Sinclair, then launching the ZX80, the first personal computer priced under £100.

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‘To start with, you would get just the name of the company and a press office contact – no article to read – and you would visit their works and shoot for a day,’ recalls Sayer.

Sayer had worked with Maurice Broomfield, celebrated for his pictures of British science and industry in the 1950s and 60s, as an assistant for a while in 1963. Another significant influence on his work was Arnold Newman, in particular One Mind’s Eye (1974), the US photographer’s book of portraits.

Clydeside shipyard worker in front of an incomplete hull, early 1990s.

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Sayer frequently made colour double exposures for Management Today, which he created ‘in camera’. He would light the subject in one part of the frame while leaving the rest dark. After finishing a roll of film he would wind it back. In the next location, he would take another set of images on the same roll of film, lit so that they would occupy the dark space left in the frame.

Double-exposure 35mm photograph of a Rolls Royce board member and an aero engine, April 1991. Sayer first shot the portrait with flash on a dark background. Then he wound the film most of the way back – lining up the frames by using a ‘nick’ in the leader sticking out of the film cassette – and shot the aero engine on the same film, using coloured gels on the flashguns.

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The intention behind such pictures was to make visible the connection between management and the work actually done by the company, showing tools, components, computer monitors, control panels and jet engines. The portraits of workers had a similar purpose, creating drama from the process or product while bestowing dignity on the individual.

Steelworks employee, in a Management Today article about industry in Luxembourg, April 1984. Sayer used a long lens to take us deep inside the foundry.

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Sayer worked with a lightweight rig: a 35mm SLR camera with a tripod, two small flashguns with stands and a supply of coloured gels. Most of the set-ups had to be done quickly; he rarely had more than fifteen minutes to shoot each subject. Using flash helped to isolate the image in its environment, and gave a graphic signature to the final image; his portfolio of Management Today portraits reveals an impressive consistency of style. ‘As a photographer, composition is one of the few things that you can really control,’ says Sayer.

Worker on the shop floor of a carpet maker in Bradford, UK, 1991.

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Andrew Robertson, writer, London

First published in Eye no. 96 vol. 24, 2018

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