Mark Curran is an Irish photographer currently lecturing in Berlin and working on a 20 year project called The Market about the global economy. I initially looked into Curran’s Southern Cross series as relevant to documentary on Work and interesting to me as he’s photographed workers’ workplaces and themselves but not them working.
Anita from Dublin (IFSC, Phase II, Dublin, 2001), from the series (SOUTHERN CROSS)
Young Joe from Dublin (M50, Dublin, 2000), from the series (SOUTHERN CROSS)
Inspired by the financial crash Curran began his current work The Market in 2010. The intention of The Market is a practice- led research project looking to show how the global stock and commodities market really operates. Curran has so far photographed in markets in Dublin (Curran’s home), London (Global Financial Centre), Frankfurt (European Financial Centre), Addis Ababa (the world’s newest Stock Exchange) and Amsterdam (the oldest Stock Exchange and now central to the Shadow Banking system and practice of High Frequency Trading)
Bethlehem, Trader, Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX); © Mark Curran
An exhibition of the work’s progress was held in 2013 at the Gallery of Photography in Ireland where on the wall at the entrance was a text extracted from a telephone conversation with a trader in a London Investment Bank:
“…what people don’t understand… is that what happens in the market is pivotal to their lives… not on the periphery…but slap, bang, in the middle…”
This ties right in with what we’ve been doing on the FSA and documentary photography in the 1930s/40s.
In 2015 he was commissioned by NEPN and the Noorderlicht Photofestival to produce an “elaboration” on his Market project, titled The Economy of Appearances, a multimedia installation going further into the workings and mechanics of the trading market.
The series that most resonates with me and the documentary project we are studying is his 2006 project ‘The Breathing Factory’ set in Hewlett Packard’s high security Information Technology Centre outside Dublin. The project took place over 20 months and required 9 month’s negotiation for access. The mind blowing thing for me is the 4 shot overview of the work in the exhibiting gallery’s page. Visually, the project is summed up in only 4 shots on the exhibiting gallery’s website. Whilst I’ve been aiming for the full 12 in our project, their summation of Curran’s exhibition is perfect and encapsulates everything we’ve been told about the importance of editing.
The images in The Breathing Factory are presented with a blue tone that emphasises a cold, clean, clinical portrayal of the building and the work. He writes of the piece that it critically addressed the role and representation of globalised labour and industrial space and global labour practices. Completed over a sustained two year period, central is an understanding of the condition of precarity and vulnerability as core to the functioning of those practices and seeing the factory complex as an allegory for the nation-state itself, in terms of responding to the needs and demands of the global market For me, it also looks like this blue-toned, clinical environment is an allegory for HP creating technology to surgically remove money from our pockets and scientifically garner information about us along the way – but that’s adding context from a visceral idea of global tech companies. This particular series is also notable for the security that HP imposed, all visits were pre-arranged and accompanied and all images had to be approved by the corporation. Curran perfectly captures the influence of global capitalism on the work force. They appear very much as cogs in the wheel of HP.
Curran’s work has been a revelation. It shouldn’t be a surprise, it’s what we’ve been being taught but sometimes, when you’re new to something, it takes a while to hear the message and, in the case of visual messages, you have to be shown it by someone else too. I contacted Curran with naive questions about how he works. The article he referred me to and links therein confirmed everything we are being taught but also all the traps I’ve fallen into as a new student. This quote from the Disphotic visual culture blog in the opening to an interview with Mark Curran hits the nail on the head
It’s a paradox that one of the great strengths of photojournalism and documentary photography can also be one of its great handicaps. That is the tendency to employ a laser like focus, conducting photographic micro-studies which encompass a very small field in great detail. It’s the approach many of us learn from the start, being advised (with good reason) as students not to overextend ourselves and to restrict our focus.
Sometimes, you just need to step back…