POWER AND THE WORKING SON
October 3, 2012 § 3 Comments
‘Brian Griffin has had a profound effect on photography in the last 30 years… he creates works of art that leave the viewer mesmerised’. (British journal of Photography)
Born in Birmingham, England in 1948, the photographer Brian Griffin studied at Manchester Polytechnic’s School of Photography. Primarily working as a commercial photographer, his project work has been widely published and exhibited. Griffin’s influences have emerged from film and painting, including, Surrealism, German Expressionist cinema and Film Noir.
During the 1970s, He photographed a series of portraits for the magazine, Management Today. The brief was to portray some of the most important individuals in the British corporate world but which have been described as, ‘witty and slightly surreal images that subverted the notions of men in grey suits and demystified the corporate world’. In 1981, these images along with those of politicians, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, trade unionists, educators and representatives in the media were published in the book, Power: British Management in Focus.
Alongside the portraits, images including interiors and exteriors like this below of the London Stock Exchange are also included.One of the earlier images presented, looking up, the photograph conveys the literal wall of concrete and glass between the viewer and those to be portrayed.
The book is further divided into sections, for example, The Directors and The Entrepreneurs, where quotes from those included act as the means of introduction:
On the whole, you can lead men but you can’t drive them: that is the secret of good management (Lord Keith).
I work very hard. It’s a tremendous nervous strain; I’m always keyed-up; I’m a very nervous person. I can’t sit still: we’re fighting a battle every day (Algy Cluff).
In addition, the publication also includes a section titled, The Trade Unionists:
Redistributing work is more interesting and important than redistributing capital. I can’t get excited by redistributing capital. I’d rather deal with the rich by fiscal means (Clive Jenkins)
The significance of the publication, besides the timing, is both its formal approach and the subject matter regarding those portrayed, embodying a visual representation of what the anthropologist, Laura Nader described, in her appeal for a critical repatriated anthropology, as studying up. The powerful are revealed, however, in such an openended regard that Griffin was described at the time as, ‘Margaret Thatcher’s favourite photographer’. Nonetheless, according to Christopher O’Neill, Dean of Birmingham City University:
Griffin was the Tory party’s favourite photographer during the 1980s and his books ‘Work’ and ‘Power’ are the definitive 1980s comment upon the corporate Thatcher years. However, Brian saw this work as ironic…he’s very much a working son of Birmingham.
A short video of the publication can be viewed here, courtesy of the PhotoBookStore.
Tagged: Brian Griffin, Corporate Photography, Laura Nader, Power, Studying Up
I clearly remember Brian Griffin’s powerful photographs from this series- in fact I even purchased one at the time. Brian was one of those rare commercial photographers at the time whose influences derived from art and film. I remember many of these photographs vividly. Open-ended in their meaning, these images anticipate the later work of Paul Graham in their social impact and visually stylistic approach. it is great to see them here.
It was a pleasure to meet you at Format, and I hope you found it beneficial. Many thanks for supporting me with the article above, for Power is a special book with the hardback version designed by a special man.
Very much likewise…and glad you liked this short piece. It is an important book as is your new one, Black Kingdom.
Best to you,