LINE OF WORK
LINE OF WORK is a project to photograph the working people in my 21st century suburban American town. I eventually photographed over 40 people ranging from my plumbers to the Mayor. The first photograph. Folk Artist, was taken in 2017 inspired by the delivery of my brand new painted canvas backdrop. The last, Mother, was done in 2019. All the portraits were initially exhibited at The Gallery at Berkshire Hathaway in Montclair, New Jersey, from June 1 to July 31, 2019.
LINE OF WORK is a documentary view of the denizens of my town, Montclair—their pride in their work, their joy and the way they view themselves. The studio is my scientific laboratory, a window onto the human condition. As in a lab, I’ve stripped away variables to create a “case-control study.” The careful application of a repetitious set of rules allows the focus to fall on what is most important: the humanity within each person.
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LINE OF WORK — ARTIST STATEMENT
Life looks a little different when viewed through a camera lens, and living and working as a photographer in Montclair for almost three decades has given me a unique perspective on the people that make the town what it is. The inspiration for this piece is the wonderful connections I’ve made in my time involved in the business community here in Montclair.
There is a straight line from “Line of Work” to Irving Penn’s seminal photo series, “Small Trades.” Penn captured the many different professions of Paris, London and New York in 1950-51. These were often the types of jobs that did not get the glossy fashion magazine spreads Penn usually photographed. By bringing onion sellers, chimney sweeps, and lorry cleaners into the studio, Penn was able to create “psychological portraits” of his subjects that capture the reality better than photographs taken in their work environments.
“Line of Work” is my version of this in Montclair— a documentary view of the denizens of this town, their pride in their work, their joy and the way they view themselves. Just like Penn, I do away with the environmental factors and place people into the decontextualized space of the photography studio, allowing us to study them without distraction, to view things in a new way. Penn said it best, “Taking people away from their natural circumstances and putting them into the studio in front of a camera did not simply isolate them, it transformed them.”
The studio is my scientific laboratory, a window onto the human condition. As in a lab, I’ve stripped away variables to create a “case-control study.” The careful application of a repetitious set of rules allows the focus to fall on what is most important: the humanity within each person.
- same background, single light creating strong shadows
- vertical and center framing
- no cropping, no retouching
- nothing running off the edge of the frame
- photographed with the tools of their trade
Studying these portraits raises the question: what is the nature of a job? I’ve found that for some it is identity, others a belief system, still others just a paycheck. Whatever the motivation, we inhabit our work personas just as they inhabit us. We are not ourselves without them, but neither can they exist without us – and our humanity.
PHIL CANTOR, Montclair, 2019
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8×10 Chromogenic print, mounted and unframed $175