In the early 1900s, motion study pioneers Lillian and Frank Gilbreth used film, photography and ‘therbligs’ – units they invented to notate the movements workers make when performing tasks – as tools in their analyses of industrial practises. Loosely inspired by the Gilbreths’ observational approach, Therblig is a joint print and video exhibition of work by Wideyed‘s Lucy Carolan and Richard Glynn, produced in response to SCA Hygiene Products’ tissue mill in Prudhoe, Northumberland.
Situated by the banks of the Tyne, there has been a paper mill on the Prudhoe site since 1969, when a former ICI chemical works was demolished to make way for the factory. SCA employs more than 400 people, and makes one in five of all the toilet rolls sold in the UK today.
In the century since the Gilbreths used hand cranked motion-picture cameras to film factory workers, image making and industrial technologies and practises have all greatly changed. One legacy of the Gilbreths’ innovative use of imaging is that, in a neat reversal, present day factory employees use the same tools in their own work – cameras inserted into the machines allow the workforce to keep a constant eye on how they are functioning. The video footage produced for Therblig was inspired by factory floor video feeds that show, in a sense, the pulsing heart of the machinery that drives Prudhoe Mill. The installation also presented photographs that pair external viewpoints of the factory with images of its interior, contrasting the mill’s anonymous architecture with the people and processes within.
Therblig was an EXPOSURE Award winner, selected for exhibition by New Art Exchange in Nottingham for the 2013 edition of FORMAT International Photography Festival. The exhibition was also shown at FUSE in Prudhoe in 2013, and won a Journal Culture Award.