Industrial Photography in the Machine Age

Factories in Focus

The photographic portfolio documenting the history of the Catalan textile plant Fàbrica Gròber is particularly noteworthy. Many of its documentary images are of an outstanding technical and aesthetic quality, owing to the mastery of photographers such as Josep Thomas Bigas (1852-1910).

His almost architectural compositions are created through carefully considered camera positions, finely balanced elements and an attention to patterning. Bigas’s photographs encourage the viewer to study the intricate details in every part of the image.

In the above image, our eye naturally rests upon the women workers, surrounded by a forest of machines and threads. Even though the Fàbrica was their daily reality - and their daily bread - the somewhat awkwardly upright figures seem a little out of place. Aware of the presence of a man holding a camera, yet not striking a traditional pose or looking straight into the lens, they resemble an array of arranged mannequins.

The industrialist and keen photographer Carles Batlle Ensesa managed to create remarkable images from everyday workshop scenes. His close-ups of the Fàbrica Gròber interior are stunning in their own right: nuts and bolts, needles and strings, wool and steel have been objectified and transformed by the camera into abstract sculptural motifs.

In this picture, the anonymous photographer has masterfully visualised the contrast between the organic and the man-made, by opposing the static human figures with the mass of buzzing machinery.

Pictures like these do justice to the Fàbrica as a landmark of Catalan economic history. From 1890 to 1978, the factory was a major employer in the region, bringing prosperity and modernisation. Today, it is still regarded as a symbol of Catalonia.