Industrial Photography in the Machine Age

Geometry and line

This gelatin dry plate photograph of the Peixateries Velles bridge in Girona demonstrates how direction and perspective can work wonders for otherwise trivial scenes. When trying to take in this picture’s many elements and details, our eyes are guided by strong lines and patterns that help us “find our way” through the scene.

Repetition, symmetry and geometry are excellent visual guides. As inconspicuous as they might seem, patterns govern this image and lend rhythm to the viewing experience. As a result, this picture intrigues while it pleases; it stirs as well as appeases the eye.

To obtain such an effect, photographers have often sought linearity and geometry in everyday scenes. By fixing and highlighting such features in the photographic image, an almost metaphysical quality is lent to the depicted objects.

In this image by Alfred Bernheim (left), the architectural elements in the foreground create strong contract and structure, making for a unique view of the port of Haifa, Israel.

Line and perspective also work wonders in this picture of the Garage Marbeuf, Paris, by François Kollar. The positioning of the cars, the terraced structure of the building and the patterned tiles make the most of the dynamic bird's-eye view offered by the photographer.

Since its construction in 1889, photographers have been drawn to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. This famous landmark is a great photographic subject. The structure is at its most impressive in pictures such as the Léon & Levy image above, where its height or size are not the focus, but the complex geometrical beauty of the ironwork.

The tower, which initially served as the grand entrance to the Paris world exhibition, was considered a world’s marvel by the French. It got mixed reactions from international visitors, however - one American delegation apparently called it a “monstrous construction”.

Nevertheless, many pictures of the tower, documenting its first years of existence, highlight its inventive design and the interplay of curved, straight, parallel and crossing lines.

This image of a construction worker was photographed in the city of Witten, located in Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia region, whose major industries include machine building, steel manufacturing, metalworking, and electrical engineering.

The photograph of a lone worker sitting aloft in a forest of girders creates a visual interplay between nature and the man-made world, in an almost Mondrianesque composition. Having found his own private spot in a grid of steel, the worker in this picture is the perfect lever to our next exhibition chapter.

The second section of The Pleasure of Plenty will be devoted to the power of the people. Cheering for a champion, mourning a loss or voicing protest: a mass of voices makes for a powerful message - and a mighty image. Coming soon in July!

In the meantime, check out Europeana Photography and join the conversation on social media.