For the past two years I’ve been documenting the working lives of Londoners who sell their labour by the hour – that is, those who work for a wage rather than a salary.
This independent book project has the working title ‘Waged London’ and is financed by grants, primarily from Leica and Harman Technology Limited (the old Ilford Ltd.). Harman is producing an exhibition of the project, as a work in progress, in Cologne for the 2008 Photokina, next September and the exhibition will then travel to other venues in several countries and go on tour in the UK. There have been a few confirmed venues and negotiations are going on with others.
I use the classic tools of the documentarian, recorded audio interviews as well as using cameras. From time to time I meet someone directly involved in a campaign or a person who eloquently expresses views about their workplace. I then ask them to write down their experiences and we work together on that. The finished ‘article’ will then appear in the book with their by-line or, any name they wish to use.
This is an unusually difficult project to work on. Of course all my projects have problems in their development, but this one is seemingly impossible. I do get permission to photograph situations but it’s extraordinarily difficult. I’m working with several trade unions and I meet lots of people this way. I also work with campaigning organisations. There have been profound changes during the last several years and now management simply don’t want to cooperate! They are insular and defensive and don’t want cameras around. It’s not a result of September 11th and what is called the war on terror. It’s not that at all.
The fundamental reason why management of industry have so much to hide is because of the condition of those working for them. Very frequently management buy labour from agencies well below the statutory minimum wage. Workers have no rights and if they complain they are quickly sacked. Many men and women get to London by various methods. I cannot fathom how a human being can be illegal and so my views present another difficulty. Some people don’t realise that by allowing their photograph to be taken they could place themselves in a difficult, perhaps life threatening, situation. So, I’m very careful of who I photograph and many captioned names are false, often with faces hidden and I generally don’t place the people in my photographs in a specific place. It’s the situation I’m concerned about.
I spend most of my time talking to people and meeting them away from where they work, sometimes in their homes. I’ve wandered into many hotels and meander through them without acknowledging the cleaners, waiters and other staff that I’ve met before. I’ve been thrown out of lots of hotels and restaurants. In the past, some documentary photographers have made cameras out of cigar boxes and even wellies. I don’t work that way. I draw a sharp line between those who buy labour and those who sell their labour in the market place. I will never photograph working people if they don’t want to be photographed.
The first thing I ask a person is what do they want other people to know about them. If, after lots of talking about my aspirations for the project, they say they don’t want to cooperate, I’ll say that’s perfectly ok and I’ll go some place else. I always work with the agreement of those in my pictures. In some situations that might be a tacit agreement as on demonstrations, but I never hide or use a long lens.
Born in New York City, Larry came to Britain during the Vietnam war, he has lived in Glasgow and Sheffield, but mostly in London.
At art school he trained as a sculptor and started photographing in his mid twenties. Larry’s photographs are in many permanent and private collections around the world and he has had several books published.
In the early 1980’s Larry stopped working as a photographer and worked in steel mills and foundries as a fettler/welder and on London Underground trains. After twelve years working in industrial Jobs, Larry returned to professional photography in 1993.
His most recently finished book, titled ‘Land, Land, Land!’ is about the living conditions of rural African Americans in the southern United States. It is currently making the rounds of publishers and many magazines have already published essays, interviews, etc. from the book.
Larry has had many one person exhibitions and group shows, won lots of prizes and experienced lots of rejections too. He writes reviews and articles, not necessarily about photography, more often the role of the arts in our society.
He first joined the NUJ in 1971.
Photographer since 1971, EPUK member since 2004.
See more work by Larry Herman