The workers

At its heart, creative direction is about how you tell a story - and what's implied and discoverable is just as important to an audience as what's on the surface.

So when I found the atmospheric, archive photography of aircraft workers in California during WW2, I knew these were the images I wanted to use to set the tone of my new portfolio site.

These are stunning photographs, in the great tradition of documentary realism which flourished in the Thirties and Forties in the wake of the huge social upheavals of the Depression followed by world war.

What blew me away when I first found them was the intensity of the workers' concentrated gaze and the relationship between hand and eye as they labour to make their flying machines.

Perched on top of an enormous propeller or sitting coolly astride an engine as if it’s a motorbike, these dames are completely absorbed in their task.

And this skill and precision was multiplied many times over across the factory as each finished component was put together - into an aeroplane that embodied the team's design, engineering and craft expertise as it took to the skies.

The relationship between this and my own work is not immediately obvious on the surface (I'd need a manual just to change a plug). But looking deeper, what makes them relevant is the dedication to their craft and the collaboration with their teams. To make something amazing that works perfectly for the people that use it.

The storytelling is also in the evocative details. The pattern on a headscarf. The stitching on a collar. The carefully ironed blouse, the nail varnish on hands that are drilling into sheet metal, the oversized blackened leather gloves worn as insulation for testing electrical connections. 

These details are enigmatic  - there are so many opportunities to speculate. Why the nail varnish, actually? Did they know the photographer was coming that day? (If not, respect for the amount of grooming that clearly went into a normal day at the workface.) What's on the armband of the girl on the Clock On page - does it tell us she's a doctor? an actor? a chiropractor? a contractor? 

To make the images work in the context of my own site, I edited the images so the original saturated colours were knocked back to give a unity across the set. 

Then I brushed a blush of colour back in on the faces, to make the important connection between the eyes and the spark I've created in the workers' hands.

I've posted the originals of some of my favourite images - all the ones I've used on the site, plus a few extra which I didn't use but still love for various reasons.

For example, the third image in the series shows a girl who's clearly just won the tussle with her particular part of the machine. The triumphant look on her face makes me smile every time I look at it.


The photographs are used courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection