Lost Labor, Images of Vanished American Workers
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Raymon Elozua

Hooker Chemical     Most of the photographs were taken from business or corporate histories, a small yet enduring niche in the publishing world. These "vanity" histories are often self-published to celebrate anniversaries or special events, and given out only to employees or customers, rather than sold as trade books. They were usually written by anonymous public relations specialists or in house management. Understandably, academic historians do not hold them in high regard. Companies looked upon these books as another form of public relations. Since factories are only accessible to photographers approved or employed by the company, these images provide an intimate albeit often staged behind-the-scenes portrait of the American workplace. While there is no pretense to objectivity, or of being pro-labor, these photographs are revealing as historical documents. Photographs of workers were used to complement text, illustrate industrial processes, or provide reference points of human scale for machinery.
    Many company histories, particularly those of large corporations, were lavishly produced and illustrated as in Dynamic America: A history of General Dynamics by General Dynamics Corporation. Others present a complete visual record of the processes involved in manufacture as in Asbestos: From mine to finished product by Asbestos & Mineral Corporation, 1909, or Steel: A pictorial presentation of a basic American industry by United States Steel Corporation, 1941. Another, The Untold Stories of Business (Kingsport Press, 1937), as one of the primary publishers of corporate histories, presents an unvarnished appeal for business to desseminate its message to the public. The book’s subtitle, a tongue-in-cheek homage to 18th century instructional manuals, makes the purpose clear: "Wherein is Surveyed the Power of Books in Business and Likewise Described are Certain Methods and Tactics for Planning and Writing Books About Business."
    For the majority of books there are no photographic credits. Several books credit noted photographers such as Margaret Bourke-White in After Fifty years: 1898-1948 by International Paper Company, 1948, Russell C. Aikens in Partners all: A pictorial narrative of an industrial democracy, by Endicott Johnson, 1938, or Lee Friedlander in Cray at Chippewa Falls, 1987, Cray Research Inc., 1987. In The story of cotton by Callaway Mills, 1939, a family member, Bessie Walker Callaway, is credited. Surprisingly, the photographs in company histories rarely draw the attention of either history scholars or photography curators. Business and economic scholars have noted the existence of these books and there are three standard business history bibliographies: Henrietta Larson, Guide to Business History (1948), Lorna Daniels, Studies in Enterprise (1957), and Priscilla C. Geahigan, U.S. & Canadian Business: A bibliography 1955-1987. Unfortunately these bibliographies do not annotate the use of illustrations or photographs within the books, neglecting the importance of a precious visual resource.