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Union at the Waterfront Gallery

18 Sep 2017 9:15AM

University of Suffolk BA (Hons) Photography lecturer Noel Bowler is exhibiting the result of a five year project in Union, on display at the University's Waterfront Gallery over the next month. 

Union looks at the spaces of organised labour; it explores the meeting rooms and back offices at the 'coalface' of the ideological war between labour and capital that has shaped our lives since the industrial revolution.

Noel explains his inspiration "I’ve always been fascinated with the notion of space and how we as people adapt to it, or indeed how our surroundings affect our decision making and productivity. The initial idea was about the day to day routine of working life.  As a 'struggling' artist this idea of routine and job security for me was something very foreign. I was particularly interested in people who sit at the same desk day in, day out with the same view and surroundings. I found it curious how people can remain inspired, motivated and productive in this routine."

"The hope for all my projects is relatively straightforward: it’s always to create a conversation.  In the case of Union, the conversation is about the global labour market and role of unions in shaping the future of workplaces."

"Particularly in the past decade, we’ve seen significant changes in the format of the workplace as a whole. Within the context of the Union photographs, these changes are visible in the offices during the 5 year period I spent making this work. With the decline of the permanent job, the ‘politburo’ wooden panelled walls of the individual workspace make way for open plan offices. Technology in turn has led to a push to the 'working from home' model."

"I like to see Union as a visual archive on how people worked during a certain period in time.  Perhaps future viewers of the photographs in Union will reflect on how strange it was to all meet in the one room, sitting around a table with microphones discuss and develop a working strategy."

Union captures trade union offices in 14 countries, the photographs offer a glimpse into the places where the decisions and policies that affect so many are created.

Noel adds "I think it’s important in my work, and with the photographic narrative, to leave room for the viewer to engage and add to the narrative. It’s important that not all the information is evident within each image; a layered understanding or reading of the image is required. In fact, what's not in the image is just as important as what is included."

Union has been described as giving 'a unique insight into the pressures and challenges facing unions in this era of political and economic uncertainty, radical changes in traditional work practices and increased worker insecurity.'

Photographer Ken Grant has said of Union “It’s heartening to spend time with Bowler's quietly anchored work, to recognise the value and richness of all these sustained labours and understand that there are still sharp minds and strong hands ready to navigate difficult waters.”

Lisa Wade, Head of the Department of Arts and Humanities at the University of Suffolk said “It is always thrilling to see the curated work of colleagues, not least when a national exhibition is brought 'home' to the University of Suffolk. Noel's work has been some considerable time in the making and has shown (and will show) in sites across Britain and Ireland as well as travelling as far afield as Tokyo. Each image captures and reflects the shaping and manipulation of what is, primarily 'negotiation' space.”

“Most striking overall, from this capture I think, is the compelling nature of comparison that these visual images force, and the desire to consider the international socio-political context within the formal visual plane. We are very much looking forward to offering Suffolk students and staff and the broader community a chance to experience Noel's project first hand, at home in the Waterfront Gallery, Neptune Quay from October 2017.”

Union is supported by the Gallery of Photography, Dublin, Arts council England and Culture Ireland. It will be on display in the University of Suffolk's Waterfront Gallery from 18 September- 27 October 2017.


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