Business is essentially our civilization, for it is the essential characteristic of our times.Henry Luce, 1929
The aesthetic exposition and utopian view of technology and industry so brilliantly translated through photography of the time did not fail to catch the attention of corporate managers, who found a new use for the so-called objective medium. A key element of efficient management, graduates of Harvard Business School would learn, was the ability to inspire faith in the corporation. As an executive warned at the Association of National Advertisers Convention in 1937, “Every company that fails to do its part in public relations for business contributes [not only] to possible destruction . . . of its own business but also to the scuttling of our whole system of private enterprise as well as our democratic system of government.”
Companies established public relations departments and then strategically employed the artistic conventions of photographers to try to improve their own image, as well as that of the overall economy during the Depression. In the case of Frank Seely’s rendering of the Continental Bakery’s wrapping and slicing machine, the photographer fused together elements of abstraction and industry to form a metaphor for corporate success. The sharp streaming lines of the conveyor belt frame the proud baker, who stands at the focal center of the scene, surrounded by the sparkling assembly line. The final product, wrapped and ready for delivery, awaits the satisfied customers, who look on with anticipation.
© 2012 President and Fellows of Harvard College