In the 1930s Harvard Business School colleagues Donald Davenport and Frank Ayres contacted leading businesses and requested photographs for classroom instruction—images Davenport hoped would “reveal the courage, industry and intelligence required of the American working man.” They amassed more than 2,100 photographs, from strangely beautiful views of men operating Midvale Steel’s 9,000-ton hydraulic press to women assembling tiny, delicate parts of Philco radios. Now students, and America’s aspiring corporate managers, had visual data to study “the human factor,” the interaction of worker and machine.
But the pictures were more than documentary records. They were the work of artists such as Margaret Bourke-White, Lewis Hine, and others, who produced highly stylized images meant to instill confidence in corporate America. Created in the years between the world wars, the Industrial Life Photograph Collection reveals the colliding—and sometimes competing—messages of art and industry, education and public relations, humanity and modernization.
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