Noel Bowler: Union
Step inside trade union buildings across the globe, for a rare glimpse into the spaces where workers fight for their rights.
Made over a 5-year period, Noel Bowler’s Union reveals the boardrooms and private offices of trade union buildings across the globe. The exhibition offers a rare glimpse into places where decisions and policies that affect so many are made.
Bowler’s photographs show how the institutions of organised labour, designed to protect workers from exploitation in the nineteenth century, are responding to today’s economic uncertainty. Incorporating images from Russia, the USA, Poland and the UK, Union offers unprecedented access to rarely seen spaces, combining photographs of momentarily silent interiors of trade union offices alongside portraits of union leaders.
Bowler invites us to walk the well-trodden carpets and parquet floors, and to gaze at the utilitarian desks beneath strip lights and false ceilings. Each space offers clues to its inhabitants; flags, emblems and political posters allow the viewer’s imagination to populate each dormant scene.
There is a dry humour to Bowler’s work, the sparse setting of the Union of Polish Teachers in Warsaw is fittingly dominated by a large blackboard, whilst a cluttered desk at the Maritime Trades Department at the AFL-CIO in Washington DC demonstrates its inhabitant’s political leanings and sporting preferences. The ordinariness of many of these workspaces is undercut by the knowledge that these are sites where important contemporary battles around workers’ rights are taking place.
Bowler offers 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. This timely exhibition continues Bowler’s ongoing consideration of the political forces that shape our world, reflected through the organisation of social space.
Noel Bowler says, “Union is a journey through an anxious world where the apparent certainty of the past faces an unknown future.”
Thanks to our partners, funders and sponsors:
Union by Noel Bowler is supported using public funding by Arts Council England and Culture Ireland.
Noel Bowler (b.1978, Ireland) is a photographer and educator. He holds an MFA in photography from University of Ulster, Belfast and a BA (Hons) degree in Documentary Photography from the University of Wales, Newport. His work has been exhibited worldwide including New York Photofestival and Les Rencontres d’Arles, with solo exhibitions in Gallery of Photography, Ireland, and Impressions Gallery, England. Bowler has nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2011 and for the Prix Pictet Photography Prize in both 2012 and 2015. He is currently a Lecturer in Photography at the University of Suffolk.
- exhibition visitors
"It truly is amazing to have a place to see the history of the modern workforce and appreciate those who have helped mould our lives and futures."
"Impressive pictures of power, position and opportunity for change. It’s striking how many of the union interiors mirror hierarchies in society, particularly gender inequalities. I wanted to rearrange the chairs in the offices and meeting rooms!"
"Lovely exhibition, well done, I’m coming from Gdansk, where solidarity started to fight workers rights and to fight communism."