Anthropologist Arthur Munby studied the working conditions of women, concentrating his investigations on the ‘Pit Brow Lasses’ at the collieries in Wigan and championed these women’s right to work and to wear what they wished.
Munby did not take the photographs himself, but commissioned local photographs to take them for him.
These images were taken away from the pit brow in photographers’ studios which give them an ‘unnatural’ feel, but I can imagine that it was difficult to photograph them at work due to the limitations of photographic equipment and the fact that the colliery owners were probably not aware of Munby’s studies.
The women are shown with the ‘tools of their trade’, (a shovel, a sieve, etc) and still dirty from working at the pit (I’m sure Munby requested they do not wash their faces beforehand) and wearing her work clothes.
They are presented to us as if held up for examination, they have been objectified.
These photographs of women wearing trousers shocked Victorian sensibilities and women working in a masculine world were seen as deviant; far removed from their traditional role as homemaker.
The reason I have included these images in Style section is the girls have been transformed into icons – icons of the working classes, female icons and that is a part of what I am trying to do with the workers I am photographing. These photographs fit in with both the style and content of my work. They are workers photographed not actually working, which is also what I am doing myself.