"At Work"

  • Dates
    2023 - Ongoing
  • Author
  • Location Italy, Italy

Environment portraits of people in their workplaces. Taken August 2024 in Valle Camonica, Italy.

During high school and college, I had a series of construction related jobs: asphalt, landscape, and  building crews. I listened to the workers complaining at lunch about their wives, the boss, the low pay, the economy, their lack of status in the world but they never made disparaging comments about the work itself. These were men, always men in those days, whose lives had not been easy nor privileged. They had to work hard to get the skills to move up from laborer, to apprentice, to journeyman, to foreman, to superintendent. The men who were most relaxed and productive were also those who were the most skilled.

When I started photographing seriously, I was drawn to situations where people were in their own workspaces. These were places where people felt most at home, most themselves. They did not need “to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” I tried to stand and watch a little before photographing to convey my appreciation for the worker’s skill and engagement. A man’s work is his life and should be respected.

There is a Taoist phrase: “wei wu wei,” which has been translated a number of ways but the one I like best is “doing, not doing.” When one has become a complete master of an action, he no longer has to think about how to perform the act but has become the act himself. I look for this mastery and hope to record it. Doing work with skill and love is one of the noblest acts of man.

I have been documenting people in their workplaces and places of rest since 1990. This interest has taken me to Hong Kong, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Vietnam, India, Morocco, Europe, Cuba, Jordan, and across the US and Canada. I am usually in poorer parts of cities and towns where tourists are infrequent and where it is easier to find people working along the edge of streets. I was fortunate to have been awarded a month long residency in Northern Italy as part of the Boynes Emerging Artist Award, 7th edition. My project was to document artisans and artists in the Valle Camonica. The images I have attached to this submittal were all taken during that residency and includes photos which extend my long-term project “At Work.”

My work might be best described as a mix of street photography and environmental portraiture. It is not political in the sense of showing people finding a way to improve their lot in life. It attempts to convey that work itself is a form of personal liberation.

© Kip Harris - Luca Ducoli, Iron Worker, Niardo
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Luca Ducoli, Iron Worker, Niardo

© Kip Harris - Art Restorers, Cerveno
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Art Restorers, Cerveno

© Kip Harris - Stefano Cocchi, Stone Cutter, Braone
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Stefano Cocchi, Stone Cutter, Braone

© Kip Harris - Andrea Soardi,        Printer, Pisogne
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Andrea Soardi, Printer, Pisogne

© Kip Harris - Chef, Cusone
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Chef, Cusone

© Kip Harris - Fucina Museo, Bienno
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Fucina Museo, Bienno

© Kip Harris - Pietro and Antonio Sandrini, Wood  Carvers, Ponte di Legno
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Pietro and Antonio Sandrini, Wood Carvers, Ponte di Legno

© Kip Harris - Movers, Bienno
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Movers, Bienno

© Kip Harris - Claudio Bolis, Woodworker, Erbanno
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Claudio Bolis, Woodworker, Erbanno

© Kip Harris - Valeria Fusi and Clients, Bagolno
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Valeria Fusi and Clients, Bagolno

© Kip Harris - Mattia Ducoli, Accordian Restorer, Esine
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Mattia Ducoli, Accordian Restorer, Esine

© Kip Harris - Wedding Musician, Breno
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Wedding Musician, Breno