Old jobs, new jobs (2018)

« There are only three decent human beings: the priest, the soldier and the poet. Learning, killing, creating.  ».  Charles Baudelaire, 1863


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Reading this Charles Baudelaire sentence (extracted from “Modern life painter”) was the starting point to think about old and new jobs. Then, I discovered this wonderful August Sanders photograph “The baker” (1929) and the Marine Museum in Etaples: this convinced me to explore this issue.

I was raised in a family where hard work means a lot. As a widow, my great grand-mother (on mother’s side) opened a bistro-café a in 1917 in Britany with her sister. Widow too at the age of 43, my bretonne grand-mother worked in the Post Office all her life (from 17 to 65) to meet her family’s needs. When I was a child, I always saw my parents work hard. My father (electrician training) had to combine two jobs-one in the day, the other at night- before being a self-taught entrepreneur.

When I was a teenager, I read the Emile Zola Rougon Macquart saga : his description of finance, sales, trade, mining and prostitution jobs both fascinated and revolted me. In 1993, entering working life, I discovered labour force and factories : Renault Sandouville in Le Havre industrial area and Essilor plants in Provins. A hive of skills, manual and intellectual professions, hierarchies at the service of a final product. So I met many different remarkable and professional people- contradicting Charles Baudelaire assertion.

In the XXth Art history century, some artists already explored the professions issue through portraits and series : mostly photographers as Eugène Atget (“Petty crafts in Paris”), August Sanders (“Faces”), Irving Penn, François Kollar (“France works”) but also painters- Chaïm Soutine (the little baker, the groom, the waiter), Georges Rouault (lawyer, acrobats) and Pierre Alechinsky. It is very interesting and strange to observe that all these portraits are mostly and exclusively men portraits…however, some rare female exceptions : “The balloon seller” photographed by Irving Penn in 1950, “The seamstress” drawned by Alechinsky in 1948 and some feminine workers shooted by Lewis Hine, in the United States in 1930. However, the eternal woman profession as hustler had been fully dealt by artists through the XXth. As if, until the 50's, the only revealed woman labour was the “working girl” as the “sex worker”...

In 1980, the french director Alain Cavalier honoured manual women’s work by shooting “24 portraits”, 24 testimonials of simple and overwhelming women. In 2002, the American photographer Nancy Rica Schiff reveals a mixed work place: she published the “Odd jobs” book, a humorous anthology of odd and singular jobs, both female and male.

“World is changing » is the understatement of the century…our world is evolving but not changing radically and today’s professions are reflecting these mutations. Some manual jobs had totally disappeared now in western countries (mattress maker, needle maker, upholsterer) but still exist on other continents: plowman, spinning worker; some manual jobs had been forgotten in western countries but do reappear in times of crisis (cobbler, ragman); some new qualifications appear : spider ecologist, pediatric surgeon, deep sea sewage diver, Immigration officer, policewomen officer. But, paradoxically, in a supertechnological world, a large scale of ancestral professions is still persisting : forester, poetess, woman clown, butcher, restorative artist, judge, priest, ironer. Those eternal jobs are resisting and adapting to new time. I wanted to observe these mutations and to honour women and men workers.

And this eternal question : Is being an artist a real job ? A craftmanship ? A privilege ? A curse ? Wonderland ? Artist : a holy parasite ?

"An artist is above all a subject person. Subjected to mysterious and unpredictable vibrations that we can call intuitions (...). These messages could involve to destroy an artwork, to move toward a new and radical direction -even no direction at all, no project at all and no hope to move on (...). It is this and only this that could differ to other jobs and professions that Jed wanted to honour in the second part of his career". Michel Houellebecq, 2010 (The map and the territory).