Minnesota Historical Society

By These Hands

$ 24.95


Portraits from the Factory Floor

Photography by David L. Parker, Introduction by Peter Rachleff

Minnesota Historical Society Press (November 8, 2002)

A tribute to the women and men who process the foods we eat, manufacture the cars we drive, and produce the goods that make our lives comfortable.


These starkly beautiful photographs document the daily life and labor of blue-collar workers in modern America.From a foundry in which the very fires of hell seem to blast to an air-conditioned computer control room in which the workers appear casual and comfortable, David Parker's lens captures what Peter Rachleff calls "a performance, a ritual, an exercise centuries old"--men and women at work on factory floors. These photographs, taken in twenty plants in all parts of Minnesota, explore the common bonds of industrial labor. Whether it's the Ford plant in St. Paul, the Potlatch paper mill in Cloquet, or the Toro engine manufacturer in Windom, Parker seeks to honor "the collective genius of the American worker."

Excerpts from interviews with the workers reveal their opinions on such diverse topics as health care and child care, union activity, immigrant labor, and the effects of globalization. Their words and these photographs document industrial laborers and the factories in which they work, revealing how workers interact with each other and their environment and how the culture of labor is reflected in the jobs women and men do. An appendix provides a history and description of each workplace, detailing the magnitude of production and the constant ingenuity required to manufacture even the most common products. This book is a tribute to the women and men who process the foods we eat, manufacture the cars we drive, and produce the goods that make our lives comfortable.

Author information

David Parker's previous books include Stolen Dreams: Portraits of Working Children, winner of a Minnesota Book Award and a Christopher Award, and Minnesota in Our Time, for which he was one of twelve contributing photographers. His work has been displayed at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, at the Lowell National Historical Park, and in the U. S. Senate Rotunda.

Peter Rachleff is Professor and Chair of the History Department at Macalester College in St. Paul. He is the author of Hard-Pressed in the Heartland: The Hormel Strike and the Future of the Labor Movement and Black Labor in Richmond, Virginia, 1865-1890.

Reviews and news

“David Parker’s warmhearted, respectful photos of factory workers bring the vital daily labor of these men and women into the light of dignity. What a privilege it is to peek into these cluttered, mind-boggling workplaces and identify the people whose hard work gives us the goods we take for granted. ‘Help Wanted, No Deadbeats’ reads the graffiti on a piece of equipment in one factory. There are certainly no deadbeats here.”
Cheri Register, author of Packinghouse Daughter: A Memoir

“In the great tradition of humanist, socially engaged photography containing eloquent artistic qualities, David Parker's ongoing photographs of child labor, and now in this volume, his Minnesota workers, rank with those of photographers such as Lewis Hine, Walter Rosenblum and Jerome Liebling. They are objective yet highly personal portraits of great dignity and respect.”
Ted Hartwell, Curator of Photographs, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

By These Hands reveals the setting in which work takes place, the tools with which it is performed, the faces of the men and women who do it, the exertions of their bodies, the gear they often wear that protects their bodies and obscures their faces, and the corners and breakrooms in which they find respite. Compelling visual evidence that industrial labor remains a vital force in our region and a significant source of jobs and labor culture in communities across the state.”
Peter Rachleff, from the Introduction

  • 127 pages
  • 10 x 10 inches
  • ISBN: 9780873514422

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