Glenn Busch

Mat King: Working Men, Christchurch Gas Works, 1981

gelatin silver print
230mm x 230mm

signed Glenn Busch dated 1981 and inscribed Mat King: Working Men and Christchurch Gas Works in graphite verso

Note: This lot is accompanied by a first edition copy of Working Men by Glenn Busch (Wellington: National Art Gallery, 1984), on which it is illustrated on the cover.

Acquired directly from the artist.


Another from the edition included in the following exhibitions: Glenn Busch: Working Men, National Art Gallery, Wellington, 1984; Glenn Busch: Working Men, Christchurch Art Gallery, Christchurch, 1986.


Another from the edition held by Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington (acquired 1983).


Working Men is a series of black and white photographs by Glenn Busch documenting men working in trades in New Zealand during the 1980s. Accompanied by recordings of or...

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Estimate $2,000 - $3,000
Achieved $2,345.00

Working Men

by George Watson

Working Men is a series of black and white photographs by Glenn Busch documenting men working in trades in New Zealand during the 1980s. Accompanied by recordings of oral histories, Working Men depicts coal miners, gas workers, apprentice carpenters and crane drivers, each pausing for a moment from his work. In each portrait, stark scenes of industry—worn concrete, iron bars and studded factory walls provide backdrops for the photographs. By depicting each worker alone, cropping out any fellow workers or comrades, Busch’s photographic series captures the alienation that comes from the necessity of selling a lifetime of labour in order to survive. Whilst the central and foregrounded position of his subjects and the weight and poise of their bodies in space is part of a lineage dating back to the codified poses of royal portraiture, Busch’s formal decision making, such as the framing of his subjects, also adheres strongly to the traditions of documentary photography. Here, documentary photography’s relationship to the everyday and its feigned naturalism or visual colloquialism gild over the highly politicised and ideologically charged act of representation. Busch’s depictions of workers are, however, saturated with sentiment, and with a romanticised vision of the working man. His photographs create a kind of echo chamber of tropes, making the viewer think of the man alone, the heroic pioneer, the glorified solider—all troubling identities, perhaps even more so within a colonial New Zealand context.

Although Busch chooses not to depict any women in his photographic series, the1980s in New Zealand saw more and more women joining the workforce in various roles. It was also a time of unprecedented growth in which New Zealand’s total population increased by a little over 250,000 to 3.4 million in just a decade. During this time, over 81% of the population identified themselves as European, 12% as Māori and 4% as Pacific Islanders. This decade also saw a major and rapid shift in economic policy, from the regulated wages and price freezes of the Muldoon era to Roger Boyce’s controversial deregulations of the mid-80s, that would essentially herald in the free market as we know it today. Busch’s relentless depiction of the archetypal working man somewhat neutralises the complex and layered issues around labour relations that were coming to a head at this time of rapid change, whilst also keeping the racial and gendered dimensions of these emerging relations firmly on the margins.