Absent from Work

‘Absent from Work’ consists of a single large grid based image of photographs taken of the pages of a China Clay mine captain’s notebook. Each page details the mundane happenings of day-to-day life in working in the China Clay industry at the turn of the century.

Absent from Work emerged from an examination of the archive at Wheal Martyn Museum. The archive contains few written items and consists mainly of physical objects donated by people who have worked in the clay mines or locals who live in the area. The notebook stood out as a written account of life in the mines and was appealing in that it appeared to be ‘nothing of note,’ amongst the other objects in the archive.


On closer examination it was evident that the notebook had been used in specific way. Conventionally, working left to right, its author had documented daily life and events. However, the author had also turned the book over, working from the rear, to note down those members of staff who were ‘absent from work.’ In essence, the way the notebook had actually been used was embodied within it. It could be argued that the notebook itself contained a trace showing us how it had once been used and handled.

Displayed as a grid this photographic work illustrates the action of the author of the notebook and his rotation of the book. The display also suggests day-to-day similarity and the monotony of life working in the clay mines. This work, through its depiction of associative elements articulates my desire to not simply ‘document’ the area but to suggest images through words, to allow the viewer to construct their own narrative account of how life was working in the clay mines and how the notebook was used.