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Pullman Painters on Ladder

Pullman Painters on Ladder
A candid snapshot portrait of a team of painters. The ladder, used in painting the exterior of Pullman cars and symbolic of the men's trade, leans against a building and is steadied by a fence and by the left arm of the third man on the ladder. Six workers are seated, ascending one behind the other, on its steps; the painter on the bottom rung is Fred Horn, who retired in 1945. Such candid snapshots were common in domestic settings in the 1910s and '20s but less common in the workplace. In contrast to Pullman's regimented department group portraits or photographs of production, this small work team clearly enjoys its quirky pose during a break, taking a moment away from applying Pullman green paint to cars. Snapshots of or by workers within Pullman factory grounds are rare. After the 1894 Pullman strike, when enterprising investigative photojournalists took and published candid photographs critical of Pullman, the company strictly controlled photographic access. The company then arranged for regimented group portraits or photographs of production. But it could not prevent Van Vorst, one of its own photographers, from taking occasional informal shots. The composition subverts Pullman's conventions of industrial photography, and the potentially dangerous pose defied Pullman's ongoing campaigns for workplace safety. By Larry Peterson, City University of New York.
Source Larry Peterson, New York City, New York
Coverage Spatial, Chicago, Illinois; temporal, c. 1920
Rights Larry Peterson
Date Created c1920
Resource Type
Extent Not available
Location Chicago, Illinois
Image Type Snapshot group portrait
Creator Description John P. Van Vorst (1880-1957) started at Pullman in 1897 and it was not until 1904 that he became an assistant photographer. When he retired in 1945 he held the longest tenure of any Pullman photographer, 41 years. He signed his negatives J.P.V.V. Generally, Pullman documented photographically one car out of each new lot, usually the first car in a production run.
Collection Larry Peterson Collection
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