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Sugar & Salt

Harold Haliday Costain

November 2018–January 2019

Harold Haliday Costain, Filling Cartons, Island Salt Co. Brand, Avery Island, Louisiana, 1934. A machine fills "Avery Table Salt" boxes with salt.
Harold Haliday Costain, Putting the NRA Labels on Commercial Salt Blocks, Island Salt Co. Brand, Avery Island, Louisiana, 1934. A worker in the upper right of the frame places stickers on white blocks.
Harold Haliday Costain, The Archimedean Screw Carries the Evaporated Salt from the Dryer to the Storage Bins, Avery Island, Louisiana, 1934
Harold Haliday Costain, Electric Vibrating Screen Used in Grading the Salt, Avery Island, Louisiana, 1934
Harold Haliday Costain, Dumping 3 1/2-ton Rock Salt from the Top of the Breaker into Giant Crusher, Avery Island, Louisiana, 1934
Harold Haliday Costain, Cleaning the Centrifugal, Avery Island, Louisiana, 1934. A worker reaches into the machine.
Harold Haliday Costain, Clearing the Path Along the Base of the Cliff, The Great Avery Island Salt Mine, 1934. A worker wields a pickaxe in the lower left corner of the frame.
Harold Haliday Costain, Long Island City Plant, 1935. Three men load boxes onto a vehicle.
Harold Haliday Costain, Edgewater, NJ Sugar Refinery, 1935. Two men operate a scale with sacks of sugar in the background.
Harold Haliday Costain, Edgewater, NJ Sugar Refinery, 1935. A man stands in the lower right of the frame in front of stacked sugar sacks.
Harold Haliday Costain, Edgewater, NJ Sugar Refinery, ​1935. Two men load sugar sacks onto carts.
Harold Haliday Costain, Edgewater, NJ Sugar Refinery, ​1935. Barrels are filled with sugar via vertical pipes.
Harold Haliday Costain, Untitled (Sugar Sacks), ​1935. A man in the lower right of the frame pulls a cart in front of stacked sugar sacks.
Harold Haliday Costain, On the Way to the Crusher, Avery Island, Louisiana, ​c. 1934. A line of carts is pulled along a track by a man in the left of the frame.
Harold Haliday Costain, After the Dynamite, Avery Island, Louisiana, ​1934. A worker wields a pickaxe in front of an excavating machine.
Harold Haliday Costain, Stygian Flight, Avery Island, Louisiana, Illustration for International Salt, ​1935. Two men on high ladders in the mine.
Harold Haliday Costain, Drilling a 60-ton Rocksalt Block, Avery Island, Louisiana, ​1934. One man to the left drilling into the block while another stands above.
Harold Haliday Costain, Charging the Cliff with Dynamite, Avery Island, Louisiana, 1934. A man on a ladder occupies the frame diagonally.
Harold Haliday Costain, The Undercutters at Work, Avery Island, Louisiana, ​1934. Two men operate machinery in a mine.
Harold Haliday Costain, Long Island City Plant, 1935. Detail of a crushing machine.
Harold Haliday Costain, Edgewater, NJ Sugar Refinery, ​1935. Two men in white operate machinery.
Harold Haliday Costain, Edgewater, NJ Sugar Refinery, ​1935. A man leans over a tub as a pipe dispenses sugar into it.
Harold Haliday Costain, Long Island City Plant, ​1935. Rows of women operate machinery.
Harold Haliday Costain, Long Island City Plant, ​1935. A woman in white packs boxes with Jack Frost Sugar.
Sam Stebbins, Harold Haliday Costain, ​1935. Portrait of Costain holding a large camera.

Press Release

Keith de Lellis Gallery presents a solo exhibition of 1930s industrial photographs by Harold Haliday Costain, one of the leading American modernist photographers of his generation.

 

Harold Haliday Costain (1897–1994) had a thriving commercial studio in Scarsdale, New York when he produced some of his finest work photographing the inner workings of the sugar and salt industries. His dramatic and precisionist images of mines, factories, and warehouses were commissioned as publicity for the International Salt Company and the National Sugar Refining Company.

 

In 1934, his work for International Salt took him to the mines of Avery Island, where he photographed the mining and processing of rock salt into table salt. His studies of drilling and blasting made for glorious illustrations of heroic miners illuminated against the cavernous crystalline walls aglow with the photographer’s strategically placed artificial light.

 

During the depression, the image of the American worker and workplace became a staple for the media and big businesses who exploited photography as a restorative antidote against the public’s waning faith in national economic stability. Fortune Magazine played a significant role in this effort. Its lavish monthly publication was filled with beautiful photographs illustrating stories of a bustling American commerce. Costain’s pictures of the salt mines were featured in the November 1934 issue of Fortune in an article titled “Salt of the Island...Oldest and most romantic of U.S. salt mines is the Avery, deep under the sea along the coast of Louisiana.”

 

In a 1935 memo to the photographer, the National Sugar Refining Company stressed the importance of promoting an image of purity and cleanliness in all its advertising and publicity. The instructions to Costain were to “portray a plant which is spick and span in every respect and workers which are in clean clothing...all workers should be in white coats. This atmosphere is particularly important because we are showing the place where an essential food is produced”.

Costain took the request to heart, making images of immaculate factory interiors, pristine in every way and lit so that every element would come alive. He thusly photographed the sugar operations of the Jack Frost Company in Long Island City, and its Edgewater, New Jersey plant. His pictures of workers at conveyor belts and managers weighing sugar sacks are treated with equal reverence in the solemn and efficiently run factories.

 

Costain was world-renowned in the 1930s as a prolific and award-winning artist in salon exhibition photography. His professional and multi-faceted career had earlier engaged him as a cinematographer in silent films and later as an architectural photographer. His strength in both of these fields proved excellent training ground for the challenge of creating compelling images that emphasized both the drama and scale of workers in grand interior spaces.

 

Everything about Costain’s pictures communicates a subtle message that the companies producing these essential products were organized and created quality goods with the utmost care in a perfect environment. Costain, a perfectionist himself, labored over every detail and created images that are an ideal marriage between art and industry.

 

Sugar & Salt will be on view at the Keith de Lellis Gallery through January 26, 2019.