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Featured Article: Shipyard Workers of Hampton Roads - Portraits by Glen McClure

My name is Glen McClure, and I’m a Norfolk native who makes his living as a photographer, based in this old seaport city.

For a number of years I have specialized in photographing series of everyday people on location, right where they happen to be. A couple of years ago, I was pondering doing a new project on workers in Virginia. Often I think of my dad, Van, who was a telephone repairman for 42 years with the C&P Telephone Company. As a child, I was always fascinated seeing him wearing his tool belt complete with what seemed to me to be every type of screwdriver and plier ever made! To me, he was what a worker looked like.

A couple of years ago, while driving along the Elizabeth River, I glanced over at several shipyards I was passing and noticed (not for the first time) the many cranes and ships and equipment and people with tool belts working, and it hit me: my next portrait project should be the workers in these yards. So, just like that, I was ready to go.

Of course, startup is never easy regardless of the project, but gaining official access to shipyards with a camera and lights, well, that presented a brand new set of challenges.

One thing that helped was that in 2010, along with my wife Marshall, who interviews our subjects, I completed a portrait project of Virginia watermen – crabbers, oystermen, fishermen and processing workers – so I had samples to show folks what the shipyard portraits might look like.

But who to contact? I personally knew only a few people who worked in shipyards, so I started there: I called a junior high school friend who works at BAE in Norfolk and asked for some contacts. My friend, John Sires, passed my name along up the chain, but it took another year to get the proper permissions to start the project.

So on June 10, 2014, just after 7 a.m. we began photographing the workers at BAE. We would go back to BAE two more times. From there, with help from many folks, including the Virginia Ship Repair Association, I was able to arrange to photograph at every shipyard I could find in the Hampton Roads region. BAE, Lyon, Newport News, Colonna’s, Técnico, Fairlead, East Coast, Norfolk Naval, General Dynamics NASSCO, and MHI all graciously allowed us to enter their workplaces to photograph their workers.

In all, I’ve made portraits of 395 workers. I am really proud and honored to have completed this project; it is a joy to show these hardworking folks, directly and honestly. These resulting images will be shown this summer in four separate but overlapping exhibitions, in the top art centers and museums in Hampton Roads. It speaks to the importance of the shipyard work these men and women do that the four art institutions have all collaborated to exhibit these images.

The first opening will be at The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk on May 18, 2017. Following will be exhibitions of more shipyard portraits at The Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center, opening June 2, 2017; The Peninsula Fine Art Center in Newport News, opening June 3, 2017; and The Charles H. Taylor Art Center, Hampton, June 25, 2017.

We also hope to produce an exhibition catalog. 2017 will be a big year honoring the shipyard workers all over Hampton Roads!

About the Author

Born and living in Norfolk, Virginia, Glen McClure photographs people and landscapes in the US and Europe. He purchased his first camera in his early 20s and then joined the Studio Center as a photographer's assistant. After working as a photographer at Arthur Polizos Advertising, he launched his own commercial photography business in 1988.

Influenced by early 20th-century photographers Josef Sudek and Paul Strand, McClure had his first solo exhibition in 1997. Now, more than 60 solo and numerous group exhibitions later, his work can be found in many collections including the Chrysler Museum of Art, The Mariners Museum , The Taubman Museum, and many private collections. Glen McClure’s work has been selected three times for inclusion in the prestigious Communication Art’s Photography Annual, including in 2014.

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