Norwich Works – The Industrial Photography of Walter and Rita Nurnberg 

Castle and Marketplace

Between 1948 and 1961, German-born husband and wife Walter and Rita Nurnberg photographed the factories of Norwich and their workers.

These stunning photographs, which owe as much to Rita’s skillful processing as they do to Walter’s original compositions, go beyond the documenting of industry. Meticulously choreographed images of the factories are infused with the high modernism of the Bauhaus, whilst striking portraits of workers lean into the glamour and beauty of cinema’s golden age; from the time-worn faces of the master artisan to the teenage apprentices shining with enthusiasm, the Nurnbergs’ photographs are both local history and enduring works of art.

Marking the 70th anniversary of their pioneering exhibition at Norwich Castle in 1953, the exhibition showcases the Nurnbergs’ distinctive and influential photographic practice, focusing on the extraordinary visual record they created of Norwich striving to rebuild itself economically after the Second World War. It includes over 130 original photographic prints representing three key Norwich industries: shoemaking at Edwards and Holmes’ Esdelle Works; steel construction, woodworking, and wire netting at Boulton & Paul’s Riverside Works; and sweet-making at Caley-Mackintosh’s Chapelfield Works. The photos are displayed alongside objects from our own collections relating to the city’s industrial past and newly digitised archive film.

Walter (1907-1991) and Rita (1914-2001) Nurnberg established a commercial photographic studio in London in 1934 after relocating from Germany. Walter, a former pupil and tutor at the prestigious Reimann School of Art and Design in Berlin, made a name for himself in product photography and teaching, and wrote technical guides to photography including Lighting for Photography (1940) which remained in print until the 1970s. After the Second World War, the Nurnbergs concentrated their collective skills in documenting and celebrating the workers of Britain. Over the subsequent decade, the Nurnbergs made photographs for many of the nation’s most significant companies and their distinctive style of black and white images transformed the image of post-war British industry. Whilst touring the country with his camera, Walter also organised public exhibitions of Rita’s prints at local museums and galleries. In 1974 Walter was awarded the OBE for his contribution to industrial photography and photographic education.

Main image: Walter & Rita Nurnberg, Setting saw teeth, Wood-working, Boulton & Paul, Riverside Works, Norwich, Gelatin silver print, 1947-8 © Norfolk Record Office