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Introduction

It has become common, amid the ambient hum of binary data and content wars, to imagine that manual laborers toil away in quiet desperation, dreaming of escape by lottery or the glamour of office work. Manual labor is a challenge to the body and sometimes to the spirit; more injuries occur in blue-collar occupations than in the most treacherous of desk jobs, and working with one’s hands never pulls down a corporate executive’s salary. But in this issue, for once, we are not dwelling on troubles — not on OSHA standards, nor environmental regulations, nor abuse in the workplace. Instead, we offer an unapologetically uncritical tribute to the working stiff, an exposé not on the enemy of the worker, but on the less visible workers themselves.

These images are not objective. The photographers are as significant as their subjects, and with few exceptions the photographs glorify the people and their work. In a year in which such unlikely labor forces as janitors and bus drivers struck for fair pay and better conditions, we decided a little glory was appropriate. Accordingly, we sought out people who chose their jobs and who labor out of love, and who claim to find their working conditions sane and dignified, even in what we assumed were rather dreary surroundings.

Some of the people in these pages make things — bread, boats, musical instruments, clothes. Others look after other creatures, be they abandoned dogs in need of understanding or stressed businessmen in want of a beer. Still others see to it that the gears of society keep turning: Every industry, from moviemaking to real estate, still depends on manual labor, and to behold the men at work on the railroads in the Los Angeles Terminal Yard is to be reminded that essential to every online shopping spree is an efficient transporting of the goods.

Necessary as they are to the city’s economic survival, however, the people in this issue aren’t rich; at least one admitted that he’s never even had a credit card. But neither did any of them express the kind of existential anguish that plagues high-tech workers who market air in the declining years of the Internet economy. For these laborers and craftspeople, life really is elsewhere — in the basement workshop that smells of sawdust and lacquer, in the neighborhood barbershop where the length of a friendship can be measured in a receding hairline, or high on a hill at sunrise, monitoring the mining of raw fuel. In the dedication and satisfaction they evince and express, they show us that there is more to career success than a six-figure income.


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