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An Outstanding Photograph from 1905

One of the most important works preserved by the Pirelli Foundation is a photograph of extraordinary size (245 x 150 cm). It is of Workers Leaving the Pirelli Factory in Via Ponte Seveso (now Via Fabio Filzi) in 1905, and it is emblematic of the development and solidity of the company, which at the time was expanding rapidly. The building was completed in 1873 – a year after G.B. Pirelli & C. was incorporated – with a surface area of 1,000 square metres. At the time of the photo, the plant had already reached its greatest possible expansion, covering an area of ​​34,000 square metres, with about 3,000 employees.

Shortly after, in order to increase tyre production, which was added to that of miscellaneous items and cables, Pirelli opened a new plant not far away, in the Bicocca area. The picture gives a clear idea of the power of this industrial group, and the moment it was taken was no coincidence, for it was in the feverish run-up to what was to be a key event for Milan and for Milanese and Italian industries: the Milan International world expo of 1906. Like any great exhibition, this too generated a vast production of graphic, photographic and cinematographic images. In particular, it offered a great opportunity for a young Milanese photographer, who was launched by none other than Pirelli into the world of industrial photography: Luca Comerio, who debuted at the age of twenty with a photographic reportage on the 1898 Milan insurrection, published in Illustrazione Italiana. In the years leading up to the Expo, Luca Comerio worked for a number of Milanese industries, helping create their public image with photographs of groups of workers and employees. Pirelli was the first to commission him to take a photo of its workers, and it was published in L’Automobile magazine on 10 November 1905, in an issue devoted to Italian automotive-sector manufacturers.

The following year, Comerio made the stunning blow-up of the shot, which he then signed, and it was shown in the Pirelli Pavilion at the Expo in 1906. It appears in the balance sheet for that year, in which the expenses include 482 lire paid to the photographer for “enlargements of pictures showing workers leaving and a view of the factory in Milan”. In all likelihood made using a solar enlarger, the picture is unlike any other in terms of the size of the enlargement – which is extraordinary for the time, especially because it is made on a single sheet of photographic paper measuring 245 x 150 cm – but also in terms of its imagery. Compared with the group photographs that Comerio later made for other companies in the automotive sector, such as Isotta Fraschini and Fiat, the Pirelli picture is different in that it shows the workers coming out of the factory gates: a sea of humanity that fills Via Galileo Galilei, at the back of the factory, as far as the eye can see. The people look up at the photographer’s lens, which is in an elevated position so as to take in the whole street. This approach was dropped in subsequent photographs, in favour of more traditional poses, standing or sitting, with the factory behind.

This extraordinary enlargement has fortunately come down to us in fair condition, although it does show signs of wear. An initial restoration was carried out in 2000, when the photograph was shown in Il mondo nuovo, an exhibition at the Palazzo Reale in Milan. In 2018 the Pirelli Foundation commissioned a new conservation project, with thorough cleaning and re-tensioning of the photograph on its frame.

Luca Comerio: a documentarian for Pirelli

Having established himself as a photographer at the Milan Expo, which he captured in numerous photos that were published in the most important magazines of the time, the following year Luca Comerio turned to a new form of expression, which was that of cinema. He produced a wealth of films, including many scientific and industrial documentaries. These included a film made for Pirelli that records the visit of King Victor Emmanuel III to the Bicocca factory, which can be seen on our website along with hundreds of other audio-visual materials.

One of the most important works preserved by the Pirelli Foundation is a photograph of extraordinary size (245 x 150 cm). It is of Workers Leaving the Pirelli Factory in Via Ponte Seveso (now Via Fabio Filzi) in 1905, and it is emblematic of the development and solidity of the company, which at the time was expanding rapidly. The building was completed in 1873 – a year after G.B. Pirelli & C. was incorporated – with a surface area of 1,000 square metres. At the time of the photo, the plant had already reached its greatest possible expansion, covering an area of ​​34,000 square metres, with about 3,000 employees.

Shortly after, in order to increase tyre production, which was added to that of miscellaneous items and cables, Pirelli opened a new plant not far away, in the Bicocca area. The picture gives a clear idea of the power of this industrial group, and the moment it was taken was no coincidence, for it was in the feverish run-up to what was to be a key event for Milan and for Milanese and Italian industries: the Milan International world expo of 1906. Like any great exhibition, this too generated a vast production of graphic, photographic and cinematographic images. In particular, it offered a great opportunity for a young Milanese photographer, who was launched by none other than Pirelli into the world of industrial photography: Luca Comerio, who debuted at the age of twenty with a photographic reportage on the 1898 Milan insurrection, published in Illustrazione Italiana. In the years leading up to the Expo, Luca Comerio worked for a number of Milanese industries, helping create their public image with photographs of groups of workers and employees. Pirelli was the first to commission him to take a photo of its workers, and it was published in L’Automobile magazine on 10 November 1905, in an issue devoted to Italian automotive-sector manufacturers.

The following year, Comerio made the stunning blow-up of the shot, which he then signed, and it was shown in the Pirelli Pavilion at the Expo in 1906. It appears in the balance sheet for that year, in which the expenses include 482 lire paid to the photographer for “enlargements of pictures showing workers leaving and a view of the factory in Milan”. In all likelihood made using a solar enlarger, the picture is unlike any other in terms of the size of the enlargement – which is extraordinary for the time, especially because it is made on a single sheet of photographic paper measuring 245 x 150 cm – but also in terms of its imagery. Compared with the group photographs that Comerio later made for other companies in the automotive sector, such as Isotta Fraschini and Fiat, the Pirelli picture is different in that it shows the workers coming out of the factory gates: a sea of humanity that fills Via Galileo Galilei, at the back of the factory, as far as the eye can see. The people look up at the photographer’s lens, which is in an elevated position so as to take in the whole street. This approach was dropped in subsequent photographs, in favour of more traditional poses, standing or sitting, with the factory behind.

This extraordinary enlargement has fortunately come down to us in fair condition, although it does show signs of wear. An initial restoration was carried out in 2000, when the photograph was shown in Il mondo nuovo, an exhibition at the Palazzo Reale in Milan. In 2018 the Pirelli Foundation commissioned a new conservation project, with thorough cleaning and re-tensioning of the photograph on its frame.

Luca Comerio: a documentarian for Pirelli

Having established himself as a photographer at the Milan Expo, which he captured in numerous photos that were published in the most important magazines of the time, the following year Luca Comerio turned to a new form of expression, which was that of cinema. He produced a wealth of films, including many scientific and industrial documentaries. These included a film made for Pirelli that records the visit of King Victor Emmanuel III to the Bicocca factory, which can be seen on our website along with hundreds of other audio-visual materials.

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