Who Cleans Up After Us?

When I was teaching English in the Workplace in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I had the opportunity to visit several workplaces to photograph and interview workers for an educational kit, English at Work: A Tool Kit for Teachers produced by the North York Board of Education. I was intrigued by the women workers who cleaned the government office buildings on Bay Street, arriving after dark when the functionaries had gone home; this quite public space became their own private space, as they moved through the empty offices and bathrooms of government bureaucrats.

I interviewed one Portuguese immigrant who invited me to her house for lunch. Once there, I photographed her cleaning her own house, and contrasted her office work with her cleaning her own toilet. I was struck by how different she looked out of her uniform and feeding her birds, for example.

In 1994, the City of Toronto Archives invited me and other photographers to contribute to a group exhibit, “Toronto After Dark,” revealing life in the city after hours. Perhaps most invisible are the night workers in empty government buildings, where decisions that affect their lives are made during the day.

A lot of my photographic work has been about making visible the lives and work of people who remain invisible because of their working class status or racialized identities, and because white privilege and white supremacy is revealed in most of the images that bombard us daily.