On the Waterfront, an Insider's View: Photographs by Donald 'Red' Barrett
January 22 - February 26, 2017
Donald “Red” Barrett was a longshoreman for 34 years, working on piers in Brooklyn, Newark, and Hoboken. Like the other men in his work gang, he spent every workday moving by hand countless bags, boxes, and barrels of goods and food from ship holds and freight terminals to waiting trucks (or the reverse). And like them, he carried on his belt the principal tool a longshoreman needed to secure and move all that cargo: the hook.
But Red—so called by his fellow workers because of his red hair—also carried something else when he went to work: a disposable camera. When the job took him to Brooklyn, the bosses stopped him from photographing the docks, but the bosses on Pier C in Hoboken, where he worked for 15 years, were easy-going, and allowed Red to record his working life.
From 1955 until 1970, when the shipping companies abandoned Hoboken, Red documented the hiring hall (“the shape-up” on the top floor of City Hall), the docks, the cargo ships, and his fellow longshoremen—day by day amassing a vital record of the city’s working waterfront.
Red’s amazing insider's view of Hoboken's waterfront are on view in a posthumous exhibition, “On the Waterfront, an Insider's View,” in the Upper Gallery of the Hoboken Historical Museum from Jan. 22 through Feb. 26.
After 1970, his job took him to Newark, a port that could accommodate the container ships the Hoboken piers could not. The job changed, too; containerization eliminated manual sorting: the hook became obsolete. Dockworkers used huge machines to move shipping containers.
In 1989, Red took a buy-out and retired. He remained in Hoboken until his death last year. For many years he continued to photograph changes on the city’s waterfront, including the demolition of the Maxwell House factory in 2000. He claimed no nostalgia for the old days on the docks. He simply did the work, double-time—longshoreman and photographer, both.
Red Barrett was interviewed for an oral history chapbook, The Hook, at his apartment on Hudson Street in Hoboken, on August 28, 2015, by Robert Foster and Holly Metz. Click here to read the chapbook online.
The exhibit is supported by a block grant from the State/County Partnership program for the Arts, administered by the Hudson County Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.