By SHERI GASSAWAY
A local photographer, fascinated by a group of Iron Workers Local 396 sisters who call themselves the Iron Maidens, is hoping to amplify their voices and inspire the next generation of women in the trades through a long-form photography exhibit.
R.J. Hartbeck recently shot a black and white photo series of several Local 396 sisters at the union’s training center. He chose to use black and white photos because they are more natural and bring out the emotion of the subject.
One of those photos featuring fourth-year Local 396 apprentice Lisa Kientzy ended up on the front cover of the September issue of The Ironworker. While the magazine has run front-page photos of female iron workers in the past, it was the first time a St. Louis iron worker sister had graced the cover.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Last spring, Hartbeck and his friend Rebekah Jarchow, a Local 396 apprentice, were in a social setting and had a conversation about the Local 396 Iron Maidens. Hartbeck learned about the bonds the women had formed through their hard work and for each other.
He also learned that the St. Louis ironworker sisters represent roughly 2,000 or under two percent of female ironworkers nationwide and that of all the building trades, iron working was one of the most dangerous.
“I just thought it was an awesome story and that it would contribute to the national conversation of the challenges women face in society,” Hartbeck said. “Plus, it speaks to the whole issue of being female in a nontraditional work environment.”
THE TEST SHOT
Shortly after their conversation, Hartbeck did a test shot of Jarchow after work in her iron worker gear and posted it on his Instagram account. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
Hartbeck then worked with Local 396 journeywoman Aurora Bihler to set up a photo shoot of the union’s sisters at the training school. He asked that the women all come after work with all of the grit of the workday still in place.
“Ideally, I would have liked to get photos of them while on the job, but getting approval from contractors to climb 40 stories high on iron beams to get a photo was pretty far-fetched so I went with what I could,” he said.
So far, Hartbeck has about 20 photos to include in his photography exhibit and is currently seeking sponsorships to make his dream a reality.
He is hoping to continue the development of the photo series after the exhibit opens, publish a photo book and turn it into a traveling exhibit.
To learn more about the project or to contribute, visit rjhartbeck.com or contact Hartbeck at email@example.com or 636-577-5657.
Iron Workers Local 396 has slightly higher percentage of female ironworkers than national trend
According to the September issue of The Ironworker magazine, there are about 2,000 women nationwide who are in the iron workers or just under two percent.
At Iron Workers Local 396 in St. Louis, that number is slightly higher, said Business Manager Tom McNeil.
Of Local 396’s 1,193 members, 37 – or just over three percent – are female.
He said Local 396 has had women in the union since the 1970s, but the Iron Workers Local 396 has slightly higher percentage of female ironworkers than national trend numbers have been growing steadily in the last few years.
“I’m proud of every one of them,” McNeil said. “Iron working is tougher than other
careers in the trades, and it can be dangerous. We’ve got a great group of hands on deck here at Local 396 – both men and women.”