Laundry in Havana, Cuba © Jeremy Woodhouse / Blend / Offset
Laundry in Gothenburg © Johnér / Offset
Padding through the tight cobblestone alleyways of Venice, it’s common to see clotheslines connecting one house to its neighbor. Drying machines are rarities in Italy, and women of these historic homes take great pride in the meticulous hanging of their families’ garments. There is a proper way to air-dry everything from linens and undergarments, and much can be learned about one’s neighbors simply by the skill and etiquette displayed during laundry day, when the fragrance of detergent commingles with that of the salty canal.
Having grown accustomed to the (often wasteful) use of machine driers, American tourists to foreign countries are astonished by the colorful arrays of drying clothing. Indeed, there is a genuine artistry to the ways in which faraway residents care for their clothing. In Italy, laundry, called bucato, is particularly meaningful in the older cities, where wisdom is passed down from one generation to the next, usually by women.
It’s not just the older European nations where the craft of washing clothes has been honed to an art form. In Mumbai, India, where the population has become overwhelmingly dense in recent years, laundry is not only a necessity but also a way of life.
The washermen and women who work in the city open air laundries usually come from a long line of mothers and fathers who have shared the occupation. The largest is the now-famous Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, founded in 1890, where an estimated one million pieces of clothing are cleaned daily by some of the most efficient and hardworking people in the world. The complex included concrete pens, flogging stones, wash basins, and clotheslines, and the scent of soap carries throughout the surrounding community, where the workers live in modest homes.
In honor of summertime, when air-drying season is certainly in full bloom, we’ve pulled together this collection of exquisite images from Offset, taken around the world and all picturing laundry hung out to dry.
These images are certainly beautiful, filled with the billowing fabrics and vivid hues that commingle and play upon local architecture, but their significance runs far beyond the aesthetic. How a community chooses to clean their domestic items tells so much about who they are—their history and the philosophies of daily life.
A boy standing in front of drying laundry stretches out to feel the sun in Bahia, Brazil © Gabriel Boieras / SambaPhoto / Offset
Laundry hanging from a line in Venice, Italy © Michele Crowe / Offset
A Masaai family drying clothes in the sun © Randy Olson / National Geographic / Offset
Saris drying after washing on the banks of River Yamuna, Agra, India © Peter Adams / Offset
Beside the Ganges River in Varanasi, India © Caleb Kenna / Offset
Drying clothes in Baku, Azerbaijan © Machi di Pace / Offset
Apartment building in downtown Mumbai, India © Shanna Baker / Offset
Rajasthani women outside their houses at Jaisalmer Fort © Bisual Studio / Offset
A Venetian canal © Anna Petrow / Offset
Laundry hanging on a clothes line between buildings in Burano, Italy © National Geographic / Offset
Laundry hung out to dry in the Philippines © Brian Flaherty / Offset
Laundry in Lesotho © Heidi Fröhlich / Mauritius Images / Offset
A woman hangs laundry in a housing estate surrounded by unfinished communist style housing in Copsa Mica, Transylvania, Romania © Tim Clayton / Offset
Clothes drying on net on White Beach, Philippines © Josh Meister / Offset
A building in the Rione Sanita neighborhood of Naples, Italy © Alberto Bernasconi / Offset
Clothes hanging from the balcony of an aging apartment building in Transylvania, Romania © Tim Clayton / Offset
Clothing hanging above a cow in Varanasi, India © Annapurna Mellor / Offset
Laundry in Cinque Terre, Italy © Michel Figuet / Offset
Laundry hanging on the back of a canal side home in Zhouzhuang, China © Scott Turner / Offset
All photos featured in this post can be found on Offset, a new curated collection of high-end commercial and editorial photography and illustration from award-winning artists around the world. Offset is a sponsor of Feature Shoot.