From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]
India, Bihar, bureaucracy, 2003. Typeroom in the Finance Department of “the Old Secretariat” in the state capital Patna. The seemingly rusty old typewriters are awaiting use: the department is supposed to be 40% understaffed. The presence of several snoring employees gives a different suggestion.
Jan Banning’s series “Bureaucracy” is a robust look into the lives of civil servants from around the globe. Banning’s project took him to 8 different countries on 5 continents to photograph various individuals in their work environments. Each subject is posed behind his or her desk in their office, all shot from the same height, with the desk facing front or profile and parallel to the horizontal edges of the frame. Banning also published various info about the subject including position and salaries.
“Bureaucratics is a project consisting of a book and exhibition containing 50 photographs, the product of an anarchist’s heart, a historian’s mind and an artist’s eye. It is a comparative photographic study of the culture, rituals and symbols of state civil administrations and it’s servants in eight countries on five continents, selected on the basis of political, historical and cultural considerations: Bolivia, China, France, India, Liberia, Russia, the United States, and Yemen. In each country, I visited up to hundreds of offices of members of the executive in different services and at different levels. The visits were unannounced and the accompanying writer, Will Tinnemans. By interviewing, this kept the employees from tidying up or clearing the office. That way, the photos show what a local citizen would be confronted with when entering.” – Jan Banning
The Face of Bureaucracy: Portraits of Civil Servants Around the World
by Michael Zhang / February 22, 2013
Bureaucratics is a project by photographer Jan Banning that consists of 50 portraits captured in 8 countries on 5 continents around the world. The goal: to offer a comparative look at the culture, rituals, and symbols of state civil administrations. Basically, Banning wanted to document the face of bureaucracy by capturing portraits of government workers at their posts.
The photo above shows Dede McEachern, the director of licensing at the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations. She made $5,833 a month back when the photo was captured in 2007. Banning selected the eight countries based on political, historical, and cultural considerations, and ended up picking: Bolivia, China, France, India, Liberia, Russia, the United States, and Yemen. He then visited hundreds of offices in each country, dropping in on civil servants in different services and of different levels. He visits were always unannounced in order to keep the scene as authentic as possible (the subjects did not have time to prepare their appearance or tidy up their offices). Thus, each portraits hows exactly what local citizens encounter when they visit the offices.
Here’s what Banning says about the approach he had with the photos:
The photography has a conceptual, typological approach […] Each subject is posed behind his or her desk. The photos all have a square format (fitting the subject), are shot from the same height (that of the client), with the desk – its front or side photographed parallel to the horizontal edges of the frame – serving as a bulwark protecting the representative of rule and regulation against the individual citizen, the warm-blooded exception. They are full of telling details that sometimes reveal the way the state proclaims its power or the bureaucrat’s rank and function, sometimes of a more private character and are accompanied by information such as name, age, function and salary. Though there is a high degree of humour and absurdity in these photos, they also show compassion with the inhabitants of the state’s paper labyrinth.