18 April 2011

Government 101

France, bureaucracy, Picardie, 2006. Pascale Hoornaert (b. 1952) works
for eight hours a week as town clerk in Ancienville (population 78), Aisne
department, Pidardie region. She holds the same position in two other
villages nearby, working a total of 31 hours per week. Monthly salary:
1,025 euro (US$ 1,348). Photograph © Jan Banning.

Lee, New Hampshire (population 4,145) Board of Selectmen, January 27, 2003
(L to R) Dwight Barney (Chairman), Joseph Ford, Richard Wellington.
Photograph © Paul Shambroom.

At The Guardian today there is this short notice of quite interesting work by Dutch photographer Jan Banning that consists of portraits of bureaucrats at work in eight different countries ("Bolivia, China, France, India, Liberia, Russia, the United States, and Yemen"). Banning suggests his "photography has a conceptual, typological approach reminding of August Sander’s ‘Menschen des 20 Jahrhunderts’ (‘People of the Twentieth Century’)." Put aside that by declaring the work "conceptual" he risks setting off yet another round of whining by Guardian photography critic Sean O'Hagan.* What strikes me about these portraits is less the comparison to Sander, than the series called "Meetings" that American photographer Paul Shambroom did several years ago. Shambroom toured the U.S. photographing local government 'in action.'

In Banning's images it is interesting to note the context; nearly all of the officials work under the watchful eye of the heroic or the powerful (Gandhi, Mao, Putin ...), often surrounded by the trappings of legitimacy. It is interesting to contrast these banal scenarios with the many images of disgruntled citizens manning the barricades or with photos of famous elected officials. Politics only appears glamorous.
* For my previous (mostly) dissents from O'Hagan's various complaints look here.

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Blogger John Edwin Mason said...

These photos remind me of David Goldblatt's "Municipal Officials" series, a project that's more than a decade old. In it, he shows us officials of the old Apartheid regime and the new democratic South Africa. Often, the only visual difference is the color of the officials' skin. We find ourselves asking what else has changed. (South Africans would give a variety of answers, some rather cynical.)

20 April, 2011 07:15  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

John, Thanks for the tip; I will hunt down the Goldblatt and have a look. J

20 April, 2011 08:57  

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