Recent Work

Desk Job

A look at Globalisation through our office spaces.

I’m not sure why exactly I was inspired to photograph the subject of office workers. Perhaps I felt such a universal occupation representing so many shared experiences merited interest. Or perhaps, not working in an office myself, I found office life strangely beguiling: the furniture, rituals, dress code and environments – mundane but fascinating at the same time – if one knew where to look.
It was only as the project began to gather pace that I began to realize that some really big themes were beginning to emerge, globalisation for one. Wherever we are in the world, our office life is pretty much similar, we share the same computers (Dell, IBM) using the same software (Microsoft) and applications (Word, Excel, Google Chrome). We are working for companies owned by other companies we have probably never heard of often based in another country. Lenvo is the second biggest maker of computers acquiring IBM in 2005, and who has heard of them?

Desk Job crosses continents exploring this countries and people, but perversely, the treatment shrinks the world reducing the difference between each country by documenting a similar daily struggle. The photographs play with notions of the banal in the office: the brash use of flash accentuates the idea that their environment overwhelms these subjects. The repetition of motifs – phones, pot plants, in trays, across different continents, reinforces uniformity.

What really defines these pictures, however, is space or the distinct lack of it. There is very little physical, visual, chronological or emotional space. The employee is defined by the few cubic meters, which exist around them. They must not just work but live, eat, pray and occasionally sleep as if chained to the desk in perpetuity. The other pictures that accompany the portraits echo this sense of claustrophobia. The theme of the worker in relation to the omnipresent corporation is important,

The photographs are informed by this shift towards a global uniformity and the idea that we are all increasingly united by a similar experience of work and environment. As corporations become more powerful and their reach straddles country and continent, this drift towards uniformity could be perceived as worrying. This concern is reflected in the pictures. However, we also see resistance against homogeneity and control. Companies tend to strive for straight lines and uncluttered office spaces, whereas individuals have an urge to colonise and personalise. It is this polarisation, which often provides interest and relief in the pictures. The humour inherent in a colonised space or a simple human quality is considered important.

Although this project was started prior to the credit crunch, it is particularly relevant today as we all begin to understand just how interconnected we are. Globalisation is as tangible as losing your job or your home now. Seeing the pictures of the worker; the average Joe (or Jane) who is oblivious to the machinations of the CEO, heroically navigating their way through the day’s tasks across the globe, will hopefully inspire empathy in the viewer and a recognition of our commonality across culture, continent and corporation.
In these pictures we see the tension between employer and employee, but ultimately workers are intrinsic to the organisations they serve. Although there is a sense of the overwhelmed individual repeated in the imagery, there is an underlying hopeful message. It may not be immediately obvious but the community’s need to improve its environment is almost always a response to the individual’s struggle.
Louis Quail


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