Bureaucratics is the name Dutch photographer Jan Banning (born 1954) chose for his five-year survey of civil servants in eight countries: Bolivia, China, France, India, Liberia, Russia, Yemen, and the United States. Banning's visits, which began in 2003, were unannounced, and the accompanying writer, Will Tinnemans, started interviewing the employees immediately—so they had no chance to tidy their offices. Shot from a uniform height, that of a client entering the office, the photographs engender a sense of the relationship between representative of the state and individual citizen.
The decor of the mostly humble offices ranged from reckless stacks of papers to starkly barren spaces. One can draw conclusions—political, historical, cultural, and personal—from this comparative study of office contents and arrangements. Some decorations, like portraits of a nation’s founder or ruler, might be required by the employer; others are clearly choices made by the employees. Flags and calendars are prevalent. A few offices feature stuffed animals, plants, and photographs, including a picture of John Wayne in a Texas sheriff’s office. Other elements, such as uniforms, guns, and certificates, are meant to convey rank and authority.
This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.