A photographer monitors the atmosphere of work offices in the nineties.. grim faces and invisible characters

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — The “Covid-19” pandemic has disrupted the role offices used to play in our lives. According to a Pew Research Center survey published in February, six out of ten American workers do their jobs from home often or all the time. Among those, the research indicated that only 42% of them cited the coronavirus as a main reason for this, while more than 75% of respondents expressed a preference for simply working from home.

While many wonder if offices are ever needed, archival photos by photographer Stephen Ahlgren of American workplaces remind us of not so long ago.

For 11 years, Ahlgren has been taking photographs that provide a glimpse into the nature of business within companies in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Credit: Steven Ahlgren

While there, he was photographing offices equipped with square computer machines, fax machines, and labyrinths of cables that mimic the technological transformations of the past two decades. But the photographer’s photos are also curiously intimate, showing employees staring at papers, talking on desk phones, or attending meetings lit up by fluorescent tubes.

“I was watching and taking some pictures while they were doing what they normally do,” he told CNN.

In the end, Ahlgren can identify with his subjects, since he was a banker before his career in photography, finding himself in the form of a young man standing in front of a Xerox copier with his hands in the pockets of his pants, immersed in his thoughts.

the desk
Credit: Steven Ahlgren

“It’s the closest I’ve ever taken a selfie,” Ahlgren said, adding, “I was standing like that when I worked at the bank.”

He explained, “I feel bitter about the years I spent working in banking, because they were a waste of time,” adding that “when I started the photography project I thought that there are people who waste their lives, just like me. But I sympathized with them after that, because maybe they loved their work.”

The seemingly bleak scenes make a compelling case for the end of office time as we know it. The purity of the whites of the walls and file cabinets is rarely disturbed by joyful colors, whether bright ties, decorations, or framed artwork.

But for many people, the photos will evoke feelings of nostalgia. Because in each of these pictures there are success stories and achievements.

emotional charging

Ahlgren’s institutional past wasn’t his only inspiration. He was influenced by Edward Hopper’s oil painting The Office at Night. The 1940 painting, featuring an elegant man sitting behind his desk and a young woman in front of an adjacent filing cabinet, invites viewers to speculate about a possible connection between the two.

Related Articles:  Delays, eventually eliminated... Kang Doo × Kang Jae-joon selected as founders (Capitalism School)
the desk
Credit: Francois Mori / AP

In the 1980s, Ahlgren was increasingly bored by his work as a banker in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which made him a regular visitor to the nearby Walker Art Center, where this painting is displayed.

Describing Hopper’s artwork, Ahlgren said, “What I take away from this work is the idea of ​​being in a very ordinary everyday situation, in an ordinary office, and making it exciting in order to somehow fill the narrative tension.”

the desk
Credit: Steven Ahlgren

Ahlgren wasn’t using the lighting we see in Huber, which focuses on singularities and casts powerful geometric shades, as before, because he didn’t use his own lighting that was completely clinical, tied to that of the specific office in which he was fitted. But the painter’s influence is also evident in the calm intensity and poetic ambiguity in his images, where he often depicts the staff alone, or in interaction with unseen characters, with sullen faces.

Ahlgren begins his new book, The Office, with more than 60 images, with the American painter’s desk. “I have been more excited to think of Hopper’s desk pad than any other work I have ever had to bring on my own,” he wrote in the accompanying introduction.

Even so, Ahlgren has fond memories of his old office in Minneapolis, which he describes as a “beautiful space” adorned with paintings bought by his art-loving former company manager. And while the pandemic has given him the perfect time to re-evaluate these images, criticizing corporate life “was never the photographer’s goal”.

Nor is he convinced that the “whole office dilemma” was caused by the pandemic, which did not herald the end of physical workplaces.

“I know I will find it difficult to work at home,” Ahlgren concluded. “I watched my daughters in college and my wife work from home, and it almost drove me crazy.”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.