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The Face of Bureaucracy: Portraits of Civil Servants Around the World

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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.

India, bureaucracy, Bihar, 2003. India-19/2003 [Tha, SKM (b. 1946)]. Surinder Kumar Mandal (b. 1946) is circle inspector of taxes in Thakurganj block, collecting taxes in a specific part of Kishanganj district, State of Bihar. Monthly salary: 9,500 rupees ($ 208, 189 euro). Surinder Kumar Mandal (b. 1946) is "circle inspector" van belastingen in Thakurganj Block, Kishanganj district, State of Bihar. Maandsalaris: 9,500 rupees (euro 189, US$ 208).

India, bureaucracy, Bihar, 2003. India-19/2003 [Tha, SKM (b. 1946)]. Surinder Kumar Mandal (b. 1946) is circle inspector of taxes in Thakurganj block, collecting taxes in a specific part of Kishanganj district, State of Bihar. Monthly salary: 9,500 rupees ($ 208, 189 euro). Surinder Kumar Mandal (b. 1946) is “circle inspector” van belastingen in Thakurganj Block, Kishanganj district, State of Bihar. Maandsalaris: 9,500 rupees (euro 189, US$ 208).

China, bureaucracy, Shandong, 2005. China-06/2007 [Jin., QSF (b. 1964)]. Qu Shao Feng (b. 1964) is chief general of Jining Public Security Bureau Division of Aliens and Exit-Entry Administration in Jining City, Shandong province. Monthly salary: 3,100 renminbi (US$ 384, 286 euro).

China, bureaucracy, Shandong, 2005. China-06/2007 [Jin., QSF (b. 1964)]. Qu Shao Feng (b. 1964) is chief general of Jining Public Security Bureau Division of Aliens and Exit-Entry Administration in Jining City, Shandong province. Monthly salary: 3,100 renminbi (US$ 384, 286 euro).

Bolivia, bureaucracy (police), 2005. Marlene Abigahit Choque (1982), detective at the the Homicide Department of the Potosi police. The department has only broken typewriters, no computer, no copy machine, not even telephone. It shares a car with the Vice Squad: "If there is no petrol in the car, we have to buy it from our own money. If the car is gone, we take the bus. We have to pay the tickets ourselves." The head on the cupboard to the right is used to make witnesses of murder cases show where the bullets went in or out.Monthly salary: 920 bolivianos (euro 102, US$ 114).

Bolivia, bureaucracy (police), 2005. Marlene Abigahit Choque (1982), detective at the the Homicide Department of the Potosi police. The department has only broken typewriters, no computer, no copy machine, not even telephone. It shares a car with the Vice Squad: “If there is no petrol in the car, we have to buy it from our own money. If the car is gone, we take the bus. We have to pay the tickets ourselves.” The head on the cupboard to the right is used to make witnesses of murder cases show where the bullets went in or out.Monthly salary: 920 bolivianos (euro 102, US$ 114).

France, bureaucracy, Auvergne, 2006. France-05/2006 [Cle., MW (b. 1949)/ LK (b. 1989)]. Maurice Winterstein (b. 1949) works in Clermont-Ferrand for the Commission for the Advancement of Equal Opportunity and Citizenship at the combined administrative offices of the Auvergne region and the Puy-de-Dome department. He also is in charge of the portfolio of religious affairs, Islam in particular. Monthly salary: euro 1,550 (US$ 2,038). The young lady next to him is Linda Khettabi (b. 1989), an intern pursuing training as a secretary.

France, bureaucracy, Auvergne, 2006. France-05/2006 [Cle., MW (b. 1949)/ LK (b. 1989)]. Maurice Winterstein (b. 1949) works in Clermont-Ferrand for the Commission for the Advancement of Equal Opportunity and Citizenship at the combined administrative offices of the Auvergne region and the Puy-de-Dome department. He also is in charge of the portfolio of religious affairs, Islam in particular. Monthly salary: euro 1,550 (US$ 2,038). The young lady next to him is Linda Khettabi (b. 1989), an intern pursuing training as a secretary.

Russia, bureaucracy, Siberia, province Tomsk, 2004. Russia-25/2004 [Tom., LVM (b. 1959)]. Lyudmila Vasilyevna Malkova (b. 1959) is a secretary to the mayor of the city of Tomsk, Tomsk province. She and her colleague take turns, working every other day, seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day. Monthly salary: 10,500 rubles (US$ 375, euro 285).

Russia, bureaucracy, Siberia, province Tomsk, 2004. Russia-25/2004 [Tom., LVM (b. 1959)]. Lyudmila Vasilyevna Malkova (b. 1959) is a secretary to the mayor of the city of Tomsk, Tomsk province. She and her colleague take turns, working every other day, seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day. Monthly salary: 10,500 rubles (US$ 375, euro 285).

Liberia, bureaucracy, 2006. Liberia-04/2006 [Mon., AD (b. 1940)]. Major Adolph Dalaney (b. 1940) works in the Reconstruction Room of the Traffic Police at the Liberia National Police Headquarters in the capital Monrovia. Monthly salary: barely 1,000 Liberian dollars (US$ 18, euro 17). Traffic accident victims at times are willing to pay a little extra if Dalaney"s department quickly draws up a favorable report to present to a judge.

Liberia, bureaucracy, 2006. Liberia-04/2006 [Mon., AD (b. 1940)]. Major Adolph Dalaney (b. 1940) works in the Reconstruction Room of the Traffic Police at the Liberia National Police Headquarters in the capital Monrovia. Monthly salary: barely 1,000 Liberian dollars (US$ 18, euro 17). Traffic accident victims at times are willing to pay a little extra if Dalaney”s department quickly draws up a favorable report to present to a judge.

Yemen, bureaucracy, 2006. Yemen-35/2006 [AIM., AAN (b. 1982)]. Alham Abdulwaze Nuzeli (b. 1982) works at the regional office of the Ministry of Tithing and Alms in the city of Al-Mahwit, Al-Mahwit governorate. Monthly salary: 12,000 rial (US$ 67, euro 46).Behind her a portrait of president Saleh of Yemen.

Yemen, bureaucracy, 2006. Yemen-35/2006 [AIM., AAN (b. 1982)]. Alham Abdulwaze Nuzeli (b. 1982) works at the regional office of the Ministry of Tithing and Alms in the city of Al-Mahwit, Al-Mahwit governorate. Monthly salary: 12,000 rial (US$ 67, euro 46).Behind her a portrait of president Saleh of Yemen.

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.

You can find the entire collection of photos from the project over on Banning’s website.

Bureaucratics by Jan Banning (via Fstoppers)


Image credit: Photographs by Jan Banning and used with permission


 
  • Freeman

    Pictures are pedestrian but i respect and applaud the photographer for the incredible access he managed to get!

  • Ryan

    I like that they are natural, normal or your description ‘pedestrian’
    Not glorifying these jobs or people, instead focusing on normal but different they are

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.a.canty Jessie Canty

    My favorite is the first one. I don’t know why I like it. ^_^

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.bloom.79 Jonathan Bloom

    wonderful and fitting environmental portraits

  • http://www.facebook.com/xavierdjx Xavier Djx

    I’ve seen it in Belgium Photography Museum last year. It’s a wonderful work between press and art. I’ve bought her book, I see here the pictures for the first time on a screen, but the real big sized and coloured pictures are much more beautiful in real.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=177801859 Kurt B

    In the China picture, where is the photographer’s reflection on the glass?

  • michaelp42

    Nicely done!

  • Elrano

    Timer or shutter cable maybe?

  • Billo

    The glass door is open where the photog is standing – so no reflection.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=177801859 Kurt B

    The glass door that is open is to the very left of the camera. I doubt it would make any difference even if the door was closed. The article says that the photographer didn’t notify the subjects they were going to be photographed, so in a way these were supposedly candid and not posed?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=177801859 Kurt B

    Yeah perhaps, but the article says his visits were unannounced so I’m assuming he just took candid photos of them, so no tripods, no timers, no cables? I don’t know, this is not a big deal. It just tickles me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/xsportseeker Renato Murakami

    I suspect the visit was unannounced (to prevent getting the room neater and force the subject to be as he/she was on any regular day), but not candid. Like he probably went there without stating the purpose beforehand, asked for permission, prepared the setting and only then took a shot.

  • Felipe_Paredes

    what a silly question… is a vampire obviously.

  • CrispyCrunch

    Why is Germany, the homeland of bureaucracy missing? And since when is a secretary a bureaucracy job? However, the photos are really good.

  • Jan Banning

    Answer: secretary of a mayor is a government employee.

  • Jan Banning

    Renato, you grasped the idea it. A bit of research would answer these questions. Exactly as you say, the visits were unannounced (for the reason you give) and the writer kept the people ‘busy’ while I set up my flash etc. Of course the people realised they were being photographed, how could they not notice? And what is this person trying to prove with the remark about the reflection? Cleverly uncovering my Photoshop manipulation? I love to break down ‘the fourth wall’, so if there had been a reflection, I would surely have left it there.