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As entrepreneurs, we often take for granted our office-less lifestyle. Sometimes we decide to wake up and work from bed. Entrepreneurs generally don’t have a bureaucratic figure looming overhead telling us how it has to be done, when to start, where to eat lunch, and what time we can go home to see our families.

I’ve never considered how something as simple as a desk, an office, can reveal power, status, and control until I saw Jan Banning’s work, Bureaucratics.

Bureaucratics” is a comparative photographic study of culture, rituals and symbols of state civil administrations and its servants in eight countries on five continents. Selected on the basis of political, historical and cultural considerations – Bolivia, China, France, India, Liberia, Russia, the United States, and Yemen are all represented. 

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Banning’s visits were unannounced and his accompany writer, Will Tinnemans – through interviewing – kept the employees from tidying up or clearing the office. That way, Banning says the photos show what a local citizen would be confronted with when entering.

“The photography has a conceptual, typological approach reminding of August Sander’s ‘Menschen des 20 Jahrhunderts’ (‘People of the Twentieth Century’). 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 humor and absurdity in these photos, they also show compassion with the inhabitants of the state’s paper labyrinth.”

Below features 16 (out of the 70) photographs taken for this series.


(PHOTO ABOVE) Bolivia, bureaucracy, Potosi, 2005. Bolivia-13/2005 [Bet.,REV (b. 1958)]. Rodolfo Villca Flores (b. 1958) is chief supervisor of market and sanitary services of the municipality of Betanzos, Cornelio Saavedra province. Previously he worked as a bricklayer, electrician, plumber and handyman. Monthly salary: 1,150 bolivianos (euro 128, US$ 143).


India, bureaucracy, Bihar, 2003. India-29/2003 [The., HDP (b. 1947)]. Harsh Deo Prasad (b. 1947) is panchayat chief (village head) in the village of Tehta, Makhdumpur block, Jahanabad district, State of Bihar. He informs local farmers about the use of fertilizers, irrigation and other ways to achieve efficiency in agriculture. Monthly salary: 9,100 rupees ( euro 181, US$ 199).


Bolivia, bureaucracy (police), 2005. Josué Galarza Mendez (1969) is police constable in Betanzos, Potosi department. The police post has 5 men, among other things responsable for safety on the main road from Potosi to Sucre. And they try to solve thefts and burglaries. The bureau has one motorbike. The typewriter is Mendez’s private property. In emergencies, he uses his own mobile phone. Policemen have only truncheons for weapon. Whoever has a gun, has paid that himself. His monthly salary: 977 bolivianos ( euro 109, US$ 122).


France, bureaucracy, Auvergne, 2006. France-16/2006 [Cle., RV (b.1957)]. Roger Vacher (b. 1957) is a narcotics agent with the national police force in Clermont-Ferrand, Puy-de-Dome department, Auvergne region. Monthly salary: euro 2,200 (US$ 2,893).


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-19/2006 [Nye., WW (b.1963)]. Warford Weadatu Sr. (b. 1963), a former farmer and mail carrier, now is county commissioner (administrator) for Nyenawliken district, River Gee County. He has no budget and is not expecting any money soon from the poverty-stricken authorities in Monrovia. Monthly salary: 1,110 Liberian dollars (US$ 20, euro 19), but he hadn’t received any salary for the previous year.


Russia, bureaucracy, Siberia, province Tomsk, 2004. Russia-19/2004 [Tom., MNB (b. 1962)]. Marina Nikolayevna Berezina (b. 1962), a former singer and choir director, is now the secretary to the head of the financial department of Tomsk province”s Facility Services. She does not want to reveal her monthly salary.


Yemen, bureaucracy, 2006. Yemen-28/2006 [Shi., MHA (b. 1962)]. Mohammed Hamid Azein (b. 1962) collects the monthly water bills in the district of Shibam, Al-Mahwit Governorate. Monthly salary: 21,600 rial (US$ 121, euro 83), but he had not received a salary for five months.


Russia, bureaucracy, Siberia, province Tomsk, 2004. Nina Petrovna Kovalchuk (1950), local tax inspector in Trubashevo, Pobeda district, Tomsk province. Studied at an Agricultural Institute in Kazakhstan and worked there as a teacher of biology. In 1993 she came to Siberia. She is on this job since 2001. Nina Kovalchuk is married, has 3 children and 2 grandchildren. Salary: “About 4000 rubles (US$ 143, 108 euro) a month. In a village you have to have animals and a garden to survive.”


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.


USA, bureaucracy, Texas, 2007. USA-11/2007 [Ozo., SF (b. 1961)]. Shane Fenton (b. 1961) is sheriff of Crockett County (about 3000 inhabitants), Texas, and based in Ozona, the county seat. Monthly salary: US$ 3,166 (euro 2,356).


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). WIbWXz9

India, bureaucracy, Bihar, 2003. India-15/2003 (Pat., SP (b. 1947)]. Suresh Prasad (b. 1947) is assistant clerk of the “Bihar House” department in The Old Secretariat, Patna, State of Bihar. Monthly salary: 9,000 rupees ($ 197, euro 179). Suresh Prasad (b. 1947) is assistent-klerk op het departement “Bihar House” in The Old Secretariat, Patna, State of Bihar. Maandsalaris: 9,000 rupees (euro 179, US$ 197).


India, bureaucracy, Bihar, 2003. India-17/2003 [Pat., SP (b. 1962)]. Sushma Prasad (b. 1962) is an assistant clerk at the Cabinet Secretary of the State of Bihar (population 83 million) in The Old Secretariat in the state capital, Patna. She was hired “on compassionate grounds” because of the death of her husband, who until 1997 worked in the same department. Monthly salary: 5,000 rupees ($ 110, euro 100).


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.


USA, bureaucracy, Texas, 2007. Roger Williams, Secretary of State, Austin, highest appointed civil servants in the State of Texas. He was a professional baseballplayer for Fort Worth University and later, took over his father”s car business. Gross monthly salary: US$ 10.000 (euro 7258).


Jan Banning (1954) is a Dutch artist/photographer, based in Utrecht, the Netherlands.


Banning’s work always has a social focus. The social political environment is put at the fore and it often concerns subjects that have been neglected within the arts and are difficult to portray: state power, consequences of war, justice and injustice. Sometimes the work is the result of a sociological or anthropological classifying approach, such as ‘Bureaucratics, a comparative study of the world of government officials.

Other times he focuses more on the psychological aspects; on the divergent influence that major social events have on individuals (‘Comfort Women’, ‘Traces of War’, ‘Down and Out in the South).

Read more from his bio. 



  • Donny Piers

    It’s amazing seeing how culture differences affect the way people arrange their offices but from where you should be in order calendars of naked women to be totally acceptable for the office. Btw, laughed on this a lot 🙂