Photographs copyright Florian Van Roekel self-published, first edition 2010, second edition 2012
Of the photobooks I selected for the theme of “Work” for 2012 Fotografia di Roma’s photobook exhibition, “How Terry Likes his Coffee; A Photo Odyssey into Office Life” by Florian van Roekel resonates the strongest with me as it relates to my day job spent in various offices.
Van Roekel describes this photobook as an Odyssey, which is to inform the reader that this is story about a journey into a strange land, just as it was for Homer, with strange customs and temptations.
As in the Odyssey, van Roekel provides cryptic maps of the journey, although in this case, these are various office layouts. His maps reveal a labyrinth of corridors and offices, a confusing maze of pathways and stop-overs that essentially reveals very little information for a non-office worker. The layouts provide few clues as to the work that occurs within these domains but hints at underlying customs as the size and location of various offices and who inhabits them.
In thinking about office “life”, much of the work, which is to say “effort” that occurs is ambiguous to the casual observer, as are the myriad tasks and unfathomable results that are achieved. In contrast to the work of construction, the effort of the workers will eventually reveal a solid structure. For most industrial trades, effort transforms materials from one state to another, which can then be readily identified that something happened. The new object looks different than the parts and components that existed before.
For van Roekel it seems much of the work entails sitting at a desk, looking at a computer monitor, talking on a phone, standing or waiting by the photo-copier and in gathering with other office workers, all the while occasionally drinking coffee. The results and out-put of their work appear to be filled ambiguous corrugated boxes. Van Roekel also investigates cultural tribal customs of the office, the positions assumed by individual in relation to others in the office, the implied egalitarianism; the non-verbal cues and communication as the slight touches to the arms and shoulders, a hand on their forehead and the singular gesture of a hand.
The work and world of the office remains elusive and no less ambiguous in van Roekel’s legendary tell, but perhaps an office is now a bit more interesting terrain.
The book object is a hard cover book well suited for the horizontal color photographs and designed to appear similar to an office note-book consistent with his theme.
Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook