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Myles Little

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Myles Little

“Modern business is a storm. Modern office professionals bring order.”
— Website of the International Association of Administrative Professionals

Happy Administrative Professionals Day! Since 1952, this holiday has honored “individuals who are responsible for administrative tasks and coordination of information in support of an office-related environment and who are dedicated to furthering their personal and professional growth in their chosen profession.”

According to the International Association of Administrative Professionals, APD has grown into “one of the largest workplace observances,” perhaps rivaled only by employee birthdays, major holidays and the occasional going-away parties for colleagues who have been canned, or who quit to go work at better-paying jobs in cooler companies.

To observe the occasion, LightBox presents a curated selection of images by 10 photographers taken over the past quarter-century on the subject of modern office life — its quirks, arcane customs and distinctive fashions.

If you’ve enjoyed this year’s Administrative Professionals Day thus far, just remember: there are only around 2,000 more working hours until the next one. Two thousand hours of jammed printers, half-hearted motivational speeches and ceaseless meetings. Two thousand hours remarkable only for their perfect, suffocating sameness.

Inspiring, isn’t it? Now … back to work!

Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME. He, too, works in an office.

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Original author: 
Myles Little

What began in 2003 as an exploration of the mundane world of kitchenware has morphed over the past decade into something much more profound for Norwegian photographer Christopher Jonassen.

Devour is Jonassen’s series of still lifes of the bottoms of old frying pans — a series that, despite its quotidian subject matter, manages to touch upon (quite literally) universal concerns.

“When I was studying abroad in Australia,” Jonassen recalls, “I lived in a cheap share house with some friends, and the cooking utensils were banged up in a pretty bad way.” He began photographing the pans as a way to reflect on “the repetitive and mundane actions we do every day.” Jonassen dug through the cellars and attics of friends and family members, looking for likely candidates. But his favorite pans were those used by the local boy scout troop.

“They bring out big iron pans and put them directly into an open fire out in the woods,” Jonassen says. “Heavy iron pans, burnt black and scraped with knives.”

He shot hundreds of pans over the course of several years, all the while refining the vision, and is still working on the project today. While most of the pans look similar to the way they did when he first found them, Jonassen rubbed oil on a few to enhance their texture, and relied on lighting techniques and basic Photoshop to achieve his results.

“I think it’s important to notice the beauty in the small things we surround ourselves with everyday,” Jonassen says, and Devour is, in part, his own vivid testament to that belief. Note the rich, molten red of Slide #1 and the gorgeous cerulean blues in Slide # 6. The poet Walt Whitman voiced a similar tenet — a faith in the profound significance of the littlest things — in his 1855 masterpiece, “Song of Myself”:

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars…
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery…

Perhaps the most striking thing about the pictures is how closely, and how eerily, these ordinary kitchen pans resemble planets and moons — an effect that Jonassen says was intentional.  “I found that each pan more or less had a planet hidden inside it,” Jonassen says, “and it was up to me to discover it.” Slide #3 resembles Mars, even down to the planet’s polar ice caps of solid carbon dioxide. Slide #8 brings to mind Neptune, whose tranquil blue appearance belies winds that reach 1,300 miles per hour.

There’s something thrilling about how the project threads this needle — from a kitchen cabinet, across the reaches of space, to alien worlds. Thus, Jonassen seems to heed the words of the poet William Blake, who in 1803 asked his readers to “see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower.”

Jonassen began the project interested in the cooking pan as an emblem of the ordinary, but he soon became fascinated by “how everyday life was wearing out the metal of the pans, one tiny scratch at a time.” He says he wants to create “a link between the small traces we leave behind every day, [and] the enormous impact this adds up to over time. I am very concerned about the way we are treating this planet. The title also reflects this. ‘Devour’ means to eat up greedily; to destroy, consume and waste; to prey upon voraciously.” Thus, Jonassen draws a subtle, visually compelling link between the destruction of a banged-up pan and the degradation of our blue planet.

To see a world in a grain of sand … and the cosmos in a frying pan. It’s not quite Blake, perhaps, but for photography fans, Devour offers a rare, unexpected form of poetry for the eye.

Christopher Jonassen is an internationally acclaimed artist based in Norway.

Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME.

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Viviane Sassen’s gorgeous, inscrutable fine art images from Africa have earned her acclaim and a place in the Museum of Modern Art. But recently, her surreal and equally beautiful fashion photography has been garnering attention, too: in 2011, Sassen won the prestigious International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award for Applied/Fashion/Advertising Photography, and more than 300 of her fashion images are on view at Amsterdam’s Huis Marseille Museum for Photography through mid-March 2013 in a show titled, Viviane Sassen / In and Out of Fashion.

Born in Amsterdam, Sassen lived in Kenya — where her father worked in a polio clinic — between the ages of 2 and 5. Because the continent looms so large in her work, I asked her to describe her earliest memories from Africa.

“I remember,” she told me, “how Rispa, our nanny, woke me up one early morning and took me to a deserted football field to pick small white mushrooms. I remember the taste of sugarcane and ugali [a dish similar to polenta], orange Fanta and the bloody goat heads in the market in Kisumu.”

Returning to the Netherlands was difficult for her: “I didn’t feel I belonged in Europe, yet I knew I was a foreigner in Africa.”

As a young woman, Sassen enrolled in a university fashion design program and also modeled. Recalling her modeling work, she says that she “can relate to how a girl might feel in front of a camera: sometimes bored, tired or simply stressed or insecure. And then the shoes … three sizes too small but with killer heels. It’s not always fun to be a model.”

Nevertheless, she says she “got to know a lot of photographers; they made me aware that they controlled the image. That’s what I wanted, too; I wanted to be in control of the image … to create it.”

Viviane Sassen

Viviane Sassen

Sassen made the leap into photography. She recalls that “in the beginning, [photographers] like Nan Goldin and Nobuyoshi Araki [were] very important for my work because of their formal language, but also because they depicted their own lives in a way that appealed to me.”

A turning point in her own photography came in 2002 when she returned to Africa with her husband. The fine art photography she has made there in the past decade shines as some of the most original, unexpected work to emerge from the continent by a Western photographer. But one finds no victims of war or famine here; instead, the viewer confronts contemporary Africans engaged in sophisticated, if mysterious, dream performances.

“Working in Africa opens doors of my subconscious,” Sassen explains. “Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning after very vivid dreams or if I just suddenly have an idea, I sketch. My photographs are sometimes almost literal pictures of these sketches.” At other times, she says, “I might just find something on the street that excites me.”

Her images are somehow primal and hallucinatory at once: two youths embrace in the dark, a giant banana leaf sprouting between them; a figure lies nestled in the diaphanous green cloud of a fishing net; a boy lounges on the ground, his limbs painted bright turquoise. Critic Vince Aletti says that Sassen “tends to treat the body as a sculptural element—a malleable shape that combines with blocks of shadow and bright color in arrangements that sometimes read like cut-paper collages, bold and abstract but full of vibrant life.”

One key part of the body that is often missing or obscured is the human face, as models turn away from the camera or appear with their faces cloaked in shadow. As Aaron Schuman noted in Aperture, the images might thus “appear to ignore the individuals they portray and instead inherently possess—maybe even propagate—the problematic histories, legacies, and relationships between Africa and the West. But perhaps in Sassen’s case this is the point, at least in part, and where the power of her photographs lies.”

Viviane Sassen

Viviane Sassen

Within these mirror-like voids, Sassen allows the viewer to reflect on the clichés and prejudices Westerners so often fall back on when engaging the vast continent and its inhabitants.

“I want to seduce the viewer with a beautiful formal approach,” says Sassen, “and at the same time, leave something disturbing.”

Sassen’s fashion work borrows much from her fine art—obscured faces, extraordinary color. The acute graphic sensibility of Sassen’s fine art, meanwhile, works wonders in magazine spreads. In an elemental way, though, the museum show and Sassen’s images (made for magazines like Wallpaper, Purple and Dazed & Confused, and for brands like Levi’s and Stella McCartney) don’t make sense at all.

As Sassen told the British Journal of Photography in its December 2012 issue, “I find exhibitions of fashion photography within the context of a museum rather problematic. Most fashion images aren’t art, they’re fashion photographs—which is fine, but if you put them in a museum, enlarged and in a frame, they become something else…. Art photography doesn’t have to serve any purpose, fashion photography does, and that makes a difference…. [Then] there are images which are really between art and fashion, which I hope I do myself.”

Sassen hit upon a solution to this conundrum: projecting fashion images on museum walls, so the work retains a “kind of disposable feel.” Furthermore, Sassen has said she doesn’t care much about clothes. “My interest is not the interest of the fashion industry. My interest is to make fascinating pictures…. It’s always about desire and fear, about making images that are both appealing and unsettling.”

Viviane Sassen

Viviane Sassen

Nevertheless, Sassen says she loves the “swiftness of fashion” as opposed to the “contemplated process of making art.” I asked her about the difference between shooting for magazines and shooting for advertisements.

“What I like about fashion magazines is that they create a platform to experiment and to work closely with people who can be super inspiring. I call it my laboratory. [It] should be like an adventure; not knowing where your play will lead you. When you’re working on fashion campaigns for a commercial brand it’s often much less experimental, but still creative in the sense that you have to match the pieces of a puzzle.”

Sassen has used a computer to retouch some of her images, but mostly avoids it. “I think that something beautiful is even more charming when it’s not too perfect. You don’t want to feel the artificiality of the image, you want to believe in it. I feel related to reality, while slick images feel exchangeable.”

Sassen’s lifelong interest in Africa — and her ongoing explorations of her own subconscious — have contributed to some of the most riveting fashion photography being made today. For a photographer rooted in (or, as she puts it, “related to”) reality, her magazine work is a revelation.

See more of Sassen’s work at VivianeSassen.com.

Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME.

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Mike Bruce

503.384544 square kilometers of Yosemite Valley printed on 6,160 sheets of paper

For a century and a half, photographers have been incorporating a wide range of tools and agendas in their efforts to document the landscape of the American West. Among the lensmen who use more unexpected techniques is U.K.-based Dan Holdsworth, whose latest body of work, Transmission, takes data gleaned from radar scans done by the U.S. Geological Survey to create virtual models of American landscapes. By showing storied locations such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite in a new way, Holdsworth pays tribute to, and advances, the history of the genre.

The rich and ongoing history of landscape photography in the American West had very practically-minded origins. As interest in the region surged throughout the 19th century, enterprising railroad companies and government organizations sent out small armies of scientists, cartographers, illustrators and photographers to sample, survey and record the recently acquired territories. The best of the photographers, like Carleton Watkins and Timothy O’Sullivan, produced work that transcended the scientific genre. Theirs was a vision of an untouched land of sublime grandeur.

Fast-forward a century. Shopping malls and parking lots stretch from Trenton to Tacoma. A group of photographers including Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams and Joe Deal started producing work that would become known as the “New Topographics.” Instead of scrubbing their images of any trace of man, they focused on him. As Baltz once recalled: “I was living in Monterey, a place where the classic photographers — the Westons, Wynn Bullock and Ansel Adams — came for a privileged view of nature. But my daily life very rarely took me to Point Lobos or Yosemite; it took me to shopping centers, and gas stations and all the other unhealthy growth that flourished beside the highway. It was a landscape that no one else had much interest in looking at.” Man had sullied the sublime.

For years, the U.S. Geological Survey has used satellite-borne radar to survey much of the United States, and the amount of data collected is staggering. Gallery shows of Transmission include a stack of over 6,000 sheets of paper containing the XYZ coordinate points necessary to map just over 300 square miles of Yosemite Valley alone. Holdsworth appropriated this data (as well as some from Open Topography), and with the help of a university geologist, created computer models of the land. He used a software program to remove everything but the basic contours of the earth and the occasional trace of a road or building. (In a way other photographers may envy, Holdsworth was even able to alter the direction of the virtual sunlight, thus controlling the time of “day.”) After he created these 3D worlds, he was able to navigate them at will—peering over the edge of a volcano, or down the corridors of canyons.

From the millions of square miles of mapped territory, Holdsworth carefully chose five locations—the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Mount St. Helens, Mount Shasta and Salt Lake City, Utah—for his series. The first four were among the places the early photographers of the Romantic Sublime made their awesome, unpeopled images. And it was near the last one, Salt Lake City, Utah, where Lewis Baltz made his seminal New Topographics project on suburban sprawl. Holdsworth thus references the history of the medium but, with his new method, moves the ball forward. As Emma Lewis writes in her essay on the work, “Looking at the world as though from space, Transmission evokes a sense of capturing something that has never been seen before; something especially powerful as these landscapes have been so visually reproduced throughout history as to become embedded in the popular conscience.” But they do not merely look new; in their method, they evoke our current era of potentially terrifying technology such as the Gorgon Stare, the U.S. government drone camera whose eyes are said to be able to devour whole cities at a time. Ultimately, as Lewis writes, Holdsworth is arguing that, “the exaltation of discovery can still exist because the man-made and the sublime are not mutually exclusive.”

Dan Holdsworth is a British photographer based in London.

Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME.

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