Home Office: The Places Where We Worked, A Directive Sent Out to Friends, Friends-of-friends, and Colleagues, March/April 2020
I hope things are going ok for you and your family. We’re feeling pretty good here but this is a very strange time.
I wanted to ask if you would be willing to contribute to a little book project I’m currently working on.
The project is called 'Home Office: The Places Where We Worked, 2020'.
I’m asking friends to take a couple photos of where they work at home and email me the images. It’s a pretty basic concept inspired in part by Alexander Liberman’s 'The Artist in His Studio' (1960) and Mass-Observation’s social research on everyday life in Britain.
I’m wanting to focus on the place and the things we surround ourselves with during this time.
Thanks for your help.
Little Book Project
It is easy to forget the little details. In Jim Jarmusch’s film, 'Mystery Train' (1989), two Japanese tourists have an insightful conversation in their Memphis hotel room about the photography of everyday things.
Mitsuko: “Why do you take photos of boring things?”
Jun: “I’ll remember the big things. I take photos of the things I’ll forget.”
How will we remember these times? What images will we look back at and say that this summed up the 2020 experience? These two questions launched the Home Office project. The world-wide COVID pandemic was not a spectacular burning-Hindenburg-crashing-down moment but a slow-glacier-moving-across-the-plains. A non-photogenic event that will be remembered for the waiting and wondering we all experienced. How do those feelings get photographed?
In early March like most of my friends and colleagues world-wide, I scrambled to find a place to work at home. Just as our academic Spring Break was ending, we turned our guest bedroom into an office as well as our sofa and our dining table. My family needed places to access school online, sit during video conferences, read, write, and do work things. The one desk that was once enough for the whole family wasn’t enough with us all at home - all the time. We pulled the metal sawhorses from the basement and found an old door to set on top. Several lamps were scavenged from another bedroom and the garage. We ran power strips across floors to keep computers powered and charged. We made things work.
No single image or image series will define this time. The Home Office project was an attempt to make a crowd-sourced social commentary of 2020.
While these photographs do not capture everyone’s experience it does capture a slice of the experience with a global reach.
It was a simple directive (or request) I emailed out to friends, friends-of-friends, and colleagues asking for images of where they worked at home. Attached to the email were a couple sample images of people-less spaces already received. This group included: academics, architects, designers, photographers, artists, poets as well as a banker, a realtor, a psychologist, a journalist, and several farmers. A narrow sampling that does not show the breath of this universal experience but serves to preserve a small group of similar people’s make-shift work places during this period.
These office spaces range from bedroom and kitchen tables to basements to sofas to home offices/studios already in use. Geographic location is relative. My neighbor’s home office is as foreign and distant as a friend’s in France or New Zealand.
As we look over this collection, certain objects (boring things) appear in many of the spaces. We see computer screens, coffee mugs (or water bottles or a glass of wine), chairs, notepads with pens, books, personal photos, inspirational objects, and the occasional pet. The technology on view will soon seem outdated. The images of screens depicting Netflix or Zoom interfaces will seem quant. These photographs are a time capsule.