Bureaucratics by Dutch photographer Jan Banning is a comparative photographic study of the culture, rituals and symbols of state civil administrations and its servants in eight countries on five continents. Jan traveled to Bolivia, China, France, India, Liberia, Russia, Yemen and the United States to snap photographs of civil servants – from fiscal authorities to police, from governors to local clerks – seated behind his or her desk. The result is a fascinating look at the lives of bureaucrats.
Jan Banning said in an interview to The New Yorker, that it started with “the most horrible assignment” he had ever received. Banning’s editor had asked him to shoot pictures for a story on the decentralization of the administration of Dutch development aid. “It seemed to be un-photographable,” Banning recalls. But what started as a tedious project ended with an introspective reflection into bureaucratic methods around the world.
“There is so much to be found in these photographs,” says Banning. “If you reflect on them, they will bring you something about that country, but possibly something about bureaucracy in general.”
The visits were always unannounced as given any warning, the bureaucrats would try to tidy their workspaces. Banning wanted to see each office in all its cluttered glory, just as an everyday citizen would encounter it. After seeking permission from high-ranking officials, Banning and his accompanying writer, Will Tinnemans, would walk in an office unannounced, and, if Banning liked what he saw, Tinnemans would immediately start interviewing the resident bureaucrat while Banning set up his gear. Before the bureaucrat knew quite what was happening, the shoot was over.
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).
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).
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).
Wang Ning (b. 1983) works in the Economic Affairs office in Gu Lou community, Yanzhou city, Shandong province. She provides economic assistance to enterprises in her region and is the liaison officer between the government and local enterprises. Wang Ning is not married. She lives at home with her parents. Monthly salary: 2,100 renminbi (US$ 260, euro 228).
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).
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.
Major Adolph Dalaney works in the Reconstruction Room of the Traffic Police at the Liberia National Police Headquarters in the capital Monrovia. Traffic accident victims at time are willing to pay a little extra if Dalaney’s department quickly draws up a favorable report to present to a judge. Monthly salary: barely 1,000 Liberian dollars ($18, €17).
Henry Gray (1940), acting commissioner for Gbaepo district, Kanweaken, River Gee County. During the Civil War, the office was completely looted and destroyed: only one wall remained. Gray has 11 personnel, of whom only 4 are paid. The rest are volunteers. He has no budget and over two years salary owing. Yesterday, he went to the capital Fishtown to collect last two months salary, two times 975 Liberian dollars (2x US$ 17, 2x euro 16). All he got was 600 dollars (US$ 11, euro 10). Gray is father to 34 children (sic), 13 of them depending, and has 18 grandchildren.
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.
Nikolajevich Ilyich Volkov (b. 1954) is administrator of the village of Alexandrovskoye (some 1,000 inhabitants), Tomsk province. Monthly salary: 9,000 rubles (US$ 321, euro 243).
Rudy Flores (b. 1963) is one of the 118 Texas Rangers, state law enforcement officers who cover 254 counties between them. He is based in Palestine, Anderson County, Texas, and is responsible for three counties. Monthly salary: $5,000 (€3,720).
Dede McEachern (b. 1969) is director of licensing, Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations, in the state capital, Austin. Monthly salary: US$ 5,833 (euro 4,240).
Ali Abdulmalik Shuga (b. 1964) is responsible for the archives of the Ministry of Trade and CommerceÍs governorate s office in the city of Taizz, Taizz Governorate. Monthly salary: 30,500 rial (US$ 171, euro 117).
Nadja Ali Gayt is an adviser at the Ministry of Agriculture’s education center for rural women in the district of Manakhah, Sana’a Governorate. Monthly salary: 28,500 rial ($160, €110).
Constantino Ayaviri Castro (b. 1950), previously a construction worker, is a police officer, third class, for the municipality of Tinguipaya, Tomas Frias province. The police station does not have a phone, car or typewriter. Monthly salary: 800 bolivianos ($100, €189).
Marcial Castro Revollo (b. 1942) is shopkeeper and, at the desk in the back, civil servant for the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in the village of Millares (350 inhabitants), municipality of Betanzos, Cornelio Saavedra province, Department Potosi. Also, at the desk in the front, he is responsible for the polling station of the Corte Departemental Electoral de Potosi (elections office). Monthly salary: 500 bolivianos (euro 55, US$ 62).
See more pictures from Bureaucratics on Jan’s website.