Grey on Grey

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Some days, I fantasize about having a day job. One with a real office and real water cooler and real office supply closet where the paper smells like memories and the coffee tastes of community. I’m like that. I’ve always been like that – a dreamer, painting perfect portraits of other worlds where the grass is greener than the trees that shade reality. I’m learning to enjoy that about myself, but sometimes it gets in the way, especially when I find myself craving employers over creative freedom and staples over inspired to do lists.

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Artist Isabelle Wenzel was curious about office environments, too, creating a series of photographs for a solo exhibit inspired by Amsterdam’s business district. Unlike me, this acrobat-turned-photographer had never worked in an office setting. So rather than gleaning inspiration from her beige, industrial-carpeted memories, she conjured up an imaginative environment from movies and cliches. “The first thing which came to my mind was the image of well-dressed people sitting in front of their illuminated monitors in a well-designed stifling white colored office environment,” she writes. “I figured a scene that was surrounded by absolute quietness. I imagined the slow buzzing of the air conditioner and the sounds of keyboards when someone had to tell something to someone else. The silence came along with almost a complete lack of motion, since sitting on a chair was the only normative posture conceivable.”

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The result is a series of photographs that depict an office setting in a mundane, almost depressing fashion. “I was fascinated by the idea that people were actually able to bear that; to stay in an working position that mainly demands the head, eye, ear and hands.”

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And, of course, the workers were just as fascinated with Isabelle and her team as she was with them. “I brought a lot of costumes and props along, it was so obvious that we didn’t belong there, and we looked more like a bunch of art students being lost,” she writes. “When we passed by the open plan offices, everyone was looking at us as if they saw a very exotic bird or something like that. Not only the shooting was like a performance, everything was. During the shooting we made a big mess in the office, throwing papers and shifting the furniture around. A great moment was when my friend was performing in one of the window frames. She was turning and bending, wearing very colorful clothes, panties and high heels. Suddenly we became aware that people in the opposite building were standing at the window and were observing what we were doing. Some were taking images with their mobiles. This was great because we had this unexpected audience and it felt like doing something very important; messing this place up a bit and pointing out that there was more than the everyday routine of grey in grey.”

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And that’s what artists do, don’t they? Turn and bend, adding color into the everyday lives of all – offering insight and perspective and inspiration.

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Infusing color into the greyest of times.

Image Credits: Isabelle Wenzel

p.s. On adventure and rainstorms.

  • Provacative photos! I like that there is a mixture of a little silliness, a little sadness in a bleak environment- and while the people aren’t shown with their faces, (making them any typical office employee, generic clerks perhaps) their positions, color and activities are the opposite of an ordinary office worker.

  • “I was fascinated by the idea that people were actually able to bear that…” Isabelle, we, the people in the office, can’t bear it. We are trained to bear it. I enjoyed looking through the window very much. I felt for a moment that we looked at each other, but enjoyed mostly the mutual fascination.

  • After graduating from college, I went to work for a publishing company. I had a very nice office, actually, with lots of windows I could look through. I think that’s what helped me know I had to leave. There was a willowy tree outside the window, and most days wind pushing at it. But every once in a while, the wind stopped, and then the tree stood upright, full. It came to feel metaphoric. After a year, I decided I could not be that tree, I could not live all the weeks of the year but two in that office, sitting at that desk, feeling like that tree. I became a teacher instead, which brought its own set of challenges. Sometimes, I look back wistfully at the things I lost when I gave up that office. But not for long.

    • This is such a beautiful portrait, Rita – what a metaphor!!! Thank you for sharing it with me. :)

  • When I see these, it’s the fulfillment of all of my fears when I’m dressed up in professional settings. There’s also this sense of helplessness and panic… it sort of vibrates in these grey settings. It’s so uncanny how she can imagine all of this, and it strikes us all that, in a way, it’s so real.

  • I just stumbled over this post today. I have been self-employed for the last 12 years and lately I have been wondering if it would be ‘smart’ to go back. These images reminded me how the daily grind was just not for me! LOL I love the last one (yellow skirt). It reminds me of those feeling years ago when I would try to show up and be professional, sweet and do a good job, when really I just wanted to stick my head in a cabinet!

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