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Bureaucratics

This project hones in on the typically anonymous civil servant who, anywhere in the world, makes up a small cog in the gigantic machinery of the state. Jan Banning and writer Will Tinnemans photographed and interviewed approximately 250 civil servants in eight countries: Bolivia, China, France, India, Liberia, Russia, Yemen, and the United States. Tinnemans describes the process:

Working on Bureaucratics, we sometimes felt like the police inspector forced to commit a crime to solve a murder. Trying to unmask the face of a bureaucracy means running into many a bureaucratic obstacle. The process of acquiring permission to photograph and interview civil servants involves in many countries a bureaucracy in and of itself. The Liberian capital of Monrovia was during our visit in 2006 just awakening from the violent nightmare of fifteen years of civil war. Sleazy officials left us waiting for days before leading us into a labyrinth out of which they themselves didn't know the way. They ushered us out with an expensive little accreditation card that provided access mainly to empty offices and that, in any case, turned out to be fake.

In Siberia, Russia, bureaucratic chieftains evidently are still possessed by the Soviet spirit. Every visit to a government agency was preceded by a lengthy monologue by the department head, who effortlessly reeled off numbers, weights, heights, depths and widths in his field. In each city in the Chinese province of Shandong, we paid again and again with never-ending lunches and dinners for the permission to visit government offices. Excessive numbers of toasts sealed what seemed to be friendships for life. But the next day, the now-sober bureaucrat erected an impeccable cardboard façade.

In Yemen's stunningly beautiful capital Sana'a we were stuck for four consecutive mornings to Naugahyde vinyl cushions in an office at the Ministry of Information. The assistant secretary for some reason refused to sign our travel permits. A simple display of power? Fear that we would make his country look ridiculous? Or was he waiting for a bribe? We will never know, but these kinds of incidents did teach us early on how the bureaucracy in a particular country operates.

Full text available from Will Tinnemans.

Bureaucratics is published in English by Nazraeli and in Dutch by Uitgeverij Nieuw Amsterdam.
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