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Corporate America in the 1970s: Exhibit offers ‘glimpse inside the rising economic order’ of US

The black-and-white photos are stark and sterile, but the corporate world of a bygone era shines through as American executives pose in their 1970s offices. There are large and clunky early computers, machines given pride of place in corporate America as the technology age geared up. There are nods to old-world glamor, businessmen and women sharply dressed in professional attire with a flair so often absent now.

There are also examples of gender and racial disparity, issues still relevant today but arguably more visible four decades ago.

The view into 1970s corporate life was captured by photographer Susan Ressler, who documented the people and décor of offices and lobbies in 1970s Los Angeles and other urban US locations. Her photos will go on exhibit on Friday through next month at Joseph Bellows Gallery in La Jolla, and they were published in a new book earlier this year titled Executive Order.

Renowned photographer Susan Ressler documented life inside American offices in the 1970s in Los Angeles and other large urban areas – where nascent computer technology was beginning to exercise more and more influence 

Ressler walked into buildings she simply found interesting from the outside and asked office workers, such as the woman pictured, to pose for her 

Ressler walked into buildings she simply found interesting from the outside and asked office workers, such as the woman pictured, to pose for her 

Remarking on the black female receptionist looking at a white male executive in this photo, Ressler told The New York Times earlier this year: ‘She’s in that box, and he can’t see the way she’s looking at him ... Back then, that’s just the way it was’ 

Remarking on the black female receptionist looking at a white male executive in this photo, Ressler told The New York Times earlier this year: ‘She’s in that box, and he can’t see the way she’s looking at him … Back then, that’s just the way it was’ 

The photos are featured in a new exhibition beginning Friday at the Joseph Bellows Gallery in La Jolla, California - and were published in April in book Executive Order: Images of 1970s Corporate America

The photos are featured in a new exhibition beginning Friday at the Joseph Bellows Gallery in La Jolla, California – and were published in April in book Executive Order: Images of 1970s Corporate America

Author Mark Rice, in his contextual essay in the book, wrote that Ressler’s images ‘provide a glimpse inside a rising economic order as they reveal the reception rooms and inner sancta of premier corporate office spaces.

‘They were made at a pivotal point both in the post-industrial shifts of the American economy and in American photography, when a younger generation of photographers grappled with questions of aesthetics and epistemologies.

‘By bringing these photos to audiences now, Ressler provides viewers new ways of understanding the worlds of photography and American corporate culture as they intersected in her lens during the decade that brought us “modern life.”’

Ressler took the photographs for the Los Angeles Documentary Project, simply walking into buildings she found interesting, photographing the interiors and asking office workers to pose for her.

‘I chose offices to photograph based on how they looked; they had to strike me in a certain way,’ she told The New York Times earlier this year. ‘When I would go into these spaces they were often so chilling and I never felt very comfortable in them.’ 

The black-and-white images are stark yet striking; author Mark Rice writes in an essay for the book: 'They were made at a pivotal point both in the post-industrial shifts of the American economy and in American photography, when a younger generation of photographers grappled with questions of aesthetics and epistemologies'

The black-and-white images are stark yet striking; author Mark Rice writes in an essay for the book: ‘They were made at a pivotal point both in the post-industrial shifts of the American economy and in American photography, when a younger generation of photographers grappled with questions of aesthetics and epistemologies’

Ressler was one of eight noted photographers chosen to take the photos such as this image as part of the Los Angeles Documentary Project

Ressler was one of eight noted photographers chosen to take the photos such as this image as part of the Los Angeles Documentary Project

Ressler has been the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and is the former Head of the Photography Area at Purdue University in Indiana

Ressler has been the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and is the former Head of the Photography Area at Purdue University in Indiana

Though her photos feature both men and women, Ressler told The New York Times: ‘When I think on it, I never met a single high-level female executive’ 

Though her photos feature both men and women, Ressler told The New York Times: ‘When I think on it, I never met a single high-level female executive’ 

The exhibition - featuring photos of 1970s decor and architecture as well as actual office workers - begins on Friday, October 5 at the La Jolla, California gallery and continues until November 30

The exhibition – featuring photos of 1970s decor and architecture as well as actual office workers – begins on Friday, October 5 at the La Jolla, California gallery and continues until November 30

Though her photos feature both men and women, Ressler told the Times: ‘When I think on it, I never met a single high-level female executive.’

And other societal realities are evident, too; in one picture, a black receptionist looks at a white male executive as he poses for Ressler.

‘She’s in that box, and he can’t see the way she’s looking at him,’ Ressler told the newspaper. ‘Back then, that’s just the way it was.’

Ressler told The New York Times that the sleek 1970s office buildings which attracted her attention showed the 'rise of the economic order'

Ressler told The New York Times that the sleek 1970s office buildings which attracted her attention showed the ‘rise of the economic order’

The minimalist design of the era is also frozen in time by the images, which captures the advent of computers and technology. 

In one striking photo, a man stands surrounded by huge screens and a printer; the absence of computers on so many of Ressler’s subjects’ desks is also a glaring reminder of how much office culture has changed in the intervening years.

The photos and the offices, Ressler summed up for the Times succinctly, showed the ‘rise of the economic order.’

Ressler, the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and former Head of the Photography Area at Purdue University, was one of eight noted photographers chosen to participate in the documentary project. 

The exhibition will run at the La Jolla gallery until November 30. 

Many of the businessmen and women pictured are sharply dressed in professional attire  -with a flair so often absent now

Many of the businessmen and women pictured are sharply dressed in professional attire  -with a flair so often absent now

Author Rice writes in the book: ‘By bringing these photos to audiences now, Ressler provides viewers new ways of understanding the worlds of photography and American corporate culture as they intersected in her lens during the decade that brought us “modern life”’

Author Rice writes in the book: ‘By bringing these photos to audiences now, Ressler provides viewers new ways of understanding the worlds of photography and American corporate culture as they intersected in her lens during the decade that brought us “modern life”’

In addition to immortalizing large machines and the new technology of the day, the photographs are just as notable for the absence of such innovations on the desks of well-dressed, high-ranking office executives

In addition to immortalizing large machines and the new technology of the day, the photographs are just as notable for the absence of such innovations on the desks of well-dressed, high-ranking office executives

Author Mark Rice wrote about the book that Ressler's photographs 'reveal the reception rooms and inner sancta of premier corporate office spaces'

Author Mark Rice wrote about the book that Ressler’s photographs ‘reveal the reception rooms and inner sancta of premier corporate office spaces’

The images serve as a stark reminder for how much corporate life and American offices have changed, given the obvious lack of cell phones and other smart devices

The images serve as a stark reminder for how much corporate life and American offices have changed, given the obvious lack of cell phones and other smart devices

Ressler told The New York Times: ‘I chose offices to photograph based on how they looked; they had to strike me in a certain way ... When I would go into these spaces they were often so chilling and I never felt very comfortable in them.’

Ressler told The New York Times: ‘I chose offices to photograph based on how they looked; they had to strike me in a certain way … When I would go into these spaces they were often so chilling and I never felt very comfortable in them.’

In addition to preserving 1970s office culture, Ressler's photos also capture popular fashion and design trends of the day - from executives' suits to carpet and wall decor

In addition to preserving 1970s office culture, Ressler’s photos also capture popular fashion and design trends of the day – from executives’ suits to carpet and wall decor

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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