Through the decades, New York has held much charm for writers and filmmakers, especially in its built landscape and blocks. Apart from its museums and parks, which are the city’s preferred venues when it comes to storytelling, the office buildings are sites of stories as well. And this is exactly what New York Times Magazine’s longtime director of photography, Kathy Ryan’s exhibition of photographs, ‘Office Romance’ embodies in its visual narrative.
In the fall of 2012, Ryan was at work on a regular day in the beautiful New York Times building designed by visionary architect Renzo Piano. Piano described this building as being “all about the light, and the vibration of light and shadow.” Kathy Ryan’s office was on the 6th floor of the building and observing the light that travelled from the city into this space each day was nothing short of a visual spectacle. The large clear-glass windows would allow a significant amount of light to stream in, casting symmetrical and dazzling shadows of texture that gave the ceramic rods (encasing the building) incredible depth. One such day, Ryan noticed a zigzag of light across the staircase and made a photograph with her iPhone. This gave birth to an idea of making images everyday and sharing them on Instagram in the months to follow.
Family albums and personal celebrations have always drawn the attention of photographers but office spaces have remained largely unexplored, especially a documentation of the personal in the professional. Ryan didn’t set out to document office culture, rather she was drawn to the beautiful things that happened when bars of light appeared on objects in the office space and on people. These luminous moments are her poetic encounters with the space, explored through photographs made of her colleagues, the building she works in and of course the dazzling light of the city of New York.
Things such as paper cutters, post-its, ties and a computer wire would otherwise seem insignificant to the daily office-goer, but Ryan elevates their existence by introducing them to the magical light through her simplistic but powerful visual aesthetic. The photographs are titled according to the hour they were made at- and that says much about the essence of Ryan’s work. Office cubicles turn into venues of detailed encounters with Vitra Panton chairs, shirt-stripes and reflections of iMac screens against daunting skyscrapers. This dynamic energy coupled with a certain stillness of the objects is what makes the photographs charming. Admitting to the fact that photographing this series has since helped her photo editing, Ryan brings to the fore an obsession with light and its canvas of possibilities and the romanticisation of her office space is one such outcome- full of joy and heartbreak.