take some convincing. In 1994, with the help of contacts
the Times, Tunbjörk got permission to begin shooting. Little
did he know his office odyssey would span five years and three continents,
leading him from Sweden to America to Japan , with stops at a car
company in Tokyo, a telecommunications firm in Stockholm , a bank
in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
each he found the same sterile walls, dust-free desks and well-vacuumed
cubicles. In 2001 he published these photos as "Office," his sixth
collection of artistic photography. Fifteen of those pieces will
go on display in San Francisco this December at the renowned James
photographers, they have to go to esoteric locales to come back
with interesting pictures. But Lars, he can transform the most mundane
thing in the world into something completely new," said James Nicholson,
director of the San Francisco gallery. He motions to Tunbjörk's
photo of a trash-free trash can, shot looking directly down on the
can with a heavy flash that brings out the wrinkles in the trash
bag. "Look at the patterns, the colors, the weird shapes and forms.
That's his brilliance. He gets us to see beauty where we'd never
think to look for it."
photographer, says Nicholson, has transformed the way he sees trash
course not everybody is looking for a transformed view of trash
cans. Kenneth Baker, long-time art critic for the San Francisco
Chronicle, says high-concept pictures like Tunbjörk's are bound
to draw derisive smirks from some viewers because his close-ups
of trash receptacles, computer wiring and abandoned office snacks
are not just weird but strangely sad.
oddity of the images, the depressed emotional tone - they're hard
to ignore," Baker said. "So it depends what people are looking for.
Some are looking for a good time and nothing else, and they feel
betrayed when they don't get it."
photographs don't offer that 'good time,'" said Baker. "They're
not for everyone. But they wouldn't be very interesting if they
himself recognizes the oddity and sadness of his photographs. The
sadness, he says, is a result of his own personal depression and
the depression that's an integral part of the Sweden he was raised
in, where the winters are harsh and darkness stretches through much
of the year. "Everything," said Tunbjörk, "gets filtered through
the artist's eyes."
depression may explain the barren cubicles or the picture of the
birthday cake left abandoned, uncelebrated by a stern-faced row
of stockbrokers. But what about the oddity in his shots - the ultra-close-up
of where the carpet meets the wall, the keen focus on a plate and
spoon sitting on the floor at a car manufacturer?
said Tunbjörk, a touch of joy in his voice for the first time,
"that is because I try to take photos like an alien, or a small
child." He recently gave his six-year-old daughter a point-and-click
camera, he explained. "Now I try to photograph as she does, to look
as she looks. She focuses on the strange pens she finds on the table,
details I wouldn't think of because they are commonplace to me,
because I can see over them."
I photograph now," he said, "I try to imagine that I'd never seen
a place like this before."
that alien eye that Tunbjörk brings to the office which can
bear surprisingly rich fruit because every once in a while he stumbles
upon mysteries so bizarre, more conventional cameramen surely would
have walked right past them without noticing. Viewers wade through
Tunbjörk's carpets and coffee tables until the mysteries hit
them: Why is that man crouched under his desk, tucked between the
wall and an aqua blue chair? Why is there a live moose standing
in the corner cubicle, watching each businessman return to his desk
with a lunch tray in hand?
attentive fans, those alien enigmas make Tunbjörk's "Office"
irresistible comedy. To casual viewers, well, the moose is easy
the Nicholson Gallery in May with his keyboardist, rock 'n' roll
drummer Joel Alpers thumbed through a book of Tunbjörk's office
pictures. He flipped past the moose, past the crouching man making
the secret phone call, past the bank workers admiring the glass-enclosed
salad. Alpers' fingers stopped on one of the dozens of barren cubicle
landscapes. He turned to keyboardist Justin Reinhardt with a derisive
he said, "is why we don't work in an office."
"Office" series will be at the James Nicholson Gallery in
December 2004. The gallery is located at 49 Geary Street in
San Francisco. For gallery hours or details about
Tunbjörk exhibit, call (415) 397-0100 or go to www.nicholsongallery.com.