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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

Book Review: Kathy Ryan's Office Romance

Book Review: Kathy Ryan's Office Romance

Image Above: 6:36pm, July 3, 2013, from Office Romance, photographs by Kathy Ryan (Aperture, 2014) ©Kathy Ryan

  The ability to imagine another’s reality, to abandon oneself to a stranger’s memories and associations, can require a large degree of self-discipline. However in Office Romance, published by the Aperture Foundation, the viewer intuitively experiences the moments and mutable spaces captured by Kathy Ryan within The New York Times building.

Office Romance uses unrelenting aesthetics to break the mould of the past perceptions of publishing houses as cramped, gritty and slightly chaotic. Instead, Ryan plays with modernist ethos that have become the foundations of the media revolution.

Ryan’s book is primarily comprised of still-life work and portraiture – all of which have been taken on an iPhone. This not the first time a staff member of The New York Times has produced startling images on such a mechanism. In fact, in 2010, the paper published a photograph of a soldier in Afghanistan, taken by Damon Winter using the Hipstamatic application on his iPhone, on the front page.

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Today, Hipstamatic has gradually disappeared from the user’s “must-haves” application list, and this is largely due to the birth of Instagram. With over 100 million active users, this application changed the landscape of modern photography, and interestingly, it was through the use of this application that Office Romance was conceived.

“I posted that first picture on Instagram and began getting comments and likes,” Ryan wrote in the Afterword, “The effect of the “like” button cannot be overestimated. I am not a photographer, I’m a photo editor… I am not sure I would have had the nerve to make these pictures without the encouragement of the Instagram community”.

Through reassurance of this expanding community, Ryan began to take users on a journey through one of the worlds leading media companies. Office Romance blends a realistic universe with the detached, dreamlike realm of the neo-romantics. There is a complexity and richness in each photograph, with monochromatic tones melting against pages filled with intense kaleidoscopic colors.

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Gaston Bachelard, author of The Poetics of Space, once wrote, “The poetic image is a sudden salience on the surface of the psyche”, and this directly corresponds to Ryan’s images. They are deeply poetic and bare the mark of an unconditional love that will last a lifetime.

These images visually correlate to Philip Glass’ arpeggios in the Opening, and other titles from his album Glassworks. There is a relaxed melody that flows through the entirety of the book, occasionally interrupted by shards of refracted shadows and spiralling energy.

This is, in part, a result of certain features implemented on The New York Times building. Designed by internationally acclaimed architect Renzo Piano, the media headquarters spans fifty-two stories high and is encased by a curtain wall to create transparency.

“Typically, what you do with a building like this, to keep the heat of the sun out, is to make it “black”… But we didn’t want to do that,” Renzo Piano wrote in the Introduction of Office Romance, “It’s too mysterious, like those people who wear sunglasses all the time – you never understand who they are, or what they think”. Thus, the brise-soleil was installed.

It is through the brise-soleil that Ryan has capture sweeping shadows creeping across the table. “What I love about Kathy’s photographs is how she captures the light, the shadows, the vibration,” Piano reflects, “The color, and the sense of transparency... She has observed details of how the light falls at different times of day, making a record of the building over time”.

It is hard to believe such a beautiful space exists adjacent to Times Square, a place exploding with condensed energy that sometimes erupts in a fantastical horror. While people frantically scuffle in all directions, yellow cabs vocally express their distaste for any living organism that touches the pavement and ineffable lights burn the retinas of squabbling tourists, there is one place that remains transparent, open and willing.

By Kyla Woods

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Christopher Williams "For Example: Dix-Huit Leçons Sur La Société Industrielle (Revision 19)" at David Zwirner Gallery

Arlene Gottfried at Daniel Cooney Fine Art