Photographing the Ultimate Beaurocrat

Bust of Joseph Fourier, discoverer of the Greenhouse Effect, at Pere Lachaise Cemetery, ParisCanon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 70-200mm f4 L series IS lens @ 183mm. Exposure Details: 1/30 second @ f8 ISO 400

In Memorial

This photo was made at the famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France. It's depicts a bust of Joseph Fourier (1768-1830) the man credited with the discovery of the Greenhouse Effect.

All Hail the Beaurocrat

We've probably all had bosses that we didn't get along with. I've had a few: a talentless thug, an arrogant pup and more than my share of bumbling bureaucrats along the way. Mind you I've also had great bosses: hard working, good humored, fair and kind. As they seem to be in ascendence, I'II dedicate the above photo both to the bureaucrat and to the poor souls that they manage.

Perhaps the reason our world has become so bureaucratic is because no one seems to take responsibility for what they do anymore. People seem to be spending a good deal of their life sending emails to colleagues in adjoining cubicles, probably out of fear and as a way of covering their own actions, and converse with customers by reading off prepared scripts rather than making decisions and taking action that will benefit customer and employer alike. And don't start me on customer service. Too late!


The Dying Art of Customer Service

Ever had to deal with a phone company? I've just got through a 2 month journey just to be able to successfully change internet providers. In fairness I'm going to have a far superior internet service, a brand new phone, free local and national calls (via VOIP) and a great mobile plan. The trouble is that all of this should have happened within a 2 week period but, when things go wrong, the ball gets dropped. This is one of the reasons my blog posts have dropped off over recent times. But I'm back and ready to implement the next series of improvements to this site.

I doubt that I've ever spoken with more polite customer service people (at what will become my new ISP), but I had to push to get my concerns escalated and the matter resolved. And with something in the area of 100,000 customer interactions during my time at old yellow (Kodak) I can tell you that the only times customers left my phone truly disappointed or upset was after coming to me with totally unrealistic expectations. My view was that, as a Kodak representative, it was my responsibility to sort things out.

I'd operated my own wedding/portrait studio prior to my 8-year tenure at Kodak, but I think my attitude was with me even back in my days as a paperboy. I think my attitude to customer service is based partly on years spent in retail, initially in my hometown, and largely upon the example set by my hard working parents, Mary and Fred.

It seems to be a rare thing, these days, for a custom service operator to take on responsibility outside of their immediate role. For most of my life I've worked and even my first part time jobs, which started while I was still at primary school (wrapping shoe repairs, paper rounds and picking up papers at the local swimming pool), were all customer service based. It always felt good to go the extra distance and take the paper to the door on wet nights or when delivering to elderly people. The fact that such actions were always met with a smile and, sometimes, a tip provided affirmation rather than incentive.

Motivation Must Be Pure

The only motivation to do the right thing should be the act of doing the right thing. What message do we send kids when we train them through rewards. Those techniques are best reserved for dogs and chimps. Are we preparing our kids for or protecting them against the real world? No wonder they don't want to move out. They know how good they're getting it.

What I've learned over the years is the need to take a process rather than result-based approach to the task at hand. And I'm using the word process as it should be used: as a straightforward and simple way to achieve an outcome. It seems very much to me that we live in a process driven world where folks seem to spend a good part of their day ticking boxes and justifying what it is they need to do to be able to do what it is they need to do. The result of all this effort is that very little actually gets done. Now who does all this activity serve. The customer? I think not.

Our Process Driven Society

Now of course you're always aiming for a positive outcome. But by focusing on managing the critical details and taking responsibility for the actions that follow you are actually controlling the outcome. You may spend longer on some calls and tasks and, quite possibly, end up with fewer customer interactions than your colleagues but, if your own immediately supervisor has half a brain, they will recognize and reward your efforts and the attitude that underpins them. If, on the other hand, your supervisor is a bureaucrat of the bean counter variety, it might be best to move on. Even a saint can be ground down by an unsympathetic workplace.

Likewise if you find you're spending way too much time negotiating for pens from the stationary cupboard witch it might be time to move on. One thing I've learned is that the philosophy of your workplace is set by the people you work for, even more than by the people with whom you work. When going for a job interview you should also be interviewing your prospective employer. Otherwise your loyalty will likely be abused and your ability to make a difference negated. And that's one place you don't want to spend too much of your life.

I remember as a child my mum saying "children are starving in India" when I didn't eat the food she'd prepared for me. While that situation still exists in many parts of our world let's look more closely at the threat that hangs over all our lives. Its something we can't rent, buy, borrow or steal. We can't earn it, yet its what none of us can afford to lose. Time!

I guess we all spend too much of our lives involved in trivial and largely meaningless activities. And, while I've always been averse to bean counters, I now understand that their behavior is probably based upon fear and that these over zealous control freaks probably gain a sense of security from their actions. But at what cost? Is control over the stationary cupboard worth the loss of friendship and respect of their peers?

And Now the Photo

While the above bust presented me with a face that was far from welcoming I set my self the challenge of making an interesting photo. As photography is, literally, my life's work, I have no interest in making photographs that are not life affirming. The challenge was to embed a sense of beauty into what is a pretty stark representation of a human being. I wanted to communicate a slightly more compassionate view than the one I've often felt when dealing with bean counters and the like. To this end I employed Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS5 to enhance the luminosity and textural qualities within this bust of Monsieur Fourier who, by the way, did actually achieve a great deal in his life. It is his likeness, apparently based upon his interest in Egyptian art, rather than the man himself that provided me with the incentive to expound my views on the dreaded bureaucrat.

I hope you've enjoyed this little opinion piece and the photo that accompanies it. Graveyards are interesting on a range of levels. Many contain fascinating and, often, beautiful statues that display skilled craftsmanship. Cemeteries contain memories of departed souls and the beauty contained within graves and monuments provide photographers with opportunities to breathe a sense of life back into the stone and shrine by re-working original craftsmanship into art.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru