How To Describe The Ultimate Bureaucrat


A heavily processed rendering of a bust at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France.


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

The image was made with a Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 70-200mm f/4 L series IS lens at 183 mm. The exposure was made at 1/30 second at an aperture of f/8 with my camera set to ISO 400

Hail the Bureaucrat And Know Pain

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.


A christian cross adorning the doorway to a crypt at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France.


The Art of Customer Service | Is There No Hope?

Ever had to deal with a phone company?

I doubt that I've ever spoken with more polite customer service people than when dealing with my current Internet Service Provider (i.e., ISP), but I had to push to get my concerns escalated and a serious matter resolved.

With something like 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 worked in photographic retail, been a newspaper photographer and operated my own wedding/portrait studio prior to my eight-year tenure at Kodak, but I think my attitude towards customer service was with me even back in my days as a paperboy and in a variety of other jobs in which I worked from the age of twelve. 

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.

Doing The Right Thing Should Be All That Matters

The only motivation we should need 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 trained monkeys.

Are we preparing our kids for life 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-based, rather than results-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.

But the word process has lost its value in our contemporary world. It seems 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.


A statue, illuminated by artifiical light, in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.


Today We Measure Everything And Excel At Nothing

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 immediate 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 look for greener pastures.

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 may 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. That's why I always finish my plate.

While hunger still exists in many parts of our world let's look more closely at the threat that hangs over all our lives. It's 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!

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 your peers?

How I Made This Very Unusual Photo

While the bust at the very top of this post presented me with a face that was far from welcoming I set myself 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 imbue 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 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 the original craftsmanship into art.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru