For more than 40 years, Susan Ressler has been photographing affluence in America - in particular, the power relations that inhere in corporate and consumer culture. "Executive Order: Images of 1970s Corporate America," (Daylight Books, 2018, with an essay by Mark Rice) was made in executive boardrooms, offices, lobbies and banks during the late 1970s, mostly in Los Angeles and the Mountain West. Ressler writes about her work's relevance today: "... In the era of Trump, we face the dangers that ensue when corporations are deregulated and when profits 'trump' people. Visualized to emphasize cool geometric sterility, these photographs critique the underlying social structures enabling wealth and power. They do so with irony, empathy and insight. They show us, that although fortunes may rise and fall, the systems of power and privilege are still fixed firmly in place.” Ressler is a long-time resident of Taos, New Mexico. “Executive Order” is the first monograph to feature her fine art documentary photography.
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HIGH END, made in Los Angeles during 2011-12, returns to themes prevalent in my work since the late 1970s: the minority cultures within the majority, the role of the corporate versus the individual, and the influence of wealth and power.
HIGH END also returns to Los Angeles, a site I first photographed over thirty years ago for the Los Angeles Documentary Project, a National Endowment for the Arts Documentary Survey. Then (in 1979-80) I made black/white images inside Fortune 500 offices and boardrooms, the enclaves of high finance. That portfolio, entitled "The Capital Group," can be viewed on the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Joseph Bellows Gallery websites.
What American Studies scholar Mark Rice wrote about The Capital Group also holds true for HIGH END:
"Susan Ressler's contribution to the Los Angeles survey was a series of photographs that examined . . . the centers of power and style." In "Through the Lens of the City" (2005), Rice noted that my attraction to Los Angeles ". . . was complicated. She [Ressler] didn't ardently embrace the future that L.A. implied, nor did she condemn it outright. Instead, she adopted an ironic stance that cooly examined the intersections of technology, design, power, and wealth."
Los Angeles is a bellwether of American society. Rice calls it "the paramount example of the postmodern city," and adds that all roads seem to point there. In HIGH END, I de-familiarize what most take for granted, providing "purchase" in the increasingly slippery realm of the mall, a marketplace that must be continually renegotiated.
As Jean Beaudrillard surmised, "Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real . . . . "
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Part memoir and part spiritual journey, Encountering Israel asks, “Who am I, and What does Israel mean to me?” But for most, my photos spark one burning question: "In what ways can we understand Israel today?"
These images are selected from a much larger book project that includes approximately 100 photographs designed to convey the paradoxes and contradictions of the Jewish state: a homeland for the Jewish people, and yet an occupier of contested territory. The book shares my personal story, my quest, my grief and my wonder, but is most of all a plea for peace.
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Old World/New World
I photograph the “signs of the times” and the “writing on the wall,” for our future is writ large in the vernacular. From festivals in France to dramas staged against corporate backdrops, I look for connections to regain what we, as Americans, may have lost.
These images depict the Abrivado (running of the bulls) in Provence, France, followed by select views from New York City and Los Angeles (please see HIGH END for more).
All photographs were made from 2009 - 2013 and are copyright, all rights reserved, Susan R. Ressler.
My work is documentary. What matters is the cultural milieu of our times.
How does corporate culture impact us? What insights arise street-side, where the social landscape can be so telling?
I photograph in America and Europe: traditional festivals in France and New Mexico, and contemporary rituals (like shopping) in urban centers such as New York and Los Angeles.
OLD WORLD/NEW WORLD is the rubric that unites all my work. Consumerism, as evidenced in HIGH END and my new book, EXECUTIVE ORDER (Daylight Books, 2018), is my most recent focus.
I photograph private moments in public places: the relics of old Europe and the corporate logos/glitzy storefronts that brand urban sites today. Both are facades. Both are revelatory.
My work is not staged. I construct images in-camera. Color, Light, Form and Frame enhance life's small dramas, epiphanies for a world made hyper-real.
I am inconspicuous. My cameras are small digital and analog SLRs. Prints are archival pigment, and most measure from 11 x 14 up to 27 x 36 inches.
Susan R. Ressler is a photographer, author and educator who has been making photographs since the 1970s. She is Professor Emerita, Purdue University, where she taught photography practice, theory, and history from 1981 - 2004. An alum of the University of New Mexico (MFA 1986), she studied with Beaumont Newhall, Van Deren Coke, Thomas Barrow, and Betty Hahn among others.
Ressler's work is in many important collections, such as the Library and Archives Canada, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She has received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and is the editor of "Women Artists of the American West," a scholarly anthology published by McFarland in 2003. In 2011 she received the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) award for Excellence in Historical, Critical and Theoretical Writing. Publications include "High End," a series of candid but carefully constructed photographs made in exclusive shopping sites throughout SoCal from 2011 - 2015. A critique of consumer capitalism, this work has been published in the Spring 2013 issue of "Exposure." Ressler's first monograph, "Executive Order," featuring her 1970s silver gelatin prints of corporate interiors, has been published by Daylight Books, 2018.
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