Ron Jude: Executive Model
- Steve Salter looks closer at the photographer’s 20 year-old body of work, examining the sartorial uniform of American businessmen
From 1992 to 1995, Ron Jude lurked in the sartorial shadows and photographed American businessmen in the financial metropolises of Atlanta, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. As Executive Model has recently been published for the first time in book form with Libraryman, we revisit this wonderfully powerful, yet delicate series with a renewed sense of urgency and relevance.As a young man in 90s America, Jude found himself immersed in yet estranged from the bustling world of finance. “I had just moved to Atlanta and it was the first time that I had ever lived in a truly urban environment with a thriving financial centre,” explains the photographer. “I was living pretty poorly and the world of money seemed out of reach. I had every advantage one could possibly have — I was an educated white guy living in America — and yet, as someone who was raised in a rural, working class environment, these guys who were driving the economy and reaping the awards seemed utterly foreign to me. On one level I was one of them, but it felt more profoundly like they constituted a club to which I would never belong.” Rather than force entry or leave in disillusionment, Jude stayed armed only with his camera and patience.
“The process of taking the pictures took on a slightly comical, almost performance like quality, as I quietly stalked these guys from building to building” he explains.”There’s a sense when you look at these pictures that you’re completely being ignored and that’s definitely how I felt at times during shooting. I was typically standing within two or three feet of my subjects and only on the rarest of occasions was my presence noticed. I felt completely invisible.”The result of an invisible Jude is a body of work that pulls the viewer close in to the familiar but highly charged world of the white American male businessman. It is not a comment on business as such but rather an exploration of the corporate executive as a representative type, as a locus of many of our unspoken assumptions about masculinity, social privilege, race, and power. It is a fast paced world of flannel and pinstripe, cuffs and silver watch straps.
In the majority of images in Executive Model, the men are seen from the back, their hulking forms filling nearly two-thirds of the frame. In other works, Jude depicts fragmented close-ups of turned heads or gesturing hands. Efforts to claim distinctiveness are tenuous at best. The viewer’s eyes search for indicators of individuality in a process that Jude himself has previously referred to as “half steps of recognisable difference.” He goes on, “the suit was pretty much always the same. The only things that changed from place to place had to do with the weather conditions — trench coats in Chicago, sunglasses in San Francisco and so on. On the surface, especially when you’re dealing with ‘archetypes’, you don’t see much difference at all. With the backs, I was intentionally operating on the most superficial level possible — taking pictures with very little information and asking people to discern something meaningful from the residue. There was always a built in level of frustration. In the spirit of offering something other than total surface, I also shot a subset of hand gestures. I wanted these pictures to be a foil to the way the backs worked. They exude something sympathetic, at times even tragic in the range of emotion they betray from the otherwise solemn figures.”
Retuning to the body of work twenty years on, and following a financial world crisis, the mind begins to explore the possibility of change. Would the series appear different? Has this world, on the surface at least changed? “If I were to approach the work with the same intent that I had back in 1992, I don’t doubt that the pictures would be pretty much the same. I don’t mean to say that the culture of high finance hasn’t changed because I have no idea, maybe it has, maybe it hasn’t. The pictures would be the same because my relationship to the subject hasn’t changed. It was that relationship, after all, that drove the project.”Word Steve Salter
Photography Ron Jude
The Exective Model is now available on Libraryman. Ron Jude is preparing an exhibition for Lick Creek Line and has been shooting new material in the California desert for a project with the working title of Lago