Power of Europe's boardooms captured in new book

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - For 15 years, New York-based Dutch photographer Jacqueline Hassink has been making her mark with global art projects, covering subjects as diverse as Haute Couture fitting rooms in Paris, the gardens of Kyoto and the boardrooms of Europe’s leading corporations.

Magnum photographer Martin Parr declared Hassink’s “The Table of Power” (1996), in which she photographed the boardrooms of 40 multinational companies, one of the most important photo books of the 20th century. Her new sequel “The Table of Power 2,” revisits companies from the 2009 Fortune Global 500 list, documenting the impact of the economic downturn.

Hassink recently spoke to Reuters about “The Table of Power 2” and another book “View, Kyoto.” Publisher Hatje Cantz released “The Table of Power 2” in Europe and Asia on January 17. D.A.P. will publish the book in the U.S. in March 2012..

Q: You made “The Table of Power” sixteen years ago. What drew you to this topic and why did you revisit the subject?

A: “I took part in a photography workshop in Oslo in 1993 and I was asked to pick a Norwegian book and choose one word to work with. I chose “table” in Ibsen’s play “Peer Gynt.” I projected this taxonomy as a map onto the city of Oslo, then looked for other tables in Norwegian society. That led to the idea of creating a map of Europe, by photographing its most potent meeting places: the meeting tables of the boards of directors of Europe’s largest corporations. I wanted to reveal the centers of economic power, the meeting tables where top executives were seated, making decisions upon which millions of people depend. In 2008 with the onset of the worst recession since the 1930s, I decided to look once again at Europe’s economic landscape.”

Q: What do tables reflect in business and society?

A: “Tables symbolize the core of our society. They are a fascinating symbol of how we organize our private and public lives. Within families, tables show a hierarchy. The father heads the table and the mother sits closest to the kitchen. In corporations, boardroom tables represent a similar power play. CEOs usually sit at an oval or rectangular table at the head, or in the middle of the longest stretch. Ideally they face the entrance, which is the most secure place in the room.”

Q: How does the value of these companies compare with 16 years ago?

A: “The top 40 in Europe in the first project had total revenues of $1,194,368.2 million. The top 40 from Europe in the second project had total revenues of $5,252,710.9 million.

Q: What else has changed in boardrooms since the last visit?

A: “The technology and the lack of ashtrays. Boardrooms can be highly complex these days with a lot of built-in technology. A striking new feature is the presence of BlackBerry trays.”

Q: Which companies are still on the original list?

A: “BASF, BP, Daimler, EDF, ENI, Fiat, Nestlé, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Royal Dutch Shell, Siemens, Total and Volkswagen. I only visited three companies twice -- ENI, Siemens, and Volkswagen -- where the same spokesperson accompanied me.

Q: Your project represents the first time in Europe that boardrooms have been photographed and made public. Do you consider this a journalistic endeavor?

A: “I consider it an artistic endeavor, simply because it is an artistic project and not a journalistic project.”

Q: Why did you decide to include in “The Table of Power 2” the banks and financial institutions?

A: “Since major banks and financial service companies have played an enormous role in the economy’s downward spiral, and thus our immediate social coexistence, they too were included in ‘The Table of Power 2,’ alongside industrial, multinational corporations. I simply observed the economic landscape of Europe in the year 2009, and I could not do the project without adding the banks nor not include Russian corporations in the project.”

Q: Your work covers spiritual and material ideas, and you recently filmed the monks and their gardens in Kyoto. Why?

A: “My work develops over time. I travel extensively and ideas develop usually while traveling. Something catches my eye, which I observe in several continents. That is usually how a new body of work starts. I am interested in the relationship between private and public space in Zen Buddhist temples and gardens. I have been working with these monks since 2004 on a photography project called “View, Kyoto” and over time I have learned a lot from them. ... I talked with them about the meaning of space and their relationship to nature. As a person I have become more balanced. They taught me how to live life in a Buddhist way.

Q: What was your most challenging project?

A: “The hardest project was by far ‘Arab Domains’ (2005-06). Over two years I visited 18 Arab countries, portraying 36 top female executives. For almost every country I needed to get a visa and I traveled for weeks through the Middle East and North Africa.”

Q: What are you working on?

A: “I just finished ‘View, Kyoto’ (2004-11) and I am making another film in Kyoto in 2012. In 2013, my book “View, Kyoto” will be published. I am planning to continue working on fashion world projects, like “Haute Couture Fitting Rooms, Paris” (2003-10) and a new project in China.”

Reporting by Liza Foreman; Editing By Bob Tourtellotte