Sheila Pinkel
Associate Professor of Art
Pomona College, California


Site/Unseen, 1999

Site/Unseen is about unseen people in public places. In this series of fifteen images [ed: three of which are shown here], the unseen people are guards at a major art museum. I was struck by the contrast between the trappings of wealth and class at the museum and the realities for the guards working there. During the last ten years the guards' employment had changed from being directly employed by the museum to being hired by a private company through which the museum then contracts for guard services. In this shift the guards lost their union representation and benefits. This story is an excellent example of the devastating effect of contract employment on the working conditions for the poorest paid sector of the culture.

The interviews of the guards revealed their working conditions and created a contrast with the sumptuous environment in which they work. In some pictures I include parts of these interviews into scenes in which they were not present, both to protect them through anonymity and to reference the fact that usually they are ignored and unseen.

Since the museum did not allow flash, I shot this work with ISO 3200 film, which resulted in very grainy images. Using my computer I converted these images into negative prints so that the guards became ghost-like figures symbolizing their transparency in the workplace. The combination of the museum context, the negative images of the guards and their voice in the form of printed text in the images, sets up a triangulation of meaning which results in the possibility for a more dynamic reading of this subject on the part of the viewer.