In 1993, Jacqueline Hassink read a copy of Fortune magazine’s Global 500, an annual list that ranks by revenue the top companies around the world. She contacted the top 40 commercial institutions located in Europe to see if they would allow her to photograph their boards of directors’ conference-room tables. Twenty-one companies agreed to give her access, and Hassink traveled throughout Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy to document their boardroom tables. She published the photos in The Table of Power in 1996 by Menno van de Koppel.
Fifteen years later, Hassink revisited the project to see how Europe’s top companies had been affected by the economic recession. Once again she asked the top 40 companies if they would participate. She was granted access to 29 of them and created another book, The Table of Power 2.
The idea of documenting the tables is twofold for Hassink. While studying sculpture in Norway in the early ’90s, she photographed tables around Oslo in an attempt to “map” a geographical area by focusing on one object. She chose tables because she felt they symbolize one way in which we organize our lives. They also shed light about hierarchy within families and corporations, such as in where parents or the CEO of a company elect to sit—the mother closer to the kitchen, the CEO in the most secure part of the room.
Hassink’s “mapping” concept is often specific to environments that are typically off-limits. Previously, the self-described visual artist has documented haute-couture fitting rooms and the homes and offices of female executives. Hassink also says she’s “fascinated by the driving force of human species and their hunger for wealth and economic power.”
So it’s hardly surprising that Hassink would be drawn to photographing the tables inside the most powerful organizations in the world. Hassink says when she began the project she was fascinated by the ways in which the corporations she photographed used advertising to create a desire for objects she said was becoming a type of religion. “That is why I wanted to reveal the centers of economic power,” she wrote via email. “The meeting tables where top executives were seated, making decisions on which millions of people were dependent on; to me, it symbolizes the core of our society.”
For The Table of Power 2, Hassink also included banks and financial service companies, since they had played an enormous role in the economic collapse. The communication methods used to contact the companies were one of the biggest differences between the two series: Hassink used fax the first time around and email the second. She also said that finding companies’ contact had become easier thanks to the Internet, although that didn’t necessarily make for an easier time gaining access.
Thinking about how the world and the economy has changed between her first series and second, Hassink says, “I think the Internet has changed the game in the United States and also in China and the rest of the world; we are forced to create new borders or rules. It has a lot to do with ethics but also the economy, and I think it will be important to have global ‘rules’ instead of laws written out by individual countries.”