While attending graduate school at the University of New Mexico in 1977, Susan Ressler started going into banks and offices and asking to have a look around. The project led her to Los Angeles, which proved to be the perfect setting to capture corporate America in the cool, cookie-cutter office settings that were prevalent at the time.
“There were these high-rise buildings, which were a little bit atypical of Los Angeles, and I remember being in Century City,” she said. “On a clear day you could see the mountains out of the offices and there was something breathtaking being up there so high in a city that was so spread out.”
She was photographing for the Los Angeles Documentary Project, a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts that had photographers capturing American life. Her work from those years is now in a new book, “Executive Order,” which will be published on April 24 by Daylight.
Ms. Ressler used the same approach in Los Angeles as she had in the southwest: She’d walk into an office building that caught her eye, scan the office listings for businesses and take the elevator up to their floor.
“I chose offices to photograph based on how they looked; they had to strike me in a certain way,” Ms. Ressler said. “When I would go into these spaces they were often so chilling and I never felt very comfortable in them.”
But these sleek towers also represented “the rise of the economic order,” Ms. Ressler said, where class, race and gender roles came into play. Los Angeles at the time was the center of the international air, space and tech industries, and Ms. Ressler was drawn to the human activity in these sterile environments.
“I always had a really strong sense that Los Angeles is where you can see the future before it happens,” said Ms. Ressler, who is from Philadelphia. “I always felt that way.”
The 1970s “brought us modern life,” she said, but they also ushered in new photographic activity. “You had the beginnings of looking at photo as an art form,” she said. “There was this whole buzz about photography and the differences between the documentary and the fine art, and how they intersected.”