“I graduated from law school just as women began to enter the legal profession in large numbers. Armed with our degrees and dressed in tweed suits, silk blouses and bow ties, we marched into corporate firms, ready to make our mark. Establishing ourselves within these firms, however, was more difficult than we had anticipated. Many of our male colleagues either had no desire or no clue on how to share the workplace with female attorneys. Behind the firms’ public facades of comraderie, competence and good manners, office life was full of turmoil and drama, exacerbated by long hours.” – Robin Dahlberg.
In Billable Hours: in 6-minute increments (Daylight Books, August 2021), visual artist Robin L. Dahlberg uses staged photographs shot in documentary style to humorously reflect back on her first job as a junior lawyer at a large New York corporate law office. Her artfully crafted tableaux examine how women lawyers respond to the pressure to conform in a predominantly male culture rife with sexual innuendos (or worse), tedious work assignments, and stress levels off the charts. Dahlberg remained at her first job long enough to pay off her student loans and then left to become a civil rights lawyer. Fortunately, she is able to look back on the job with a sense of humor – but one that only came with the passage of time.
Billable Hours includes essays by Leigh Gilmore, author of Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives and Visiting Professor of English at The Ohio State University, and Eleanor M. Fox, Walter J. Derenberg Professor of Trade Regulation at New York University School of Law.
In her essay, Leigh Gilmore writes: “Dahlberg’s staged photographs are set in the world of corporate law. Here, men have always been in charge and their presence at the center is invisible to them. Groups of blue-shirted, red-tied men surround the women in Dahlberg’s images. Men have a master-of-the-universe confidence, while women look wary, on guard, and exhausted. It is clear women are doing more work. More psychological and emotional work is required of women in male- dominated spaces, including the invisible and unpaid labor that Dahlberg’s images record.”
Eleanor M. Fox describes Dahlberg’s photographs as “starkly realistic” … “They document attitude. They document power: who has it and who doesn’t. They document the pressures to conform on those at the low rungs of the ladder. They document the unsung hard work, long hours, devotion, and sometimes frenzy of those who have to work harder than the men, without complaint, to even hope to get to the same place or just to keep their job. In their witty way, Robin’s photos say much more than words could do.”
While the #MeToo movement of survivors and their supporters has led to some powerful men losing their jobs, the question remains whether anything has really changed for female employees at a broader social level. Robin Dahlberg hopes her book will contribute to the on-going conversation about how as a society we can work together to level the playing field so that women are on equal footing with their male counterparts in all aspects of the corporate workplace.
Robin Dahlberg is a visual artist and arts educator based in New York City. With a background in law and social justice, she uses her camera to explore issues of identity, place and resilience and their influence upon each other. Sharing her passion for photography with others is fundamental to her work. Dahlberg has taught photography to people of various ages, backgrounds and capabilities. In 2018, she co-founded 5 Corners Collective, Inc. a teaching and exhibition collaborative to bring photography to underserved and geographically isolated communities.
Robin L. Dahlberg : Billable Hours in 6-minute increments
Published by Daylight Books
Publication Date: Summer 2021 8 x 10 | 96 pp
60 color photographs
Paper over Board
US $45.00 | CAN $58.99
ISBN: 9781942084990 W