Photographing People on the Job; Eric Dusenbery’s ‘Business As Usual’ project

All photos by Eric Dusenbery

A tobacco farmer, a beekeeper, and a theme park belle are among the many occupations documented by photographer Eric Dusenbery in a personal project entitled, "Business As Usual."

What started out as a project to photograph 30 Floridians over the course of 30 working days has become a major undertaking to capture the working environments of some 100 people, according to Dusenbery. It's estimated that there are more than 20,000 different types of jobs in the U.S., and all of these professions are represented in Florida. Besides, he points out, "We have many occupations in Florida that are unique to this state."

A beekeeper in Winter Haven, Florida.

A baseball player for the Daytona Beach Cubs.

A Sense of Pride
Most people are exposed to larger-than-life success stories like Bill Gates, says Dusenbery. This is why the photographer chose instead to "give recognition to the everyday worker." The project--which began in 2002--has been financed solely by Dusenbery thus far, but he's seeking corporate sponsorship to complete it and turn it into a book. At the time of this writing, he was very close: "Just 10 more images." He's also recently exhibited some of the photos in Orlando.

When planning this project, Dusenbery says he was originally inspired by his father, a retired postal worker who worked at his job for 30 years. "He loved his work, and had a lot of tales to tell. I found my neighbors' and friends' jobs interesting too, and these people take a lot of pride in what they do. Every profession contributes to the world in which we live." His photos of workers make a visual connection to their importance in the community today.

A rancher with his grandson in his barn near Kenansville.

He wanted to represent a broad spectrum of the working world. Dusenbery says that he's encountered both planned and spontaneous photo opportunities. "A lot were referrals through neighbors and acquaintances. The more I talked to people about their professions, the more the project just fell into place." Dusenbery photographed his friends, acquaintances, and numerous strangers for the project. In only one instance, he says, he was refused. Some were "camera-shy," but nearly everyone appreciated the fact that "someone was interested and respected what they did for a living."

Dusenbery says that the book may include some brief text about the people in the photos and their chosen line of work. He especially wants to write about those individuals with really interesting jobs and stories to tell. In exchange for participating in this project, he's given everyone prints from their photo session.

A theme park belle poses on the grounds of Cypress Gardens near Lake Wales.

Dusenbery is still doing a little commercial photography "and more documentary projects," which he thoroughly enjoys. Several years ago, he chronicled World War II veterans in a self-published book entitled, Veteran Voices. (See our December, 2003 issue.) In the past, he's done primarily commercial and editorial photography in his Orlando studio. He's also teaching photography to high-school students.

"Business As Usual" depicts jobs that involve newer technology, as well as more-traditional occupations, and Dusenbery seems to thoroughly enjoy the whole experience. "Every person I've photographed enjoys their job and loved life in general. They all went about their work the best they could."

A tobacco farmer in the midst of his crop in Tallahassee.

The Photographic Process
Dusenbery shot his "Business As Usual" project mostly with a 4x5 Calumet camera that he bought in 1980. "It's a real workhorse," he says. He used black-and-white 4x5 Polaroid film and 4x5 Kodak Tri-X Pan. (For excursions like one where he photographed workers on a shrimp boat, he shot with a Nikon F100.)

In printing the photos for "Business As Usual," he's included the distinctive borders of the Polaroid film, and the edges of other films include the emulsion information. These photos reveal accurate in-camera composition, cropping and exposure. Dusenbery chose to do the film developing and processing himself, "to get back to my photographic roots." He says he likes working with the large 4x5 format, as he enjoys the entire experience "from photography to the darkroom." He utilizes the darkroom for his own work and his teaching. Although he has plans to teach digital techniques, he says, "I think there's still a place for traditional imaging and processing."

A custom guitar maker, Orlando.