CNN Photos

Visual proof: We are not our jobs

One day, when French photographer Bruno Fert was a child, he brought his grandmother’s cherished family photo album to school.

Then — while playing with friends — he lost the irreplaceable photos forever.

“I like to think that because I lost the last remains of the memories of my family, I chose to be a photographer to try to rebuild the memory of these photos,” said Fert, now 40.

The fact that a personal event sparked Fert’s chosen profession is appropriate, because one of his latest projects is all about social identity — personal versus professional.

The series of photos, called Workwears, visually juxtaposes people’s private lives with their lives at work.

A firefighter, a fisherman, a nurse, a diver, a judge. One by one, Fert’s photos show people in their homes wearing everyday clothing — followed by another photo showing them dressed in the clothing of their chosen professions.

These seemingly innocuous images can be jarring.

One shows a Navy helicopter pilot named Marc dressed in his work clothes: a flight suit, gloves, life jacket and helmet. What sets the photo apart? Marc is standing in his kitchen.

It presents an odd clash between the man’s work clothes and his personal environment — hitting us over the head, visually.

Our reaction, Fert said, reminds us how tightly humans hold on to certain stereotypes about some professions. “I like to break those stereotypes,” he said.

Fert’s favorite photo in the series shows a mother named Emmanuelle. Holding her child in her arms, she’s wearing a blue dress and red shoes in her beautifully decorated home. The next image reveals Emmanuelle’s profession. Now we see her as a soldier, dressed in Army fatigues, combat boots and a beret. Same woman. Same location. Very different vibe.

“Some people have difficulty associating that kind of job with a normal civilian life,” Fert said. “I’ve had some strange reactions to that.”

Social stereotypes surrounding many professions are falling away, Fert said, because fewer people these days allow themselves to be defined by their jobs: “People now don’t tend to keep the same job for their entire lives anymore.”

A lot of the joy he experienced during this project came from being able to observe these social changes and document them visually.

“It’s been fascinating,” Fert said.

- Thom Patterson, CNN