AN EMPTY FEELING

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By: GReG MITCHELL

One night this spring, Martin Gee, saddened by the layoffs and buyouts at his newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, walked around the office with his camera, snapping pictures of empty cubicles and other evidence of missing friends and colleagues. The next morning he posted 47 of them on his Flickr page where, to his surprise, they drew wide attention from bloggers. With buyouts or job cuts rampant throughout the newspaper industry, the images seemed to strike an emotional chord.

Ten of them appear in print for the first time on these pages.

Gee has worked as a designer at the Mercury News since June 2006. Before that he served in the same capacity at the Chicago Tribune, after beginning his career at the Orange County Register in 1998. He admits that he tends to take “depressing photos,” recalling that for years he captured images of dead Christmas trees abandoned at curbs. He is currently documenting his dying father at a veterans hospice.

“I love this paper,” Gee says, noting that he once interned at the Merc as well. “It’s the one I grew up with.”

He explains the genesis of his “Reduction in Force” photo project this way: “I kept seeing all this office furniture and phones ? and empty cubicles and unused computers ? as a constant reminder that it’s just sad to see people leave. It’s so depressing. You can read about buyouts and layoffs all you want but you don’t see it, you don’t feel it. As artists and photographers and designers, we need to speak the way we know how.”

What was the in-house reaction to the photos? Executives did not protest, but “our editor wrote a memo saying we shouldn’t dwell on the past,” Gee recalls, “and look forward to the future. I do ? but I need to deal with this first.” He adds, “Now I’m probably on the top of the list for the next round of layoffs.”

To view the gallery, go to: http://flickr.com/ photos/hellvetica/sets/72157604470612285/

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