LONGER THAN A MEMORY: RETRACING Memories in a Photobook and Amateur-Photography Archive by Rein Jelle Terpstra

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Mirelle Thijsen (MT):

We don’t know each other so well. This has benefits, like examining an artwork without prejudice, and with this perspective I began looking at your recently published book. I am also curious about your working method. Hence my first question: RETRACING is part of a long-term research project on ‘perception’, ‘memory’ and ‘photography’. But also the notion ‘imagelessness’ is central, you wrote that in a recent e-mail, as well as the medical term ‘amnesia’. Referring to these words would you describe the genesis of this project? And what does the title stands for?

Rein Jelle Terpstra (RJT):

 To begin with the title, the literal translation of RETRACING is: ‘find’ the track. Frankly, I consider that just the right title. That’s what happened. I try to use language for retracing the memory of these people, in order for them to retrieve their own memory.

MT:

Could you elaborate on that aspect: what is it about? How did you get the idea, to approach these people and to start this research?

RJT:

The starting point is the booklet Nabeelden [Afterimages] (2002). In which I have asked a number of author-photographers as editors to elaborate on the photographs that they haven’t made. Or maybe did not want to make. Or which they had to let go. I wasn’t so much interested in image descriptions, of the picture that they weren’t able to take, but rather in the process: What happens in your mind in case you cannot actually take a picture? What is the influence of other memories and images on that one image? What is the role of imagination in all this? At the moment you cannot capture an image, it is an unstable given in your head, which can change constantly. It is fluid: not a solid substance. That’s a very creative process. Possibly leading to a story, to a new image, a new way of thinking about photography and art.

MT:

Please mention two examples of pictures that have never been captured.

RJT:

There are two beautiful stories that are very different. One is from Frans Oosterhof, in which he describes how a picture can come between him and his memory. That means he no longer experiences his actual memory, but the photograph of that specific memory. In this way his actual vivid memory is hedged. It becomes an autobiographical example and gripping story.

MT:

What does it look like, such a imaginary picture? What kind of a picture is that?

RJT:

It’s a rabbit. I think a frozen rabbit. And another example is by Ad van Denderen. He has written a beautiful story and has a wonderful voice to tell his story. When he was in South Africa, during the time Apartheid was finally abolished and was sitting in a city bus – windows open – with a bunch of White Africans and had to stop at a traffic light, a black rose seller was standing there. The black rose seller offered roses to the white passengers, asking if they wanted to buy one. One passenger, Ad van Denderen sat next to him, pulls his Smith & Wesson gun and points it to the flower seller. Then he puts his gun away again. At that moment, Ad van Denderen pulls his camera out and wants to shoot, but noticed the roll of film was full. He’s on the transport handle. “Shit, shit, shit, it’s full.” and had to let go of that moment. How Van Denderen describes that moment, very dry, really descriptive – that moved me.

MT:

Nabeelden [Afterimages] is an audiobook, I understand?

RJT:

Yes, it took me a lot of time to get the funding. In 2008 the interest in the book really seemed to start growing. The Nederlands Fotomuseum purchased the idea. At that time, the book is converted to an audio installation. A table with a touch screen. You can punch titles in order to hear the story of an author-photographer, which is proclaimed by the photographer him/herself.

MT:

Why did the Nederlands Fotomuseum purchase this project?

RJT:

I think they considered this an important project in the ways of dealing with photographic images. Dealing with different concepts of and artist’s strategies towards ‘visual culture.’ The project is about ‘imagelessness.’

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MT:

Could you define that notion: ‘imagelessness’?

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RJT:

I consider it is a most difficult concept. It is not the same as black, or something that is not there. Much of my work seems to be about residues. My archive of amateur photography has to do with afterimages, and re-tracing. As well as the art projects I create for public space. They all seem to deal with: What is a residue? What is ultimately needed to generate a memory? And ‘imagelessness’ is the stage in which there is not even a residue of the memory. Sometimes a trace of the image can be evoked by another sensory experience.

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I have discussed this matter with several visually impaired people. They tried to explain to me what blindness is. Let me give you an example. You have a picture. The middle is ripped out. We perceive that middle section as a black area; something that is no longer there. For a visually impaired person those two outer parts are considered mounted together. The middle section no longer exists. I consider that a kind of analogy with how memory works. Sometimes you don’t even know that you are forgetting some life experiences. There is simply nothing. You don’t know what you don’t remember. You lost it by way of dementia, forgetfulness. And RETRACING is perhaps also a modest search for alternatives to that excessive flow of (digital) images that submerge us daily. RETRACING is a modest plea for a mental image.

MT:

thephotographnottaken.org, Did you obtain a patent on that idea. Did you sell it?

JRT:

No, I do not have a patent on the idea, and yes I did sell the project to the Nederlands Fotomuseum.  I have applied for a development budget at the Mondriaan Fund, a project grant. This enabled me to turn the book into a digital table. Because the book is a solid form; you cannot add anything to it. This table is an interactive display, contains data; new story plots are added. It is made to expand a digital table of content and to travel. In fact in the Nederlands Fotomuseum two tables are available. One is permanently positioned in the Knowledge Center, the other sits in a flight case, ready to take around the world.

MT:

And has that been the case?

RJT:

No. Unfortunately not yet….

MT:

What are the names of international photographers/writers involved in this project?

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RJT:

Up until now there are Dutch photographers associated with this project, except for Michel Francois. He is Belgian. I very much want to draw near to the Arab world, where there is another way of dealing with visual culture. Some time ago I visited a number of internet forums, on which Arab boys drive themselves crazy with describing how they to deal with images. “Photo’s are prohibited.” “Yes, but watching TV is all right, No?” “Yes, because these are moving images.” Or, “it is okay, if you have a passport.”  The way in which they deal with photographic images is fascinating.

MT:

Do you mean types of censorship?

RJT:

Yes, actually, image censorship. In the Western world that is in part also religiously determined, in the Catholic Church and Dutch reformed community.

MT:

Could you link that to the picture not taken? Precisely those might be the images that are censored?

RJT:

You mean by the creator, the photographer?

MT:

Well, by the conditioned human mind. By the one that carries the image with him/her.

RJT:

Yes, Yes … Yeah …That is very possible… I can’t think of anybody in particular. I mean, one of the participants. There is one story, of Michel François, in which he describes that he was in New York during the attack on the Twin Towers. It is one of the most media-friendly images of the past few years. He was filming, the Twin Towers were right in front of him, and suddenly he stopped filming. Put away his camera and walked on. I assume he felt some self-censorship at that particular moment. I consider that a grand statement. A protest. Not to join. A contrary perspective.

MT:

And which picture was NOT taken in this case?

RJT:

Of the first Twin Tower collapsing.

MT:

Let’s discuss the book now. Bridge topics. Starting with a quote. Read with me this description of the book project by Johan Deumens: “For Retracing Rein Jelle Terpstra collaborated with people who are slowly losing their sight. He asked them about their most valuable visual memory and photographed these scenes for them on Kodachrome color slide, thereby promising them to read out loud precise descriptions of the images years later, in an attempt to retrace these images in their minds.”

How did you encounter these persons? And how did you proceed?

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RJT:

On various internet forums I placed a call. I have been approached by a secretary of an association for the blind, who visited my studio. He is himself a nearly blind man and has played an important role. Thanks to him I have been able to speak with some visually impaired people, with very diverse experiences. One person contacted me herself. In the end, she turned out to be the most interesting person, and is well represented in the book.

MT:

Can you tell me how step-by-step the action plan has taken shape, after the contact has been made?

RJT:

Yes. I have telephoned a lot, explained my intentions. Talking about the impact and intensity of my query.

MT:

What is exactly the question you posed to them?

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RJT:

“What’s the most precious picture you would like to remember, the most valuable image? And am I allowed to capture that, to photograph that?” And then the follow-up question is: “May I describe this image for you the moment you’ve lost your vision?”

MT:

How would you describe the first responses to that request?

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RJT:

Violently to some degree. It is as if you’re asking someone who is sentenced to prison to breath in some fresh air for one more time, and take a good look around… because he is still living in freedom.  Some were crying on the phone. I myself was also very moved by these people. But this was precisely the reason for some people to continue.  The acceptance that one is going blind plays an important role in the process. It’s not my intention to be their therapist. That’s not me. But the only thing I can do is be committed to this project in a human way.

MT:

How exactly did you come up with this topic?

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RJT:

It’s about loss, about saying goodbye. People are losing something and they know it. Two fundamental human needs: to capture and share, are being frustrated. Vision and depth perception loses its obviousness. I was fascinated by what role language could play in the recovery of these personal images. Kodachrome is a ‘trigger’ for that… Is this an answer to your question?

MT:

Not really…Why did you approach these people? How did the idea came about to contact people who lost their eyesight?

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RJT:

At the base is my obsession with seeing, watching, observing. This urge is reflected in how I deal with photography. In part this has to do with myself. Suffering from pain in my eyes from time to time: I’ve even had surgery on my eyes. I look with a single eye. It is a concern of mine. And my other concern is my own memory. That’s the personal part. It explains my orientation, indicates how I deal with things.

MT:

Why did you place an ad?

RJT:

Because I wanted to work with people who have lost their vision.

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MT:

Why exactly with them?

RJT:

I’m assuming that in this way I could get a better understanding of these phenomena that are of my concern: memory, looking, perception.

MT:

How did you get in contact with people with types of visual disturbances, and for instance not with scientists who conduct research on this matter?

RJT:

Aha, that’s the autobiographical aspect. As with Nabeelden [Afterimages], I also quite heavily invested in the autobiographical. I collected personal experiences, I am not a scientist. I draw on the experiences of these people. Trying to empathize. I become part of that.

MT:

I also read about the three-part slide installation at the beginning of the book. In fact the book opens thus: “Before turning the project into a book, Terpstra used the images of Retracing in a tripartite slide-installation, in which the images slowly fade into one another. This phenomenon is represented in the book by alternating pages showing projections in the dark with pages showing the slides. The paper is slightly transparent so to create the effect of fading.” Why would you try to match a slide projection in book form? And what do you communicate with it?

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RJT:

Both a slide projection and a book have their own consumer conditions.  Even though the source material (in this case slides) is the same, yet the experience is different. To me they are both important. The slide projection delivers much more an experience in the here-and-now. You are in a room. The slides pass by one by one without you getting a grip on it. Some kind of sensibility plays a large role. While you know, once the projectors are shot off, there is nothing left, other than a wall you’re looking at. So there is a physical component in it, like staring at stained glass windows. The experience enfolds in you.

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MT:

Like creeping into someone’s memory. In the darkness of our memory images pop up. Everything is fleeting … you can’t grasp them.

RJT:

Yes, exactly. The slide projection has that immaterial aspect and you indulge in it, you experience it: a kind of sensory processing. The book is much more factual in nature, less tied to the here-and-now. In case of a book, however, you can put it down, open it again, scroll back. And a book has the ability to provide this project a context, provide a reflection on the topic. Add a personal story to it, ideas about memory and photography. This way the subject is embedded in research. It’s much more a mental thing.

And as for the slide projection, although I’ve made use of the same source material, there are three similarities between the book and the projection. In the first place, there is the documentary aspect. The slide projections are reproduced in the book. In the white sections in the publication I emphasize the physical act of turning pages in a book. In this manner, in analogy with the slide projection, you discover, while turning the pages, for a moment, light shining through the pages, in which images appear and disappear again. That only happens in the intimate act of turning the page. Joost [Grootens] has designed the book such, using an optical flow based method for the sequences of images on the pages.

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MT:

And such that images on the verso pages are shining through the white paper.

RJT:

Yes! Initially he chose a fairly symmetrical layout, but I recommended more movement on the pages, like a stuttering slide projector. In the final layout split images are floating from one page to the other. And sections in the book, are not symmetrical in terms of layout. The design shifts.

MT:

Is that aspect of movement also translated in the paper type?

RJT:

Everything in this book has been modified, reworked, redesigned several times in the three years that we worked on it. As for the dark sections, showing the slide projections: Arco Print Milk is also the type of paper that the Dutch photojournalist Peter Martens frequently used. Very rich and solid black, in printing. The printer used six times as much ink as usually. As regards to the black, I’ve been playing the ultimate border challenge. Of what you can detect and discover on the printed page and what you can no longer distinguish. As a reader you’ll experience that there is more in it than you can perceive. In fact, the mechanism is such, that black ink dries further by absorption. And so here I was, spending a week looking at pages becoming more and more black. And I realized at that moment, Wow, this is what the book is about!  I did pay the printer 2000 Euros extra, in order to obtain the rich black pages, on that border between what is visible and what is not.

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MT:

You wrote me: ‘I wanted it so black [in print], that it would take your eyes a few seconds in the dark before you could distinguish anything.’ Does this also apply to the alternating pages with projections? It takes time to accommodate to an image. And is that similar to what the person who loses his or her eyesight is going through?

RJT:

Yeah … The difficulty to distinguish images is increasing rapidly as well as the person’s awareness that he/she is in a space in which they can no longer perceive.

MT:

Let’s focus a little more on the use of black-and-white in RETRACING. What is there to say about the transition between the two, for example to an image of two hands holding a Duralex glass?

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RJT:

That is a question for Joost, the designer, why he made these image sequences…

MT:

Is Joost Grootens responsible for the image selection and sequencing?

RJT:

Together we have done the selection. This type of juxtaposition of images is his choice. Sometimes I intervened. In that respect this question is his…

In general, the photographs are loosely grouped, per participant.

MT:

But the way of sequencing is not so obvious. First the black pages including documentaries on the projections, directly followed by series of, what seem to me, random snapshots, on glossy white paper. And where do we find the particular picture the participant so badly wants to retain for the future?

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RJT:

There is no interconnection between the black and the white sections in the book. The single ordering principle Joost used was clustering the images by participant. Jacqueline is first. And with these snow pictures, we start with Anne. Anne is represented with the snow, the portrait and the handwriting. And then Bep follows. I went to the sea with Bep. That is the only ordering principle in the book.

MT:

So each black-and-white section in the book is related to one person. And where exactly did you view the slide presentation. Where did this take place?

RJT:

In a studio of a friend of mine. Also in this building [Wilhelmina Pakhuis, Amsterdam]. He has a huge artist’s studio and for a few months the slide installation was presented there. That’s where I documented the slide installation for the book.

MT:

Is the diaporama made public? Did people come and watch?

RJT:

Yes, I invited a number of people.

MT:

But have you actually created the slide installation for this book, as a kind of record?

RJT:

For several reasons… At the beginning of the project Joost asked: “What are the dimensions of a slide. How big is a slide? Is that a small frame slide template, or is it the widescreen projection? And if so, how large is that? And what role does the environment play in recording the slide presentation? Those are questions I’m getting ‘triggered’ by.  And from that moment on, these pictures, which I had already made, and which are documentary in nature, and projected on a wall. That was a crucial moment in the collaboration with Joost.

MT:

Did you take these pictures?

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RJT:

Yes, that one I took. And that picture is showing the living room table of a woman who wanted to leave all her stuff on that table, in order to be able to find it back. That stuff is jus there, not moving anymore. That table…

MT:

…Is it a still life?

RJT:

Yes! …Actually it is. Indeed. I have made all the photographs myself, except for a few by Helma. She showed me her photo album. Yes, and that’s the only slide presentation of a picture by Helma. That family portrait of her husband and sons, you may find reproduced in the book, framed, on a small bedroom table.

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MT:

I assumed the slide show was part of an art installation. A conceptual project, if you wish, prior to the book.

RJT:

Both projects were developed simultaneously. From the very start I expanded the project; it had to result in both a book and a diaporama.

MT:

A dia…?

RJT:

A diaporama.

MT:

What does that mean?

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RJT:

An installation of multiple slide projectors, which allows a flow of images. On a few pages you discover the image in the middle is rather vague. Those are images created through simulation glasses. A pair of eyeglasses which family members and friends could wear, or borrow, in order to be able to experience what their family member/friend is able to see, at that time. In order to gain a better understanding of what your loved one is going through, who is losing his/her eyesight. These eyeglasses are containing lenses with black spots, which are out of focus.

MT:

The protagonists in the book, did they attend the slide show? Have you invited them?

RJT:

One person was over-committed, but three of the five were present.

MT:

What is the idea behind it?

RJT:

Along with the book, the diaporama is the most appropriate way to present this project. Because of that magical intangible feature, encapsulating the viewer in the Here and Now. Because of that sense and sensitivity, being in such a dark room condition yourself and looking at the projection.

MT:

How long have you been showing the slide projection?

RJT:

It has been presented at Johan Deumens Gallery, just for a few days. And here at the studio for several months. I had to find out how I wanted it to work: What speed, what intervals, in order to develop the project.

And there is an additional aspect: A number of the people who have low vision were actually able to watch the projections. Because of the widescreen!

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MT:

Let’s move on to the book as an object. That embossing machine is very impressive, here in your studio. Regarding the reverse embossing you wrote to me in an email (1 October 2013). “The bookbinder did not believe it was possible, so I put down myself in the studio a large embossing-press, for which I had constructed an extremely large deep stamp. A piece of cardboard is put between the stamp and the cover in order for the black bract to remain intact and not tear.”

The result is fascinating. Indeed a book title in major capitals that protrudes through the grey linen cover and vaguely looming out at a certain incidence of light. You literally have to discover, try to read, go find out. And the velvety non-sharp lines of letters contours are remarkable. It feels like you can’t read so well anymore … And at the same time on the inside of the front cover on black paper the title is embossed and scissor sharp, in reverse. I think it’s rather impressive this physical, labour-intensive exercise, as well as the unusual book technical solution. In fact, you took over part of the graphic design.

RJT:

There was one thing clear to me, right from the start, and that is that I wanted to make the cover myself. Joost helped me with typography and letter spacing. What I had in mind from the outset was that, call it, an inability, a frustration had to protrude from the book. A force. The title is unreadable; it’s no longer able to communicate, but pops out the book. And it becomes readable, soft and tactile. You are intrigued and invited to touch it with your fingers. I deliberately did not want braille, which would have been a too literal solution. But this direct experience, which activates your other senses, especially the touch. That is very important to me.

MT:

And how many books have you processed sofar? How often do you have to pull the handle of the embossing press?

RJT:

The first print run was 1.000 copies. I processed 300 copies. I have still two- thirds to go.

MT:

How many do you process in a day?

RJT:

Every few days I process a box of books. A box contains 30 copies. So, let’s say 50 books per week. I handle about 25 in half an hour, if I have everything well prepared beforehand…Then I also need to stop, because of pain in my wrists.

MT:

Let’s focus on the protagonists now: Anne, Bep, Helma, Jacqueline and Joost. And what struck me is that there are hardly any people depicted. Meditative images, is what I see. At least that’s how I perceive them. Peace, space, silence, the elements, nature, a shed, a paint can with some brushes. And I was wondering what is the purpose of this ‘particapatory art’?

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RJT:

It is a term that I myself would not use in relation to this project. It was not my intention. Arjen Mulder has used it. I even have a little trouble with it…

MT:

Even a slight aversion, I notice. How would you describe this kind of participation?

RJT:

Well…I have collaborated. It is …participating… But ‘participation art’ stands for a certain kind of art which in my eyes is characterised by … sometimes opportunism, sometimes arbitrariness, indecision. Anyway, it comes down to not knowing what the outcome is really. What is the concept, the underlying idea?  I don’t consider this project participation art. Stemming from his discipline Arjen Mulder has the liberty to label it as such. He is not entirely wrong, but it’s not my approach.

MT:

What’s interesting is, while reading the text, that there are several descriptions of the length of time that remains between the moment the photograph is taken and the moment you will call up the afterimage again. Is this months, years later? In the book I read 10 years. Is that important, and why does it vary?

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RJT:

The visual acuity of people with low vision varies widely, and changes over time, based on the particular medical condition. In the beginning of the project Helma could still see me, albeit out of focus. At the end of the project I became a very faint shadow. That was due to a stroke. So it went very fast. In other cases it takes much longer to progress.

I cannot foresee any circumstances. I’m going to do it when the time comes. It’s an awkward thing to say, but actually the next step I can take is when these people have lost their vision completely.

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MT:

I understand that now. We have discussed the issue earlier, the inevitable confrontation with a harsh reality. Have you since confronted one of the participants with the image, the description of it?

RJT:

No, it is still too fresh. Helma’s eye disease is in a very progressive stage …Perhaps, within two years, maybe…

MT:

And than what happens? What do you do with the information you collect? That new information, how do you make use of it?

RJT:

It’s still wishful thinking … I would like to film their faces, while telling the story, while I am describing the picture to one of the participants. And maybe, just maybe, you can see the facial expression of a personal memory coming back, coming back to life. That would be very beautiful. Maybe I’ll continue with this project… In addition to these five participants, I’ll start to collaborate with other people. Not using Kodachrome anymore of course … but the project is definitely a work in progress.

MT:

You just mentioned the word: Kodachrome. In a technical sense, but also very metaphorically, this first color film diapositive is central in this project. You have purchased the very last stock Kodachrome slide positive film, developed in December 2010 in the last remaining Kodachrome lab. Where is that lab located?

RJT:

In Kansas City, in the US. In the past decade the number of Kodachrome labs in the world has decreased rapidly. First there was one last company in the Netherlands. Then just one in Europe, in Lausanne in Switzerland. And in recent years Dwayne’s laboratory, in Kansas was the only lab left in the world. The day after Christmas 2010 I had to take a photograph. Travelled to Tilburg, took the photograph that afternoon, sent it high priority to the United States. And followed the package every day with the postal tracking system. December 31st the parcel was picked up by a member of Dwayne’s at the nearest post office in Kansas.

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MT:

You knew it was over…That era of photography?

RJT:

Yes, I consider Kodachrome the most appropriate image carrier, for this project. Kodachrome is known for its durability.

MT:

How many years does the longest-lived of camera films lasts?

RJT:

Longer than a memory … A memory has an average longevity of a human lifespan. Kodachrome has a durability that is unprecedented. And my amateur images archive also contains Kodachrome slides. If I enjoy an evening slide presentation, I do recognize Kodachrome slides, because of their exhilarating, sharp colours. It is a very stable, lucid film. In the course of time most colors in other types of color slide films become weaker; magenta continues to dominate.

MT:

I have a question entirely different: Who is Hanna Hagenaars, just briefly?

RJT:

She is editor in Chief of Mr. Mothley, and a good friend. Because of her involvement in the project I asked her to write an essay.

MT:

Hanna writes: ‘The disappearance of the image is a possibility recurring often in the work of Terpstra.’

RJT:

You asked why so few people are photographed. What struck me is the averageness of the images…

MT:

The insignificance…

RJT:

Yes, Yes…! Being the photographer I contributed to that aspect. By way of photographing the subjects insignificantly. I deliberately avoided making ART. Reclining on my authorship as much as possible. Altogether is impossible of course, but at least I am not prominent.

MT:

It looks a lot like amateur photography!

RJT:

Yes, it does!

MT:

That’s ment as a compliment …

RJT:

Yes, thank you. Nice of you to say that, although I am not sure if that will be understood. If I had artistic aspirations, I would overshoot one’s self. The project would lose its credibility.

MT:

Yes, it is very intimate, once that aspect is left out. That is often the case in photography: the bigger the ego, the more visible in the photographer’s strategy. While amateur photography is mainly anonymous and is not meant to make something beautiful, or artistic. It is about recording memory.

RJT:

That aspect I wanted to retain; diving into the image, so there is nothing in between the subject and viewer. No authorship.

MT:

Only the ‘performance’, the ‘moment’?

RJT:

The performance, yes…Yes…

MT:

Yes, what actually IS there. You seem to be trying to capture the sensitive moment of seeing something/ someone, which is considered precious for the person involved.

MT:

Back to the question: Why are there no people depicted, who are very important in a person’s life?

RJT:

Your question is difficult to answer. It undoubtedly has to do with knowing beforehand that the book is going to be published. That might be considered too intimate? But the reason why they have chosen vernacular imagery is intriguing. One participant said: precisely these everyday moments are the ones you forget first. All those other images have already been made, are already stored: all photogenic moments and great events. But the everyday, trivial, transient moments, like the light shining through a teacup, are the ones you seem to forget. That is too mundane for photography. That turned out to be the case for several participants. Those images are the ones you forget in the first place, because they are not linked to emotion, possibly … at the same time memories are created. As I walk with Helma along the sea, I not only record the sea, but I create a moment, of the two of us.  I create a memory, of which the photograph is a residue.

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MT:

Back to your archive for amateur photography. Why did you start collecting this material and how does the archive relate to your work?

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RJT:

I cannot quite justify the relationship. It is definitely a field, an area … The beauty of amateur photography is that the images are created by people who have no particular interest in photography. They don’t reflect on the medium. They look straight through the medium. Only the subject matter in the photograph matters. A woman against the background of a mountainous scenery … That makes the picture extremely transparent. Except if the camera failed, or the picture is underexposed, then it starts to become a picture again. In most cases you look straight into the performance. And that kind of transparency in photography – and therefore you spoke of amateur photography – is which I have pursued.

MT:

How did these amateur snapshots enter your life?

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RJT:

Yes, maybe it’s also residue-like … In amateur photography something else is lost. … and kept. People have detached themselves from these images. Took them to the flea market, to sell. Those images are without context. They are cut loose from a personal life. And it is the context that I try to keep going in RETRACING, through language…and by putting them in a new context…

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MT:

But how?

RJT:

By creating an art context. Taking the material outside the private sphere, presenting it in a magazine, an exhibition.

MT:

How many do you have?

RJT:

55.000, not all Kodachrome, unfortunately.

MT:

Slides? Just slides?

RJT:

Yes.

MT:

Why only slides?

RJT:

Because it provides better quality for a projector screen. It also has practical advantages: slides are small, the storage space is minimal. It all fits in a few racks. And the images are much sharper, more beautiful, more translucent than photographs. In addition, it is not a printed image.

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MT:

It’s the original camera negative…

RJT:

Yes, exactly.

MT:

When did you start to collect amateur photography? About the same time as Erik Kessels, only he was more business-like in addressing the topic.

RJT:

In 1998. Very low profile.

MT:

Why did you start to collect, because of the slides or the AMATEUR photography?

RJT:

Slides, always slides.

MT:

Why were you so taken by the image sharpness?

RJT:

Color slide has a strong directness. It has a lot more of the Here and Now… Although it was there and then … In fact you were not even there. A screen projection draws you into the picture. You become part of a family you don’t want to belong to! You take part, but you’re a voyeur at the same time. You’re peeking in someone else’s life. Observing all kinds of unguarded moments.

MT:

Where did you encounter those first unguarded moments, make that first purchase, I mean?

RJT:

At a flea market, I think. The very first ones were Kodachrome color slides. I was struck with awe. There is also a sentimental side to it. You’re not familiar with the history, start to ask yourself a few things: your imagination begins to work.

MT:

What did you look at? What did you read out of the slides?

RJT:

Women, at the waterworks in Zeeland, women with colorful hats that looked at the Delatwerken, with skirts waving in the wind.

MT:

A whole carousel full?

RJT:

Yes.

Yes. Since then I have made small work prints. I considered it a pioneering role. Discovering something, you think: this is extraordinary, what am I seeing here.

And now you notice that amateur photography is beyond its peak moment. It all  is perfectly exploited by Erik Kessels. But indeed, in the 1990s it had a kind of magic … And only to a certain extent does it have to do with art. It’s more like: “Look, I was born in that world, look at these clothes!” It’s very personal. That was the fascination. I also look at these slides, of course, hoping to be able to learn something about photography. Namely how people act, how they are posing, in front of a camera. Or what codes are hidden in a photograph.

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Amateur photography is a strange kind of mix between pose and documentary. It is both. Often people are holding on to something. For example I have a few pictures of women who hold on to a a cactus. That is a fine example of how everything is encrypted. A woman needs to connect with nature, with the Earth, is one such code. And at times, in a caricatural way, with something that represents nature.

What also fascinates me is how one picture leads to another. That’s one of the reasons why I’m quit ambivalent about photography, also in my role as photographer. Actually many photographers take photographs that are already made. When they see a subject they wish to photograph, it’s not the awareness of the moment, but the recognition that it is a photographic image they are looking at… and therefore pick up the camera. That is why so many pictures are circulating around: more of the same. There are few pioneers who have created something new. Those first pioneers have made a photograph photogenic.

MT:

And the amateur photographers!

RJT:

Exactly! The amateurs have given the medium a huge kick.

MT:

Would you in few words specify which topics are represented in your slideboxes?

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RJT:

Yes. There are several categories. ‘Women posing’, which is the largest category. Another one is ‘banned pictures’, meaning pictures that are not supposed to exist. Image recognition tells you they have been taken secretly. For example: a, probably homosexual, boy is shooting men’s buttocks on the Albert Cuyp market. 1970s, tight trousers. Sneak a man’s ass …

And, this is my idea: a somewhat excited boy is shooting topless women from a holiday apartment. You notice that he has been working secretly: for the pictures show strange shadows; he photographed behind a brick wall, through leaves. An exciting category this is. I created a new context for these images. That is, the category in which I have put them. Once I place them in the category ‘banned pictures’ you interpret those images differently. Love, Gravity, Failed Photographs, Public Space, Surrealist Photography, are a number of different categories. I have a pile here.

MT:

These are printed multiple slides?

RJT:

That is more manageable, in order to make a juxtaposition of images.

MT:

Then what do you do with this material?

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RJT:

Far too little. I’ve always balanced on two points of view. One is that of the archivist: I show the phenomenon. The other is: I show it as a form of art see and as a work in progress; I make a story of these amateur shots. I appropriate them. I had trouble with the latter. I show and discuss these images in lectures. But they are so rich in information. You see: this woman is pulled out of the picture; she was not supposed to be in the picture. The photograph is most probing once the intention of the creator does not match how I conceive the picture. In another photograph you see a man has vertigo. He seems to embrace his wife, but actually he is grappling her, because he is afraid of that abyss … And this is such gloom, a Sunday- morning-somberness…On the way to the Church with a lamppost as guidance in a desolate landscape …Oh yes, then there is also the category: Migration…There is much, much more…

_vliegtuig

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1 comment
  1. Rein Jelle Terpstra said:

    Ha Mirelle,

    dat ziet er ongelooflijk goed uit! Ik had natuurlijk alles al eens bekeken, maar nogmaals. ik ben er enorm blij mee. Ook dank dat je de foutjes eruit hebt gehaald. Ook dank voor alle aandacht en zorg die je in dit stuk hebt gelegd. Het was een geanimeerd, inhoudelijk en open gesprek en ook is af te lezen. Laten we contact houden. Als er iets nieuws onder de zon is, of iets ouds waarop nieuw licht schijnt, laat ik je het weten!

    Hartelijke groet,

    Rein Jelle

    Op 14 nov 2013, om 12:11 heeft theloggingroad het volgende geschreven:

    > >

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