Interview with Bruno van den Elshout
Feeling at home is one of the recurring themes in visual research projects by The Hague - based photographer Bruno van den Elshout (1979). Home away from home, when he travelled all across Europe for an entire year with the purpose of being able to feel at home across cultures.
Feeling at home in your own country, through a photo series about Dutch motorways. And this year: feeling at home in a specific time and place. 8.785 views of Van den Elshout's home horizon in The Hague: one for every hour of the year. We paid him a visit to find out more.
When did you start with photography? Why?
I started photography in 1997 when I got my OV-student card. I was a big fan of trains at the time and the free travel permit allowed me to travel all over the country and take photos. Much more fun that spending time in classrooms.
Since then, I evolved into a social travel photographer with the series "Best when shared" as a result. In 2007, I started to use photography as a method for visual research with the purpose of understanding the world a little better.
In 2007-2008, I travelled through all 27 member states of the European Union to understand how culture programs people, which resulted in the book Crossroad Europe.
Project: Crossroad Europe
I then moved on to recording views of Dutch motorways to see to which extent the managed landscape reveals culture programming (Poldermotieven, 2011) and, after that: what the observation of pretty much nothing (2012 - NEW HORIZONS) does to people.
Photography serves as an instrument, my favourite one, to share my observations and my search for meaning.
Which photographers / artists have the greatest impact on your work?
I very much appreciate work by Andreas Gursky and Hans Aarsman. I like how they structure reality without adding too much while trying to keep the end result as objective as reasonably possible. For Hans Aarsman, I like how his work illustrates that whatever seems trivial actually matters most.
And I like how Mondriaan started as a landscape painter to eventually reduce his observations into abstractions. In general, I appreciate people who try to filter their ego and that of their subjects out of their work so that what they show reveals fragments of a universal truth.
Oh, and French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry whose work is also based on this, and books contain amazing clues about everything I just said. Finally, I marvel the photos of Belgian photographer Stephan Vanfleteren - what an incredible combination of skill, empathy and vision!
How did you come up with the idea of NEW HORIZONS?
It is the result of the longing for space and tranquility in a time where things go faster and grow ever more hectic. I think the latter is what we will remember 2012 for.
Project: 2012 - NEW HORIZONS
As a turning point in history with all the crazy dynamics that go with revolutions, where cause and effect get completely mixed up, and where we even find scientific evidence for phenomena that we have, until now, cast aside as spirituality.
On the more practical side, I was on the beach with my girlfriend and then-2-year old son in the summer of 2011.
With all the expectations of 2012 in mind, I got triggered by my son's observation of a ship on the horizon that he called a plane. It was on a day where sea and sky had melted into one. The ship was floating in the void, which could have been air as well as water. I then thought: if such exciting things happen around this horizon, I want to see more of it. Much more. A whole year round: the year 2012.
How does NEW HORIZONS express you as an artist?
I think an artist is somebody who solves problems regardless of whether they exist. Most of our society is managed and structured in terms of problem solving, which is quite a dramatic approach to life. This is a souvenir from the time when our lives consisted of survival and procreation.
No matter how much we evolved since then, we still tend to get in action only when there's urgency to act. This, in our times, usually translates to: "How can I make money out of this?" rather than "How can I add something that will inspire others to start adding to it as well?" I don't know whether all that immediately shows from the project itself, but it does explain the incentive that sparked it.
Where can people enjoy your work?
A series of 40 horizons are exhibited in the lobby of NH Atlantic Den Haag whose roof we use as our base station. A finissage will take place on Saturday, January 5, 4pm. A couple of my photos can be seen at Broft / vanderHorst Galleries where we organised our first exhibition.
We are looking for an exhibition ground to showcase 250 horizons in 2013. We're thinking of an unusual place, a castle for example, and looking for sponsors to make it all possible. We would like to be able to announce this exhibition before the year ends. Ambitious objectives, I know. Any help is welcome.
Any future projects?
I am preparing a project called "Topography of the Bedroom" and another one that will have me invite people to record photographs of their travels across the European motorway network.
The intention of the latter is to eventually compile a 1,5 metres wide book series, the first visual Road Atlas of Europe celebrating the freedom of travel.