I must admit, the first photobook by the Belgium photographer Stefan Vanthuyne is very cryptic, with only a quotation from Oscar Wilde to provide any hint of guidance. His color photographs depict a combination of medium distance landscapes intermingled amongst portraits of people.
The landscapes are all devoid of people and predominately located in urban places. The photographs investigate in a documentary style that attempts to objectively describe what is before the lens. In many of these landscape photographs, there is an object that seems to stand out and which is centered within the pictorial frame, as though this is a portrait of that natural object. The photograph of a singular and sunlit exposed tree root amongst the wooded forest is very similar to the photograph on the preceding page of the young child standing in a grassy clearing before a wooded lot. The photograph of a small dead pine tree centered on the book’s end page is the portrait of a small dead pine tree.
All of the people photographed are intimate and close, looking at something other than the camera lens, save one. Vanthuyne also professes to be interested in exploring the concepts of identity and self, thus the casual and personal relationship between subject and camera implies that the individuals photographed are probably friends, family and acquaintances of Vanthuyne. It is not evident from the photographs that this is necessarily a true statement, but seems to be implied.
The occasional pairing within the book of a landscape and portrait photograph hints at a relationship and potential evidence about the identity of the individual. One pair of photographs that I found very intriguing, second below, is a road with a pile of household trash on the edge of the woods and on the facing page is a photograph of a young woman sitting on a couch inside a room of a house. For me, this pair of photographs raises many questions; why are these two photographs paired up, as this is not an accidental pairing, is there a correlation between this pair of subjects, and is this statement about the trash heap as it may relate to the young woman or about the woman as she relates to the trash heap? Is this about equivalence or a contradiction of differences? Does the mangled heap of trash relate to the disarray of the clothing and messy spread that is under and surrounding the girl as she sits on the couch? Unanswerable questions abound.
I feel similar to the Oscar Wilde quote that Vanthuyne has provided, in which I am unmoved by this photobook. But that may be a key point of this photobook;
The great events of life often leave one unmoved; they pass out of consciousness, and, when one thinks of them, become unreal. Even the scarlet flowers of passion seem to grown in the same meadows as the poppies of oblivion – Oscar Wilde
I have too many questions and not enough answers. Yet I have now carried this slim book with me on numerous trips over the past four months; looking, reading, wondering and questioning. To say that the book is subtle is an understatement, perhaps to the point that it may not have enough structure. The book leaves me off-balance, which in the end, is not a bad thing.
The book has a soft cover with the pages creased, folded and assembled, without any binding. The afterword, in English text, is a quote attributed to Oscar Wilde.
By Douglas Stockdale