Sunday, May 23, 2010

Geert Goiris' Traumatic Landscapes

In considering the work of Geert Goiris, I use the term "traumatic" not only to describe its sense of being destabilizing, out of joint, psychologically painful – but also to touch on the German word "traum," or dream. For these stringently realistic photographs nonetheless have that otherwordly, unheimlich quality that one seldom encounters in waking life, outside of an early Chris Marker or Peter Greenaway film. While Goiris begins in the overwhelming, depopulated no-man's-lands explored by Richard Misrach and Bernd and Hilla Becher, he ventures much farther into unknown frontiers, both physically and psychologically.

"Eugene's Neighborhood," from the series "Resonance," 2002


Born in Belgium, Goiris has ventured to areas as far-flung as the Arctic island of Spitzbergen, the forests of Finland, the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah and the frozen desert of Antarctica to create his ominous poetry of solitude, emptiness and decay. In the remotest parts of those isolated territories, he watches and waits for an encounter with the ideal expression of man's ephemerality on the landscape – our ultimate insignificance in geologic time.

"Whiteout #33"

"Whiteout #32"

To give his work a bit more context, I've selected a few remarks he made in two interviews he's given about his work. To download the original articles, just click on the link at the beginning of each quotation.

"The reason why I often choose extreme places and experiences to photograph is not because I want to present myself as a daredevil who goes to all these amazing places, but rather to show the wilderness – the world without us, without humanity, just the surface of the land itself, as terrain unfit to sustain human beings. Being in those hostile surroundings shows how much is at stake."

"Liepaja," from the series "Resonance," 2004

"The explorer I would like to be is a wanderer who circles around our society and tries to look at it from the periphery, from a slightly oblique angle. An outsider by choice, mapping the outskirts of the known world."

"Slowfast #9"

"The distance I put between myself and some of the subjects could be almost extraterrestrial – like a visitor from out of space, seeing the world for the first time, would glance at things."

"Slowfast #12"


"I think that many romantic painters were possesed by the same movement – translating something which is felt, rather than perceived, into a fixed graphic form. In this way, I certainly share a sensitivity with the romantic tradition – where sensual experiences and the merging of body and environment come into play."

"Ministry of Transportation," from the series "Resonance," 2002

"I have used the term 'traumatic realism' before – it refers to a mental state indicating a breaking point, where fact and fiction fuse in a sort of micro-mystery, where the familiar takes on an unfamiliar presence. My images are not a documentary – they do not claim to show things as they are, but more as they seem, or as they might be."

"Abyss," from the series "Resonance," 2000

"I often use a long exposure time. I find it fascinating that the camera is capable of summarizing a whole hour in one single image. That type of photography intrigues me – the film can perceive a wider spectrum than our eyes, it can observe very quickly or very slowly. In most of my pictures, the camera is not so much a witness to the moment, but registers state of being, a lapse of time. Such condensation of time is the reason why I enjoy traveling to remote regions. There the geological time is much more present than the human time. Thus all the elements that testify of a human presence are seen from a different angle."

"Blast #3," 2001

"Recording the invisible is in itself already a 'romantic' undertaking – applying a scientific method (measuring the light and exposing it on film) to achieve poetic ends. A brilliant transfiguration occurs every time an analog photo is being made – light becomes matter."

"Pools at Dawn," from the series "Resonance," 1999

"I am not a dogmatic adherent of the 'New Topography,' or of the Bechers... The Becherschüler had a very clear agenda and still leaves its mark on a great part of contemporary artistic photography. Some people just take over the formal characteristics – a large camera, an urban landscape, a panoramic view, geometry and rigid lines. I find it contemptible, because it utterly excavates the original intent. The style is taken up, there is no content or meaning. Contrary to the New Topographers or the German School, I allow for romanticism or even sensationalism, because I observe how fiction gradually dominates over our society more and more."

"Matte #1 (Beluga)," 2006

"Like the surrealists, I don't locate the bizarre next to daily life, I place it in daily life. As I did with the UFO, which as an icon is very recognizable. Because of the camera, that transposes so accurately, the spectator's perception is however very much focused on the object itself – the unique specimen, which is dilapidatedly lying in the Finnish woods. Thus the spectator can deduce the particular history of the object itself."

"Futuro," from the series "Resonance," 2002

"I try to select my subjects in such a way that they can generate their own stories."

"Matte #2 (Soucouple)," 2006

Geert Goiris is represented by Galerie Catherine Bastide in Belgium and Galerie Art:Concept in Paris. When he is not traveling the world looking for new frontiers to photograph, he lives in Antwerp, Belgium.

"Untitled 01," from the series "The Shiver," 2000


"Untitled 02," from the series "The Shiver," 2000