Sinds anderhalve week is in het ACF onder de titel Grote ontdekkingsreizen die de wereld veranderden ‘onderzoekende en speelse’ fotografie te zien van Julia van den Broek, Irene Cécile, Mathieu Keuter en Sander Uitdehaag. Laatstgenoemde hield een dagboek bij van de voorbereidingen (in het Engels) voor deze tentoonstelling, waarvan de ACF-leiding vaststelde dat nooit eerder zoveel foto’s waren te zien in de galerie.
– Sander Uitdehaag –
I have the feeling that my eyes can think.
I’m on the couch in my studio with a coat over my head, and I try to think…of nothing.
I seem to manage to think of nothing, but only so if the deep-black cores that my closed eyes pierce themselves into, -hungry, -seeing nothing? -if these cores count as nothing-ness.
Only some flowers in a vase separate me from a girl that sits opposite (of) me at this long brown wooden table in the Coffee company on the corner of Damstraat and the Ouderzijds Achterburgwal.
I cannot see her face. I just see her hands that seem to stick out of the vase. The vase becomes a creature with a head full of flowers and a pair of hands. One of those hands is holding a pen. The other is resting on a notebook.
She is writing.
I am writing.
She’s drinking coffee.
I’m drinking coffee.
It’s 12 o’clock
I’m around the corner of the ACF, the Amsterdam Center of Photography, where I am preparing an exhibition.
The other night I brought in two carton boxes filled with snapshots of the past 15 years that never ended up in a series or a photo album. There are about 8000 10x 15 cm Hema prints in there. I’ve divided them up into categories based on color. I started with red, yellow, blue and green, but soon these captures couldn’t cover it and new categories popped up, resulting in 38 piles of different height. I’ve named them as follows:
Blue diluted light
Green diluted light
Blue and green
Still something greenish there (overall light)
Orange / brown with green
Orange / brown with blue
Brown including brown elements
White form in the middle of the frame
Color pictures that look like black and whits
Real black and whites
Gray (with sth black and white)
Red and yellow
Blue and yellow
Gray of the undefinable kind
Something yellowish against a blue-grey, pretty neutral background
Pink against a lightly grey backgound
Purple and purple elements
I take a Company sip of my Coffee and look out the window. It’s a busy corner at the outskirts of the Red light district. People bike past carrying all kind of things. The few times I’ve looked up now, I saw toilet paper, a Sint Nicholas staff, several huge gift wrapped boxes, a brand new G5 Mac, a child’s seat filled with child’s seats, a 30 liter can of Chinese walnut oil, tiger gamba’s, a dog on a leash, a Sint Nicholas hat.
The people that are not biking are mainly tourists. They are flocking the corner like pigeons on a square. They look up, down, sideways, take a few steps, stop, turn their heads up, change their position, turn their backs to eachother, touch tails, look up and down, open their bills, do a little wobbling 360 degrees turn, and then slowly shuffle out of sight.
There is some hair sticking from the vase. It’s curled around two of the fingers of the non-writing hand. The fingers are caressing the hair in a slow but constant rhythm. The other hand is still writing. I wonder if she is also writing about a vase with fingers sticking out – one hand writing, one hand resting.
Now she is talking on the phone. She’s Dutch. Her voice has a nice timbre, but her tone is melodramatic and in 2 minutes time I find out way too much about her life and concerns:
– she is writing postcards to her friends back home
– she is all over her boyfriend
– she warns the other person not to get gonerea
– she makes an appointment to join the person at the other end of the line to a theater show this Saturday but makes sure to let her know “that it’s not her responsibility if the play sucks, and that she has warned her if it does.”
-she says ‘yeah yeah’ and then she hangs up.
I finish my coffee, and head back to the gallery to start putting up these 4000 pictures.
It’s 4 o’clock. I’m back behind the flowers.
Drinking Coffee on the Company corner.
Outside there is heavy snowfall. The street is turning white rapidly. People are no longer pigeons, but polar cubs, sliding in and out of the frame.
Inside Michael Jackson is swinging his Thriller beats. It’s warm and it smells of speculaas.
All of the window seats are taken by laptop hipsters in their early twenties. Most of them are watching videos of catwalk walks. One is looking up the music video of every song that is being played on the company’s stereo. He doesn’t seem to be able to find the Michael Jackson video though.
I take a Company’s coffee sip and notice a woman slipping and tumbling over in the corner of my eye, dragging her husband with her when he tries to keep her on her feet. Now they both sit on the cold pavement, looking at each other, not sure if the other is to blame.
When they get up they leave a dark stain on the white pavement.
I’ve created 12 horizontal rows of dark blue to light blue to blue with some elements of yellow-pictures on one of the walls of the expo space, each row containing 26 pictures.
All of these traveling snapshots, all of these visual fragments taken from situations of transition, each one of them give a tiny hint of something that might have happened, out there, at a point in time. Pasted together the different pictures form One Big New picture. A picture taken from a driving car, a side window view on a roadtrip through my life. A huge snapshot, incomprehensible yet one. Parallel to the blurry image I have of my past. It makes me think of Marcel Duchamp’s suggestion to use the word delay instead of the word picture. I’m creating a delay made up of hundreds of smaller delays.
The dark spot on the pavement is disappearing with snow covering it. I zip up my coat and start making my way back to the gallery space.
It’s 12 o’clock.
Corner Coffee in the Company.
Outside a man is taking a picture of another man who is taking a picture of a billboard on which a man is taking a picture into the camera of the man or woman who took the picture for the billboard.
I’ve spent most of the morning going through 11 different piles of green snapshots. New tones and shades popped up in this process and soon these 11 piles became 21 piles. I was left with another 40 pictures that didn’t match one of these 21 green piles. So they have ended up forming pile number 22, titled: element of green but overall feeling is definitely not-green.
After two hours I’m on the verge of going mentally insane. I decide to take a break and start designing the gallery display at the streetside window. I put up a turquoise billboard of 2 lifesize Indonesian fly attendants and a box of mandarins. When this is done I feel much better and I head out for this 12 o’clock coffee.
A few hours later. Company sips of espresso and agua.
The first wall is finished.
For a long time I just took pictures because I liked the way people, or things, or people inside things, or things on top of people, or people on top of people underneath things, or people on top of people in between things that where on top of other things, – I liked the way they looked.
Then I started taking pictures to find out what things look liked once photographed. I started liking pictures best when they surprised me, when I’d fucked them up unwillingly, or when the world fucked up in front of my lens, when coincidences leaked in, when pictures did not portray the world as I had seen it.
Still later I started taking pictures without looking. I gave my camera to a blind man and sent him a text message every time I was trapped in traffic jams or inside commuting trains. A female computer’s voice on his mobile phone would shout out my message : ‘Nu!’ – Now! He would then take out his camera from his pocket and take a picture.
Also I started taking pictures at regular times of the day at the beep of an alarmclock, or whenever somebody would call out a name in the street, or whenever I would hear a certain word, like ‘en’ –and, or ‘waarom’ –why.
That ‘why’ became a driving force. Why do I take pictures? The more pictures I was taking, the less sure I became of finding an answer. But at the same time: the bigger reason for me to keep on pressing that shutter, to keep on pressing on.
So I ended up with these boxes filled with photo-experiments, street snapshots, travel pictures. This expo serves as a new experiment. What can you do with crap? While at the same time I feel I might be getting rid of that silly but pounding question Why do I photograph?
I don’t expect to find a soothing answer to it during the process, but an answer is almost formed independently of my search for it, simply by using all of these thousands of pictures, of delays, by sticking them to a wall and creating a work from it. Maybe this constant whywhywhy zoom in the back of my head will then finally disappear.
It’s 12 o’clock. Company coffee time amidst the corner hipsters and the pigeon tourists. A bright and ice-cold day in Amsterdam. Espresso, Stevie Wonder, steaming people entering and exiting.
A couple in their early twenties is sitting across from me. They talk about painting their new apartment blue. On the table in front of them are about a dozen of fan-shaped cartons, each one covering a different spectrum of the color blue. She is flipping through them frantically, trying out different combinations. Sometimes she abruptly stops the flipping, leans backwards in her chair and closes her eyes a little.
He sort of agrees to every proposition she’s making, but every time she starts correcting her own choices with sentences that start with words like:
“But what if…”
“We could of course AL-so…”
“Or….”, and before he can interrupt her she is changing the combinations all around again.
When the guy sighs slightly, the girl looks at him furiously and tells him this is very important to her.
He says it is very important to him to him too and makes another effort of looking at her latest combination of colors.
“ This looks good for the kitchen,” he says.
“ I kinda agree,” she answers, “but what if…”
Last night I awoke in sweat from a meta-dream I’d been dreaming.
In it I am trying to convince my dad to join me in my dream. We are in a long hallway in front of a door. Behind it is the dream of my father.
I, – black pants, sunglasses – no shirt, no shoes, – ask him to come along, through the door on the other side of the hallway, where my dream is waiting. He is reluctant. I tell him it’s a great dream with many dimensions, and above all loaded with insights into my life and mind. He refuses, and does so in a casual way. “No, I think I need to go back to my dream. It’s quite a common one –but still: all of these people have come over especially for me, you see?”
I walk away from him, and enter through my door and into my dream where he could have been part of also.
For a moment, when I wake up, I think I am still dreaming. Opening my eyes, staring in the pitch black void of the room, flashes of color shoot towards me. Blue, green, turquoise, blueish green, greenish blue, bluebrown, greenbrown, brownish orange. It seems I’ve taken the wall of the gallery with me and put it in my bedroom, and that now the wall is attacking me. I lay awake for a few minutes until the flashes become less intense, and after a while I fall back asleep.
Now my eyes hurt and I am quite exhausted. The coffee didn’t help much. Sunlight fills this place. Everybody in the Company is eating huge golden pieces of apple pie. All of a sudden I feel a big urge to eat this tasty looking gold myself and I buy a huge piece, and devour it in large chunks. It is delicious and fresh energies start summersaulting in the veins under my skin. I get up to start on my second wall.
Late afternoon coffee in the company corner.
The place is crowded. There is one chair available on the big table. At my left a few glossy fashion students are talking about some evaluations of their Barcelona and Paris trips. At my right a girl with two different shoes is folding and stapling 4 copies of her first draft of her Bachelor thesis. The title of the thesis is “What is the effect of humour in advertisement-videos?” The word ‘humour’ is written in italics.
The name of her supervisor is Miss B. Droog (Miss B. Dry) and her student number is 6100891.
She looks up from her folding activities. I quickly look back at my notebook and write down a really important sentence. When I look up again she has shifted her head sideways and is reading from my notebook.
I put my arm over the text.
She looks at me and asks: “Are you writing about me?”
I reply: “Are you reading what I write?”
“Yes I am,” she says, “because you are writing about me.”
“No, I’m not.”
“You just wrote down my student number.”
I smile a stupid smile.
“Well, I did, but I wasn’t writing about you. I just wrote down your student number.
I was actually just writing about your teacher.”
She stares me straight in the eye.
Of your teacher. You know?
Her name, it struck me as kind of funny: Misses Dry.
In combination with the title of your thesis?”
I’m turning fiery red by now.
She is still staring at me with cold, unblinking eyes.
“ I’m not a freak”, I tell her, but I’m having the feeling that these last words sound more like a question than a statement.
“Look”, I continue, “it’s crowded in here. I’ve come in here to write. I do that all the time. And since you were sitting so close to me, I couldn’t help but noticing you.
You looked safe.”
She raises her left eyebrow. Finally her face is loosening up a bit.
“Safe?” she asks.
“Yes. Safe. Safe to look at. Safe as in – I can look at you and not be distracted. Safe as in – looking at a ceiling is safe. But I guess you weren’t that safe to look at after all.”
“ ‘Safe like a ceiling’ ”, she laughs. “Now I should be writing stuff down.”
She turns away from me and continues folding papers.
I mumble: “I won’t bother you again.”
“Don’t worry”, she says.
She shakes her head.
So I worry.
I stare at the page in my notebook for a few moments, then pick up my pen and start writing down our dialogue, – but translating the words into English gives me an awkward feeling. None of the words were expressed in English. Did this whole conversation then actually happen?
I’m in the delayed train to Arnhem. It’s Monday again.
Last night after work I had a final check on the 1400 pictures I ended up using on the walls of the gallery. I had to re-glue about 45 of them. After having re-glued 45 of them, I had a last look around, closed the light and locked the door. I won’t be back until next week for the opening.
Sliding my way home on my bike, I get stuck on an icy crossroad bridge over an Amsterdam canal. Everybody sliding and not being able to get to the top. So we form a sort of circle around the highest point. A few of us carry our bikes next to us, a couple is holding on to each other in a tight grip. There is no real forward movement. Nobody is reaching the other side of the bridge. Then a cab enters the scene. It does make it to the top all right, but then the sliding begins.
All of us watch the spectacle from our multiple viewpoints. The cab starts spinning and turning and spinning and turning. We, spectators, begin to laugh. First a bit giggly-like, but then someone cracks up and then all of us are tearing ourselves laughing, louder and louder. This causes even more slipping and sliding by us, and of course this again leads to more laughter. And in the midst of this vicious circle of laughter: the cab with the cabdriver inside, spinning its furious pirouettes on and on and on and on.
Now I’m trying to make some sense of this writing of mine on the laptop of my girlfriend while speeding towards another week of lectures at the Dutch Art Institute in Arnhem.
Witta is also in the train, a few rows in front of me. She is telling the people in the coupé that she is not doing too well. Or she is actually telling somebody on the phone, but all of us are listening, or: not able to not listen. I feel sorry for her. When most people leave the train at Utrecht Centraal I consider sitting next to her. I decide not to since then I would not be able to write down what she is saying and how I decide not to sit down next to her. It feels kind of bad to write this down, but also kind of honest. So I decide to keep it in.