By Hans Walgenbach, October 2012
Eric Jan van de Geer researched Rotterdam for this publication.
He questioned the town’s visual appearance and redefined this in a series of edited polaroids. The anonymity of the underground architecture, the closed facades and front gardens in some of the neighbourhoods and dogs all feature in this publication. The photographs reflect the town in an artistic concept, within which formal principles associated with the art of painting go hand in hand with the light created by photography.
Images from everyday life in the town we are familiar with are – almost literally – lit up or exposed by him or, looking at it from a different angle, underexposed and charged with unexpected new meanings.
The image of the Rotterdam we think we know is certainly a recognisable one: the harbour, Zadkine, Erasmusbrug (bridge), the statue of Erasmus, the cube homes, the Euromast ..., but now all significantly different on Eric Jan van de Geer’s photographs. The cliché image of Rotterdam, as it is always depicted on shiny postcards, has been rephotographed, edited and manipulated into a work of art, with the limitations of a polaroid programme, and has taken on its own meaning, whilst still staying visually connected to the town.
Rotterdam has many different faces. In contrast to the parts of the town which the city marketeers like to show off, some of the neighbourhoods have – sometimes almost literally – been sealed off with newspapers. Facades with tightly shut curtains or boarded up windows exude an unspoken fear.
Front gardens which have been very neatly tiled or landscaped just that little bit too smartly evoke a sad and ambivalent feeling. People want to have fun here too, but you just feel this is never going to happen.
The series of polaroids produced by de Geer on this subject definitely generate a similar feeling; it’s difficult to filter out of the photographs. Yet this series – as is the case in all of Eric Jan van de Geer’s work – is largely about the formal structure of the image: the composition, colour, perspective and space. The artist is not using this publication to show off his documentary photography. His reflections of the town are personal observations and choices, but are in no way intending to tell a story. In fact, an attempt is made to avoid the anecdote as much as possible. For example, the dogs pictured in this book aren’t actors, but representatives of a sense of value which influences the eventual visual result.
Distance is required if you want to photograph a town you live and work in, in order to create new images. You need to look for places which are recognisable, but which also represent a certain anonymity which will allow you to give meaning to them. This is a strong point in Eric Jan van de Geer’s photography. The town, with all its anonymous places, seemingly swirls around the book. In the polaroids of the Rotterdam Metro: Centraal Station, Maashaven, Zuidplein, Blijdorp, to name but a few. They show a distortion of the photographed spaces, as the camera can’t fully capture the available light, which in turn creates a different and new image of the architecture. These are elements which Eric Jan van de Geer looks for during his tours of the town, making use of what the polaroid camera can offer, or perhaps of what it specifically can’t offer. The camera’s limitations have resulted in the creation of a certain abstraction in all photographs.
The image shows its essence and the polaroid helps in this process by omitting some of the image information. The camera doesn’t allow for many different settings: dark, light or normal, far away or close by and almost always with an automatic flash. A flash which is like a blind spot, present on many of the photographs, almost like the photographer’s signature: ‘Eric Jan was here’. The town is rendered in some very personal impressions.