Street art, Ghent, Belgium, 2005
It was shockingly contradictory to turn the corner of this narrow, winding 15th century street to find a wall so vividly painted with 21st century graffiti. I was not expecting to find it. It plays past against the present, and asks the viewer to weigh the values implied. The so-called “light at the end of the tunnel” effect implies relief from oppressive confinement of the past, yet offers the chaos of the present instead.
Detail, Brabo Fountain, Antwerp, Belgium, 2005
This 1887 fountain, which stands in the midst of Antwerp’s town square, features a number of classical goddesses, each sculpted in bronze in classical Victorian form. I moved in to emphasize the detail on the face of one of them, contrasting the 19th century standard of feminine beauty with the reality of 21st century environmental wear and tear. Her classic beauty has become a grotesque contradiction. Her bronze face is now green; soot blackens her cheeks and pits her skin, while brownish patches scar her arm and forehead. The water spewing from her open mouth seems to suggest regurgitation more than mythical allegory. She has become exactly the opposite of the Victorian ideal, and therein lays the tale of this image.
Happy Hour, Ghent, Belgium, 2005
As I walked Ghent’s historic Graslei at dusk, a vast promenade along the site of the city’s medieval harbor, I viewed numerous people sharing wine and companionship in the many outdoor cafes lining the River Leie. Using a 432mm telephoto lens, I compress several tables into my frame, creating great density and comparing the expressions of the patrons from table to table. The social interplay at this Happy Hour gathering seems to be quite the opposite from what we might ordinarily expect. The expressions range from passively solemn to actively serious. I leave it to the imagination of my viewers to draw their own conclusions from this contradictory image.
Canalside, Bruges, Belgium, 2005
Here, in the midst of a busy city, a man sits on a bench and reads his newspaper, which he has piled at his sides. I take a camera position that conceals the man – he could be reading, dozing, or perhaps just sitting back and enjoying the view. The opposing elements here are the sheer scale of all that space and the fact that only one person seems to be using it at this moment. There is also all that water, and yet nothing on it. All that history stands before him in those lovely old buildings, yet this fellow may not even be conscious of it. Once again, I leave it up to my viewers to build their own conclusions from these opposites and contradictions.
High Fashion, Antwerp, Belgium, 2005
A huge mural of a weeping woman offers a contradictory context for the clothes displayed on this mannequin. There are several other opposites as well here – the huge scale of the intimate mural contrasts to the smaller, coldly indifferent plaster model. The grainy texture of the mural differs from the crisp reality of the actual display. My camera position has caused the woman in the mural to weep directly onto the shoulders of the mannequin. There are more questions here than answers. What might this image mean to you?
Fragmenting Rembrandt, Leiden, The Netherlands, 2005
The most famous of all the Dutch painters was born in Leiden in 1606. I found a poster of his self-portrait displayed in a window there. I’ve turned it into an image rich in contradiction. Shooting from the side, I’ve softly diffused the face of Rembrandt, yet made the frame of the window sharp and unforgiving. The frame divides the painter’s face into eleven parts, incarcerating him in a virtual prison. We would expect to view him whole. Instead, I give him to you as fragments of time. Once again, I ask your imagination to take over and make of this image whatever it will.
Painterly Pixels at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2005
Rembrandt’s best known work is the Night Watch, painted in 1642 – the first major work of art portraying its subjects in motion. Nearly 500 years later, the huge canvas dominates an entire wall of a room in the Rijksmuseum, a target for a never-ending parade of digital snapshooters. I applied my own pixels to this act of contradiction – electronically recording another photographer in the act of digitally mimicking the brush strokes of one of the greatest artists who ever lived. By removing the floor she stands on, I have also inserted her squarely into a niche of available space in the middle of the image itself. The photographer’s body language corresponds to the action in the painting -- the militia’s young female mascot avidly watches the photographer, while the fellow wearing the ruffled collar waves his hand directly at her camera as if to invite her to the party. Still another contradiction is the clashing color – the painting reflects the somber colors of the 17th century, while the photographer’s lavender shirt is very much in the palette of the 21st. Because of the low light in the gallery, I used ISO 400, which fortuitously adds a grainy texture to the photographer – making it almost seem as if she, too, has been made of brush strokes.
In stride, Parc de Bruxells, Brussels, Belgium, 2005
The largest park in central Brussels was once the site of medieval hunting grounds. Carrying a rolled document, a man purposefully strides through the park, past the fountain that stands before the Belgian Parliament. Could he be a legislator, carrying a bill? He seems to have acquired a small audience, dressed for the park instead of for work. The combo of contradictions here – the disparities in costume and activity level – creates a sense of contrast and tension. Our eye moves back and forth between the man of action, and the woman wearing a bright red shirt, a rising garment, revealing the small of her back. He is too busy to notice them, and at least one member of the small audience refuses to look at him. Does he feel privileged, going somewhere where these onlookers can’t go? Does he know something that they do not? Is he better off for it? Or are they?
Near the Rubens house, Antwerp, Belgium, 2005
The home and studio of the great Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens from 1610 to 1640 still stands in the center of Antwerp. I noticed a small glass building, just across the plaza from the Rubens house, featuring a facsimile of the artist’s self-portrait in its window. By using a wideangle lens close to that portrait, I filled almost half the frame with it, and then waited for a person to enter the other half. I seek a contradiction in time here – the great painter matched to an anonymous contemporary passer-by. I also establish a contradiction in scale by making the poster much larger than the body of the pedestrian. I use the diagonal line of beige tiles in the plaza as a linkage thread, timing my shot so that the walking figure steps on that line leading directly to the Rubens portrait. I also simultaneously insert the oblivious pedestrian into building as a reflection, further linking him to Rubens. He looks about the same age as the great artist was when he painted his own portrait. They may be four hundred years apart in time, yet both wear similar beards, and although he turns his back to the oblivious passer-by, Rubens appears to sense that he is there. In a final contradiction, the pedestrian seems to walk in two directions at once – forwards and backwards. He becomes, for the moment anyway, a traveler in time.