In 1928, German photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch published a collection of 100 photographs entitled Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful), an artist’s statement in defense of clear, sharp photography, at the center of the so-called New Objectivity movement. Renger-Patzsch’s work looks closely at plants and animals, factories and industrial subjects, landscapes and advertising still-life – in fact, almost every photographic genre.
Almost a century later, Dutch photographer Paul Kooiker undertook a similar photographic challenge, but with diametrically opposed results. Eggs and Rarities collects about a decade of Kooiker’s images with the intent of creating an ‘encyclopedia of life’. But if Renger-Patzsch finds an impassive serenity in the world around him, Kooiker looks at the familiar and the obvious with a dose of uncertainty that often borders on the surreal.
“My work works if it’s about looking and photography,” Paul Kooiker says in an interview, “ultimately, my work is about looking, which is the ultimate act of vouyeurism”.
Anyone is able to recognize themselves in this seemingly simple action, which, however, enacted by another, does not fail to surprise us.
For Kooiker the camera is a look through the keyhole. The images he produces are deliberately those of a ‘bad photographer’: masses of exploratory material, often overexposed, blurred or grainy, are the material the author draws on to create collections in the form of three-dimensional installations and photobooks.
The still-lifes mark the pace, each is both a formal study and a slightly off-kilter mystery: a close-up analysis of a leather glove opens up a zone of disquiet; human skin seems convincing in its being covered with tiny wrinkles, but a small scar along the fingers gives the illusion of a Frankenstein of reassembled body parts. A similar sense of strangeness hovers around an ice cream cone dropped on the ground, a trail of footsteps in the snow, a hand covered in bubbles, an eye seen from very close – too close to be comfortable.
The nude photographs, absolutely not canonical, are studies of matter: Kooiker does not seek any kind of relationship with his subjects, but ‘uses’ their bodies to explore the possibilities of abstraction and create new forms.
The author approaches the female body like a still-life: how many compositions can be created with a pair of legs (as well as with fruit) by playing with how to get the maximum effect with a minimum input?
Working along this fine line between kitsch and controlled, between the playful and the serious, Kooiker asks us to strip ourselves of prejudice, not to define what we see as ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’, but to leave open all the possibilities of misunderstanding that exist between these two useless extremes.
Limited edition of 2000 copies