About a year and a half ago, I was invited by Recyclart – thru Vincen Beekman – to write about one of their community projects. It was a bit of an ethical dilemma, but I accepted, though I kept thinking Why am I looking at these images?
The paragraph bellow, from the text published – entitled Don’t we all want to be Alice? – gives a very brief insight into the premisses of the project in question:
For little more than 4 years, Recyclart has been working with a community that gathers around Brussel’s central train station, giving them disposable cameras, processing the film, handing them back the photographs and so on and so forth. It sounded like an organic process, in search of some sociological truth. As I was told about the circumstances that made these images possible, I started imagining how the photographs would be like and who were the people taking them. It seemed uncanny that I would be allowed access to this family album and, more so, that I’d be writing about it without any previous knowledge of the individuals portrayed and their life stories.
Although the project posed serious questions about portraying the lives of “others”, from a distance I felt the options taken by the community involved were a good enough compromise. The final book, a concept of Void, includes a big large selection of photographs (from a corpus of around 750 images) and three texts, one in dutch – by Filip Keymeulen -, the one I wrote in english and a third one in french, by Lucie Martin. Because I’m unable to read dutch, I’ll refer to the latter one (my translation), by Lucie Martin, in order to highlight some of the questions addressed/posed by this process.
Lucie tells about the book-making process: “Vincen invited two Greek and Portuguese artist-publishers, João and Sylvia, to meet the authors of the photographs and organize their photos [Lucie Martin uses the word clichés] in the form of a book. I come for a few hours to add some notes, nothing exhaustive, only two or three observations, one or the other alternation. Like the project itself, and just as its promoter says, the project and as its initiator says, the editing week is a bottle in the sea, full of uncertainties on how they will proceed.” She continues, describing the editing process. They gathered in a park in front of the central station and started to cut images and arrange them into A4 sheets of paper, adding some captions and extra notes, burnign some, etc. She mentions discussions about the intentions of the project and their role in it. I imagine some discussions about insider/outsider perspectives might have played; not only regarding the relationships between those who created the project and the images, but also regarding discourse. Later in the text, she goes back to this issue when one of the participants, Ali, questions: What are you going to do with this ? Are you going to the museum, drink champagne? Make money out of it?, furthering the discussion about the “intentions of the project, questions of copyright and publication of the work. Who owns the images? Who are they intended for?” Lucie adds the sort of questions that, I imagine, all of us outsiders somehow contributing to this project, have posed: Where does the interest of these photographs lie? In their beauty? In the work of emancipation of the participants? In what they tell us about a particular universe?”, attempting an answer: “Probably a bit of each of these three tracks”.
Patti, one of the participants in the project, talks to Lucie Martin about her involvement: “I wanted to show what I do, and the possibility of being positive. He [Vincen] understands the sensitivity of the thing. I’m making my album at home, with the photos Vincen brings me. I’ve been doing this for him for 2-3 years. And I intend to offer it to my daughter.”
Lucie also asked the editors – João ans Sylvia – about their interest in this project and writes that João mentioned his liking for the spontaneity and honesty of the photographs, something that would be difficult to achieve to an outsider. But where João sees sincerity, Lucie sees something different: “But when in the wet gaze of a man in close-up Joao sees the emotion and the beauty of his aesthetic eyes, I read the misery, the haggard gaze of a lost man, the distance between this man and me, the potential judgment of people who don’t know him.”