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The geese are gone

by Alex de Bruycker

There’s something about black and white photography that’s just so innately captivating, like no colour photograph could be… for us, the lack of colour is ethereal, mysterious and sometimes provokes strange, unsettling feelings.

Strange and unsettled is what we felt when we came across Alex de Bruycker’s serene, dark photography. de Bruycker is a self-taught photographer, currently living in Maarkedal, Flanders in Belgium. His intriguing approach to photography, inspired by a traditional Japanese aesthetic concept (Yūgen) which is still very much upheld, has resulted in some beautiful but jarring images; very much devoid of colour rather than just black and white, and empty of people — and, seemingly, even life.

We were especially impressed by the thought and effort de Bruycker put into the physical side, something that is not done enough. Through his research he came across a beautiful Japanese handmade paper which he used in this work; it has resulted in an unusual and beautiful series of prints, the paper itself tender and soft, emphasising the quietness of his images.

It is said that Yūgen is to wander on and on in a huge forest, without thought of return… and that is very much the feeling here.

Wandering around with my camera, I am in a constant dialogue with the “here and now” and this can be anything, everywhere.

I don’t define my work by genre, theme or method. Looking at my images, one may see fragments of ordinary things, abstracts of buildings, environments, moments… things that may be obvious, but that we overlook in our daily life.

The photographs are taken randomly, by coincidence, sometimes straight. Since I shoot mostly film, I don’t know how they come out immediately; and I don’t care so much either. Even before I touch the shutter, the photograph was already taken! It is not the subject that matters, but the connection I feel when encountering a subject through light, colour, composition, shadows and shape.

What’s your story?

Four years ago, I was intrigued and enthralled by Cole Thompson’s long exposure photography. I bought a small DSLR camera and had fun experimenting with long exposure photography: of the sea, the city, landscapes. A friend of mine, an art lover and collector, gave me an opportunity to exhibit my work.

After a while, I felt that I was spending a lot of time behind my computer, editing images digitally to get the result I wanted. So, I decided to switch to analogue photography and bought a medium format film camera. It forced me to slow down, and I was so blown away when I saw my first negatives, so full of detail!

I have been photographing on film for about two years now. Not long exposures anymore, but my neighbourhood — the sea and landscape in France and Germany.

Tell us about The Geese Are Gone.

Taking pictures is one thing, making a coherent series is another. My latest and on-going body of work The Geese Are Gone focuses on elusive realities beyond the limits of time and space. I use photography to evoke vagueness, wonder and mystery in the mind of the beholder. The images are an invitation to taste “much in nothingness”, a “strong movement in stillness”.

I was inspired by Yūgen, an important concept in traditional Japanese aesthetic, said to mean “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe… and the sad beauty of human suffering”. The principle of Yugen demonstrates that true beauty exists when only a few words have been said, or few brush strokes painted, and suggest that which has not been said or shown, and hence awakens many inner thoughts and feelings.

Yūgen is to wander on and on in a huge forest, without thought of return; to contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds.

The last description brought me to the idea of the title — The Geese Are Gone. One will look for geese which are not there…

It was also crucial in the whole process for me to make beautiful prints. I’ve tested a lot of different papers, and due to the influence by Japanese aesthetics, I came across a handmade paper — Kozo washi paper. I was lucky that my printer had this kind of paper available.

“Kozo” — mulberry — has the basic look of Japanese washi paper and the subtle beauty that kozo fibres give. You should see and feel it! That’s why I made a portfolio with small prints to show galleries; because on a display, these kind of prints don’t look as they should, nor are you able to fully experience them through touch.

Much of your work is empty of human presence.

To have people in my images would mean a distraction of the scenery or landscape. Since Yūgen is a reflection of the awareness of the beauty in nature, including people would go against this.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by Masao Yamamoto by his approach and methods, and Belgian artist Dirk Braeckman — I love his dark, moody images.

What are you up to next? Are you working on any new projects?

Although this project is still on-going, I would like to exhibit the images. This would be great and a new challenge, filling walls with amazing prints. At the same time, I am working on a book dummy so watch this space!

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