Hans Eijkelboom

Hans Eijkelboom says this about his practice:

“What I do is actually very unclear…As a form it seems like a very simple way to collect information about people’s behaviour. But the exhibitions and books that I make do not show any useful and coherent information at all.” (White, 2020)

Bakker (2020) believes Eijkelboom’s work asks questions about human identity, vulnerability and how this is shaped by the public space and interaction with society. His work is rooted in the conceptual photo art of the 1960s which is typified by seriality, repetition, typologies, performance and humour. He explains that he uses photography as a way of making notes about what he encounters and “to employ photography as an instrument to show how the world appears.” In the introduction to the catalogue for his 2017-18 retrospective he explains:

“I explore the world daily and register aspects of my voyage of discovery with a camera. I do this in a detached way, because the thought that I can predetermine what is or is not significant in the formation of my world perception should not exist. In this way a stream of observations of these not directly responsible formation aspects of my world perception emerge and are recorded” (Bakker, 2020)

With My Family (1973):

For this series, Eijkelboom places himself as the father figure in a series of family portraits that plays on the predictable uniformity of the family photograph. At first the images seem authentic and believable, but the presence of Eijkelboom in each one causes the viewer to question what they are seeing. Erik Kessels (2016) observes that the conventions of the family photography seek to deliberately obscure all of life’s imperfections:

“Photography is not only a form of documentation; it’s just as often a tool for manipulation.

Each individual family portrait is entirely believable. Eijkelboom never looks out of place. The persuasiveness of the image allows him to deceive us. And in doing so, he questions our ideas about identity and pokes fun at photographic clichés.” (Kessels, 2016: 137-144)

Identity (1976):

This series of self portraits show Eijkelboom acting out the profession that former school mates who had not seen him for ten years imagined him to now be engaged in. Eijkelboom contacted his former friends and asked them what they remembered about him and what they thought his occupation might be now. Sean O’Hagan says this about the series:

“Alongside the often expansive and hilariously uncomplimentary answers -“going by what I remember about him, I don’t think he has become anything special” – Eijkelboom poses in the clothes of the profession attributed to him. In one, he is a somewhat unlikely-looking businessman sitting behind a desk; in another, a forester in the traditional costume of plus-fours and gamekeepers feathered hat. One woman confesses to having “been in love with him for years”. Another man calls him “a real blackguard always willing to finish the discussion elsewhere – with his fists.” (O’Hagan, 2014)

The Ideal Man (1978):

For this series, Eijkelboom devised a questionnaire which he sent out to 100 women asking them to describes their ideal man in terms of appearance and clothing. He chose 10 of the most diverse of these and worked with a make up artist to transform himself into the ‘perfect man’. The author of the questionnaire was present at a photoshoot to capture the results and offer final direction. The images of the ‘ideal man’ alone, and then with their would be partner were presented alongside the questionnaires.

10 Euro Outfits:

For this series, Eijkelboom made a series of self-portraits wearing entire outfits bought for €10 or less. Sean O’Hagan observes:

“They range from the drab – pinstripe trousers, grey-striped polo shirt, pale cream sandals – to the plain weird: a swirly-patterned shirt made of green nylon and camouflage trousers. He emerges here as a kind of European everyman, and, as such, looks depressingly familiar. The series could be a critique of Europe in the age of austerity, or a wry look at the homogenisation of high-street budget labels. Either way, it’s another example of Eijkelboom’s deadpan, though-provoking take on identity and, like all his work, makes you think and smile simultaneously.” (O’Hagan, 2014)

Photo Notes (1992-2007):

From the early 1980s, Eijkelboom predominately stopped pointing the camera at himself and began to a number of experiments with street photography. The approach he chose are described as ‘Photo Notes’ and he uses a set of rigorous rules for making the work that have become his mode of working in every subsequent series. Dieter Roelstraete (2011) makes a link between Eijkelboom’s practice and August Sander’s ‘People of the Twentieth Century’, although he asserts that Eijkelboom’s series is only superficially similar:

“the artist takes to the street not only armed with his camera, but also with a set of rigorous, non-negotiable rules. Photographing only takes place in a precisely determined spot, for a precisely determined length of time (both facts are always included at the bottom of the resulting arrangement of photographs as crucial bits of information) and the ‘subject’ is correspondingly narrowly defined to ensure maximum sameness. Young girls with Spice Girls T-Shirts, young men with Che Guevara T-shirts … or middle-aged men with Rolling Stones T-shirts; topless types on rollerblades; middle-aged mothers and teenage daughters schlepping shopping bags while talking to their mobile phones; people who are not emergency workers yet still wear yellow coats – as a document of changing fashions, Photo Notes certainly creates the impression that what was in reality only a decade-and-a-half ago is light years away in time.” (Roelstraete, 2011)

Although the thousands of photographs from this project are of individuals, it is repetition, and sameness, that is the point of Eijkelboom’s visual anthropology. Marcel Feil (2007) notes the diaristic nature of the series and the way its visual development is shaped by repeated observations over an extended period of time: “like the stalagmites and stalactites in a cave, which have gained their shapes through the ceaseless repetition of falling drops of water.” Though Eijkelboom has used different conceptual strategies throughout his career, his work is unified by some key concerns:

“One common feature of the photo projects Eijkelboom has embarked on since the early 1970s is a profound interest in questions concerning our identity. How we see ourselves and how do others see us? Is there a connection between what we wear and what we are? How does each individual manifest his or her idea of identity? And – more fundamentally – what is the relationship between expression of our identity and our (self-) awareness?

In Photo Notes Eijkelboom depicts the individual and unique in terms of the vast numbers of individuals who populate our cities. Because the photographs for Photo Notes were taken over such a long period and because of the constant repetitions and comparisons and the sheer quantity of visual material, the personal observations on the diary gradually acquire a universal validity. By looking at others, we also observe ourselves; subject and object become one, and the tension between the individual and the mass is highlighted.” (Feil, 2007)

Paris – NewYork – Shanghai (2007):

This series which culminated in an exhibition and book, sees Eijkelboom document everyday life in the cities of Paris, Shanghai and New York which he regards as the capitals of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These seemingly disparate cities are shown to be more similar than we would at first imagine, for Jim Caspar (s.d.) the project is driven by Eijkelboom’s obsessive search for anthropological-sociological typologies and provides proof that the differences in exotic cultures have already been conquered and eliminated by globalisation. He describes the design of the book as essentially three books in one, which allows the viewer to simultaneously compare and contrast images showing the similarities in France, America and China. From the introductory essay, Tony Godfrey makes this assessment:

“For a book of art photographs, there is an extraordinary array of images. Having opened it, I turn the pages of each volume simultaneously: I can see sixty photographs of men in striped shirts; turn again, and I see an army of seventy-two men in suits marching to work; turn again, and a panorama of empty civic spaces. What are we being told? That this is a small world after all? Is this a Family of Man on a minimal grid?” (Godfrey, 2007)

People of the Twenty-First Century:

For this ongoing project, which Eijkelboom has been engaged with since the 1990s, he captures “little points of commonality”, such as behaviour or dress, in various cities around the world. For Ryan White (2020), the series is “a fascinatingly simple sociological study into individuality in relation to collective behaviour.” Eijkelboom believes that the city is where society is most visible. He is not interested in pointing his camera at the extraordinary, but in recording slight differences in dress, appearance, body language and gesture – an unintended extra aspect to the series due to the length of time he has been engaged in it, is that he has also recorded how this has changed over time. Eijkelboom explains: “what becomes almost invisible due to its prevalence, the accumulation of coincidental phenomena of which the significance is not yet clear.” (Bakker, 2020)

Eijkelboom describes his photographs as “photo notes” and his process as:

“simply that I walk to the centre of the city where many people are. Then I walk around for 10 to 15 minutes. When something in the crowd intrigues me or touches me, I decide that will be the theme of the day. Then I start photographing for two hours. Many times, it goes wrong: I don’t see anything, do I don’t photograph that day; or I go to the city, see my subject, start photographing and, surprisingly, in the next two hours never see my subject again. And then, for that day, there is no photo note.” (Petridis, 2014)

Alex Petridis (2014) sees the work as simultaneously mundane and compelling with a hypnotic, repetitious quality. Despite the superficial similarities in the way people look however, it is significant that these accentuate the subtle differences in the individuals photographed: “the longer you look at them, the more nuances become apparent.” An article in the BJP expands the notion:

“The people depicted in each collage are wearing very similar outfits, making the images initially look like a comment on the loss of individuality; on closer inspection, each person has put their own stamp on the clothes, hinting at the persistence of each personality in our increasingly homogenous societies.” (British Journal of Photography, 2017)

Street Fusion: Bristol in 2019 (2019):

This series, commissioned by the Martin Parr Foundation and exhibited in 2020, is described by Eijkelboom as “a continuation and departure” from ‘People of the Twenty-First Century’. The work was made in Bristol over a period of 11 days when Eijkelboom made images around different themes each day. In an interview, he describes the difference in his methodology between this and the earlier project:

“For the first time, my photos are not on display in isolated groups, but as part of a continuous stream of observations during walks in the centre of Bristol. The basis of the exhibition is the question: which is more important for forming our image of the world — the isolated moment or the continuous flow of more or less repeating images that come to us every day? The exhibition has two ambitions: To show a moment from the stream of images that form my world view, and provide a fleeting snapshot of society in Bristol.” (White, 2020)

Martin Parr makes this comment on Eijkelboom’s work:

“If I were an anthropologist, the first photographer I would call upon is Hans Eijkelboom … Over a long career, he has photographed mainly in the street, observing people and places with the discipline, rigour and engagement that has all the hallmarks of anthropology. In fact, if I were a visitor from another planet looking for information on the nature of city life, I would engage the services of Eijkelboom.” (Williams, 2020)

Links:

Bibliography:

Bakker, T. H. (2020) The ideal man. British Journal of Photography, issue 7892, February 2020.

British Journal of Photography (2017) Hans Eijkelboom gets a major retrospective in The Hague. Available at: https://www.bjp-online.com/2017/09/hans-eijkelboom-retrospective/ (accessed 7th February 2020)

Feil, M. (2007) Paris-New York-Shanghai. FOAM. Available at: https://www.photonotebooks.com/PDF/FOAM-ENG.pdf (accessed 11th February 2020)

Gierstberg, F. (2006) Hans Eijkelboom. Available at: https://www.photonotebooks.com/PDF/Museum-Rotterdam-ENG.pdf (acessed 11th February 2020)

Godfrey, T. (2007) The work of Hans Eijkelboom. Available at: https://www.photonotebooks.com/PDF/Tony%20Godfrey.pdf (accessed 11th February 2020)

Kessels, E. (2016) Failed it! London: Phaidon Press Ltd.

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Arles 2014: Hans Eijkelboom and the unbearable Dutchness of being. The Guardian, 11th July 2014. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jul/11/arles-2014-hans-eijkelboom-dutch-group-show (accessed 11th February 2020)

Parr, M. (2007) Introduction in the book Paris – New York -Shanghai. Available at: https://www.photonotebooks.com/PDF/Martin-Parr.pdf (accessed 11th February 2020)

Pellerin, A. (2014) Hans Eijkelboom on photography for aliens. AnOther. Available at: https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/4045/hans-eijkelboom-on-photography-for-aliens (accessed 3rd February 2020)

Petridis, A. (2014) Same but different: Hans Eijkelboom’s tribal street photography. The Guardian, 23rd October 2014. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/23/hans-eijkelboom-street-photography-tribes-people-twenty-first-century (accessed 11th February 2020)

Roelstraete, D. (2011) The mass ornament – revisited: reading from Hans Eijkelboom’s Photo Notes. Afterall. Available at: https://www.photonotebooks.com/PDF/Dieter%20Roelstraete(Afterall).pdf (accessed 11th February 2020)

Roelstraete, D. (2014) Hans Eijkelboom. Documenta 14. Available at: https://www.documenta14.de/en/artists/13568/hans-eijkelboom (accessed 11th February 2020)

White, R. (2020) The photographer proving we’re not so different after all. i-D. Available at: https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/k7e83e/hans-eijkelboom-photographer-street-fusi-bristol-in-2019 (accessed 13th January 2020)

Williams, (2020) Hans Eijkelboom’s snapshot of Bristol. Creative Revoew. Available at: https://www.creativereview.co.uk/hans-eijkelboom-street-fusion/

3 thoughts on “Hans Eijkelboom

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