Zuijderwijk / Vergouwe • Photographers, Netherlands

Vanishing Landscapes

Landscape Stories: Your latest project Vanishing Landscapes is about the seductive vanishing landscapes photography. Can you tell me?
Zuijderwijk / Vergouwe: Vanishing Landscapes is a project about the natural artificial landscape.At night we photographed little islands on a lake near Amsterdam. The islands emerged because of the peat winning in the 1920s and haven’t been touched since then.In these islands we found a beautiful paradox of an unnatural landscape.They are both natural and artificial.


Landscape Stories: You take pictures of places that display their unique aura in particular at night time. This theme has up until now not really been a central concern to photography or painting in the last Century , I think to the “Chiaroscuro” of baroque paintings. Although the nocturnal challenges painting and photography, both processes originating in the juxtaposition of light and thereby colour and tonality. Tell me about it.
Zuijderwijk / Vergouwe: Our idea for the Vanishing Landscape series was to use a strong characteristic light, to emphasize to artificial aspect of the landscapes. In one of our previous projects we used the “Clairobscur/chiaroscuro” lightning for a portrait series. For this series we were inspired by 17th century portraits of Rembrandt, the Dutch master who was very familiar with the clairobscur. When we researched the light for the Vanishing landscape series, we started by using the same light as we did for the portrait series. It was a necessity to work at night in order to create a dark background. We were amazed by the results, the details and the finesse.


Landscape Stories: Which is nature and trees for you? Can you explain it?
Zuijderwijk / Vergouwe: We are both fascinated by the diversity of nature itself , as well as the human concept of nature. For our last project ‘ The Volgermeer Recreated ‘ we documented the transformation of a strongly polluted area near Amsterdam into a nature reserve. We researched the resilience of nature in this artificial surrounding. As we live in a small country, people talk a lot about the use of public space. One interesting trend in the Netherlands, is the increasing amount of agricultural land transformed into nature parks. As a part of that process, there are the many discussions about the human concept of nature and the added value of those rewilded landscapes. We try to comment on those discussions through our photographs.So on one hand there is the concept and on the other hand there is the natural process that starts as soon as people leave.Nature in any form is endlessly inspiring.


Landscape Stories: I introduced the idea of landscape because I think the way Linneo built up his nomenclature structure, which basically works through comparisons and similarities, didn’t consider the question of where the specific object of study comes from, that is, the difficult and complex concept of landscape. Landscape can be considered to be one of the main genre of photography since its origins. What do you think?
Zuijderwijk / Vergouwe: We think that the complexity and diversity of landscape photography is one of the reasons why landscape photography nowadays can still be considered one of the main genres of photography. For us landscape photography is more complex than just a way to document the world we live in. We also see landscape photography as a way to learn about ourselves and to comment on the changing views on our relationship with nature. Therefore the place of the photograph and history of that place can become a big part of the story. For instance, we didn’t show any signs of pollution at the ‘The Volgermeer Recreated’ series, but the information about the tons of chemical waste (isolated in foil) still lying underneath the nature reserve, can change the way you look at the images.
Landscape Stories: What is the Sublime for you? Is it part of your vision?
Zuijderwijk / Vergouwe: The Sublime is part of our vision. When we look beyond the human concept of nature, in all the details and coherence within nature, we experience the sublime.


Landscape Stories: There is obviously not one truth. There are many versions of the same reality.What do you think?
Zuijderwijk / Vergouwe: We agree. Photography is all about different realities and different perspectives. Although we hardly manipulate our images and we try to capture as many details as possible,by using studio light, we create a landscape that is only truth for a 10th of a second.
Landscape Stories: Do you feel to be an heir of the photographic epic tradition of the North Europe?
Zuijderwijk / Vergouwe: We do not feel an heir of the photographic tradition of the North of Europe particularly. We are influenced by many different artist from different parts of the world. Right now, we just have a lot of ideas for new work, and it’s hard to look at your own work and see if your part of an epic tradition. We will be able to answer that question after 20 years.


Landscape Stories: You always work together, can you tell me of your perfect work feeling?
Zuijderwijk / Vergouwe: There was a time when we worked solo, like most photographers. The moment of photography, when everything comes together, can be very intense. In fact, those experiences are an important drive to do the things we do. It’s very nice to be able to share those moments. Working together gives us the ability to reflect and discuss on our work. We experience a better process and a better result. Besides that, there is the physical aspect.We photographed the Vanishing Landscape project from our 20m long ship, on which we live. To manoeuvre the ship in the pitch dark and to lighten the little islands was quite a job and only possible because the two of us.

Interview by Camilla Boemio