these photographs humorously skewer our image obsessed world
Joost Termeer’s ‘This Reminds Me Of An Experience I Never Had’ simulates how we’ve lost touch with reality.
Photography Joost Termeer.
“When I visited the Eiffel Tower in Paris, I could only think of how beautiful it looked on the photos I had seen of it, and how ugly it looked in front of me,” Joost Termeer marvels in the introduction to his series “This Reminds Me Of An Experience I Never Had.” The Dutch photographer, not long out of art school in Utrecht, uses his work to address the jarring discrepancy between hype and reality—a fitting theme of our time, what with alternative facts and fake news, where skepticism prevails and authenticity seems near unfathomable.
Images may be false promises, but they are also a driving force in what makes us curious, and they fuel a kind of totemic escapism we all crave. Termeer plays with the seduction of illusion is his technicolor-hued work. He photographs the body up close, suggestively accentuating beads of sweat on the collarbone or tufts of hair on the inner thigh. The objects he gazes upon are so bright and shiny they’re almost perverse, somewhere between exquisite and queasy—like the candied-apple quality of a motorcycle, or wall tiles as aqua as a travel poster for the Maldives.
Termeer’s was on view at Haute Photographie, an annual fair in Rotterdam (which ran from February 7 to 10) that mixes works by established photographers with emerging young talents; Termeer’s work is highlighted amongst the latter. He discussed the indistinguishable nature of real and fake, the appeal of advertising aesthetics, and being creatively stimulated by everything from Baroque Italian sculptures to food packaging.
Your Instagram declares itself “visual vomit.” What does this term mean to you?
I added that line a while ago because a graphic designer asked me to shoot something for him but first had to convince his business partner—who reacted to my iPhone shots by saying something like "I like his point of view, but most of the images are quite sloppy and badly edited.” So I wanted to make clear that a lot of content is not finished, high-definition images, but just some interesting visual things. I prefer my profile to showcase my view on the world rather than just professional images.
How do you play with color—do you create a saturated palette from the get-go? Do you heighten saturation in editing?
It’s a mixture of both. I do create a palette of colors from the get-go, but when I finish editing, I also look at each color and work to make each the perfect shade or intensity. I usually go for contrast: a warmer blue, a cooler red. Or I desaturate a certain color to make another color really pop. Every image goes through that process: editing each individual color until I think it's perfect.
How would you qualify the role of humor or exaggeration in your work?
Humor and exaggeration are both of vital importance, but I don’t want it to be the main point. Humor can have a certain bluntness, a directness that grasps your attention.
As for the exaggeration, I want my work to reference over-the-top-realness, the plastic fantastic of the most common images we see around us every day: advertisements. It's very compelling to me how close these images seem to our perception of reality when in fact they usually are so far away from it—but we still believe them. Everyone can imagine a sunset on the shores of Hawaii, but I doubt it will ever look like that. We have been—through film, photography, and other media—taught a certain dream-like reality. I want to reconstruct such a reality. By mixing some surrealist aspects with very realistic images, my work holds up the illusion. I think it’s a strength that my work looks very real and very fake at the same time. I take inspiration from looking around me, walking through hardware stores or supermarkets. We like mugs with pictures of sunny cities, we like a Greek restaurant to have fake pillars painted on the walls: we like to be fed those dreamlike realities. We like to be taken away for even a second to another world where things seem better or more beautiful. For me, those images depict a representation of a different world that has been created by someone.
Do you think of photography differently when you make a product from it, like a lounge chair, or have to consider dimensional space for an installation?
The process of photography itself is half the fun. The other half arises when I question what a photograph could become—so the photograph basically is a material for me to work with. Hopefully this process of turning photographs into an object evokes a question: how do we relate to photography or art when it has become a product or an object? Do we judge the object on itself, or the photograph? Do we even think of it as art?
In “This Reminds Me Of An Experience I Never Had,” you discuss the—very relatable—disparity between the image of something iconic, like the Eiffel tower in Paris, relative to its disappointing 3D reality. Do you think the fact that photography makes things larger-than-life is ultimately more problematic than a beneficial escapism?
French philosopher Jean Baudrillard theorized we are living in a world in which we have lost touch with all that is real. Instead, we have based our reality on things that we have created ourselves; copies of things we have seen somewhere or heard from someone. He calls this world a hyperreality, where things have lost their original meaning and have gotten new meanings instead. The copy has become the original. All of those copies are now codes and models with which we shape our reality. And photography plays a big role in this. I don’t think it’s really bad… but I think it causes more problems than benefits in general.
Which photographers, or other artists of any medium, do you admire?
I’m a very big fan of Wolfgang Tillmans. In fact, I started to study photography after my best friend showed me a magazine with a series of photographs he made of necks of men. There was something in these super ordinary, beautifully cropped and quite sensual images that sparked a belief in me that I could turn my love for photography and my creative will into something bigger. I have always been deeply love with his work.
Also, food photography from anywhere between 1950 and 1980 turns me out!
And Toiletpaper Magazine!
What else do you draw inspiration from beyond photography?
I get inspired by the practice of sculpture. In contemporary art, my big dream is to one day witness a work of art by Christo and Jean-Claude. The way they wrap buildings, trees, coasts or islands in fabric seems so silly; trying to hide something that only gets more visible because of that. I would say I have a (non-sexual) fetish for material, specifically fabric. That’s why I love a lot of Bernini’s marble sculptures: the incredible fine details in hair, muscle, skin, facial expressions—and in cloaks and other fabrics most of all—make me gasp for air.
In addition, I get a lot of inspiration from advertisements, cars, shiny materials, food packages, the nineties and '00s, and elements that seem unnatural, constructed or fake. The contrast between beautiful, indomitable nature and the carefully constructed world in which we move is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for me.
That parody of consumptive culture, especially the tourist element, evokes Martin Parr. How much has his work marked you?
I am a huge fan of Martin Parr’s work. His use of color and flash in daylight situations has inspired my aesthetic choices throughout my years at the art academy. I know he's been photographing at the locations I have visited as well, and that our aesthetics and subjects have a lot in common. When I started my graduation project, I told myself that I could not take photos of anything Parr had take photos of—that being impossible, of course. I have tried to always put a lot of myself into the image by recreating memories, encounters and experiences from my travels into my studio in the Netherlands. That way I would have total control over what would be in the image and I could try to blend this hyperreality with images from my travels to dissolve some boundaries between what is real and what is not.
- Joost Termeer