In an email to Anouk Kruithof, Brad Feuerhelm wrote “There are also waaaaay too many people simply editing images of a vernacular sort. […] I believe there is a grand difference between being an arty editor and an artist. I am the arty editor and you are certainly an artist.” This statement goes to the core of what has indeed become very popular over the past few years. If we want to accept the distinction between an arty editor and an artist, the question of course becomes: what does the artist do that the arty editor doesn’t do? The answer is – in part – provided by The Bungalow, a book in which Kruithof boldly pushes the boundaries of what can be done with vernacular photography (the quote comes from one of the various emails, which Feuerhelm exchanged with Kruithof and which are reproduced in the book).
It all begins with Feuerhelm’s collection of vernacular photographs, from which he pre-selected a set of a 2,500, to present to Kruithof (I remember seeing this number somewhere in the book, but now I can’t re-find it). Kruithof, in turn, whittled these down to 500, which she took to a place somewhere in the south of Holland, “the bungalow,” to work with or maybe more precisely on them.
As far as I can tell, there are different levels of working with vernacular materials. Even the arty editor breaks down into how arty you get, how much of an editing you really do, ranging from mostly just finding material to finding material based on some category, with the latter being either a category in the pictures themselves (for example pictures of dogs) or something beyond that (for example pictures of men wearing funny jackets). There’s nothing wrong with such approaches per se, even though things can quickly feel a bit stale.
In contrast, artists working with vernacular photography usually treat it as raw material in the actual sense, as material that can be changed or modified in as drastic a fashion as they can think of. Seen that way, The Bungalow might come at the more extreme end, which will make it not very easily digestible for those who prefer their soup thin. Well, c’est la vie. That is art, after all. Artists can do whatever the hell they want.
Kruithof is a rare breed, in that she is a conceptual photographer who manages to infuse her work with a lot of exactly the kind of energy, fun, and passion that is usually completely absent from the genre. On top of that, where most conceptual photography never manages to get beyond the concept itself, Kruithof’s work usually (but not always) transcends its original ideas. This really is the only kind of conceptual photography I enjoy, where the concept is less of a rigid skeleton or scaffolding that holds everything together than a springboard, from which all kinds of other things might derive.
The material in The Bungalow usually is reworked heavily, if not beyond recognition. It is so tempting to keep vernacular photography in its original form, to, indirectly, celebrate the often quirky way it was made. Kruithof, in contrast, decided to create something entirely different out of material that, I think, most other artists (or maybe arty editors) would have preserved. A series of bondage photographs end up getting essentially disemboweled, their subjects – as far as I can tell mostly women – cut out, literally cut out. Mind you, the viewer gets to see those cut outs: there’s a spread that shows a pile made from them.
Process itself, the means of creating something new out of pre-existing material, plays a large role in the book. The bound women were literally cut from their source images. A large number of spreads shows screenshots (or parts of them) of what looks like Photoshop in action, including the various tools available in that software: guide lines, frames, … Describing things this way probably makes the book a lot less interesting than it actually is. The basic strategy behind its making is simple, the results are anything but.
The Bungalow is divided into a set of chapters, each of which uses different strategies to re-work the original source material, and which use different types of paper (there are large section printed on blue paper, for example). While I do feel that the book would have benefited from a tighter edit – reducing it to about 50% of its material probably would have been a good improvement, the book still demonstrates what can be done with vernacular photography beyond artful edits. Anyone interested in this type of photography might want to have a look.
The Bungalow; images by Anouk Kruithof, based on vernacular photographs from Brad Feuerhelm’s collection; 272 pages; Onomatopee; 2014
Rating: Photography 3*, Book Concept 4, Edit 2, Production 4 – Overall 3.4
(ratings explained here; * the rating for “photography” here refers to the vernacular images)