Noortje Schmit

Noortje Schmit

Introspective photography

by Noortje Schmit (The Netherlands)

The project that I started as an assignment for this workshop is about my grandmother’s grandmother who was left abandonded in 1841. Where does she come from? How was her life like? Who was she? And subsequently, where do I come from?

Portfolio from the Photographie Introspective workshop with Michael Ackerman, November 2013.

Written review by ANDREAS J. HIRSCH,
Independent curator, writer and photographer

As Noortje Schmit explains in her text, she found an answer to a question about a specific project she brought into the workshop. The set of 12 photographs she put together as a result can be seen as standing by itself as well as in possible relation to her project about an ancestor. The outcome was, if we follow her report from the workshop, that text would come first and existing images might be added later. So the concentration on finding a photographic expression of the family story was replaced by a more relaxed way of contextualising photographs. This may be an unsual precondition for putting together a porfolio like this one, but surely it is a valid one for working with photographs and imagery in a more general sense.

We see photographs almost devoid of people, only in two occasions there seem to be people visible in reflections. Some photographs show life animals, others artificial ones. Most of the nature visible is artificial as well, as in a zoo or in a museum. One photograph indicates a circus or similar form of entertainment. Only one photograph contains text, the line "HERE IS ALWAYS THERE", and it show a structure which seems to be part of a railway station. Again no people to be seen. – And Noortje insited that her photographs were actually about people.

In fact, people are responsible for almost everything that can be seen on those photographs. It is a man-made world that Noortje is showing us. We may suspect that it is owed to the patience of the photographer that there are (almost) no people visible, but also a different scenario could have taken place: That the pictures show a world without people, a recurring theme in an apocalyptic sub-genre of science-fiction literature. It was a genre which was especially famous when the knowledge about the global destruction potential of nuclear warfare hit the public mind in the 1950ies and 1960ies. The space suit in image 4 seems to support this version, while the animals strangely do not disturb it. Animals have also returned to Chernobyl, which is still toxic land.

Noortje's ancestor she is working about, was - as she tells us - left abandoned. The premises on the photographs have this abandoned touch and the life animals also might have been abandoned. Several of the photographs in the series show doors or windows, through which someone might well have recently left the scene. Notably in image number 5, where the curtain elements do not hang down evenly, the still lingering presence of someone only just gone, is maybe strongest.

In the first and in the last image there is a barrier blocking the way. In image 1 the barrier blocks the way for us and probably also for the animal that seems to have turned away and changed direction, thus moving out of the frame. In image 12 the barrier keeps the horse from going away, keeps it confined, which would mean it was condemned to death if it was actually abandoned.

The horse is also the only living being in the series that comes real close to the camera, almost getting in touch with it. – I notice that when looking at the photographs so far, I am never referring to the photographer, which I would usually be inclined to do. Maybe the feeling of abandonment is so strong that we feel alone in and with the scenes and that the photography seems anonymous. Which, I would be inclined to say, is a compliment to the photographer.

Noortje mentions that W.G. Sebald was recommended to her by Michael Ackerman. Sebald's very special blend of fact and fiction, of ficticous fact and factual fiction, is probably a very good recommendation for a situation where the historic facts about one's ancestor are slim. Without knowing the texts she has written, we can see from the photographs she selected how she is actually pursuing this path.

The prevailing feeling of abandonment in a double sense in those photographs and the dream-like, failing efforts of orienting ourselves – all this perfectly relates to the partially intuited and imagined ancestor. It is an interesting way to go that also seems to be consistent with Noortje's other photographic work. The missing link of fact and fiction, of knowledge and imagination, of text and photographs has been found.


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