A camera obscura project by Jonny Vekemans & HET VERVOLG / COALFACE
Our Heritage is gold. With that statement, a mobile art studio and exhibition is touring through Europe this summer. A sea container, painted in gold, is eye-catcher and temporary homebase for artist Jonny Vekemans and his team. Through an old and simple photography technique, he inspires residents of cities in the Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Germany and Belgium to rediscover their industrial heritage.
Tin Box, golden container
A cannikin pierced with a tiny hole and photo paper in it: that’s all that is needed to create great pictures. Belgian artist Jonny Vekemans developed his own version of the’ camera obscura’ and takes the methodology on a tour in Europe. An huge golden container serves as a dark room and exhibition space. At every stop during the tour, local inhabitants add their photographs to the expo. During the final conference of the project, on October 15th, the complete exhibition can be seen in C-mine in Belgium (Genk).
Our heritage is deeply rooted inside us
The golden container is the Belgian contribution to the European project ‘Shift-X’. All European project partners aim to strengthen the sensitivity for our industrial heritage. Old industrial buildings, like these on the coal mine area’s in Belgium, are deeply connected with the soul and identity of a region and its inhabitants. ‘Heritage is an important factor in the identity of people’, says Paul Boutsen, project coördinator at Het Vervolg in Belgium. Since years, Paul is working on the protection and disclosure of the industrial heritage in the former mining area of Flanders, Belgium.
Determent for the identity of people
In Limburg, Belgium, much of the industrial heritage is preserved very well, thanks to protective measures from the government. ‘Just imagine that the Flemish government had not done so. Then, all the buildings would have been gone forever. We can’t imagine how different our region would have been if that would have happened’, Paul says. Artist Jonny, a former miner, agrees and tells the story: ‘In Heerlen, the Netherlands, once I met another ex-miner. He was very moved by my photo’s. In his region, all these mining premises are gone. The emotion he had about that was like he lived just for nothing. If you take away the heritage, you rob the identity of people. It is felt that deep!’
Looking with new amazement to what you already know
Jonny and his team dream about sowing a new kind of amazement in the heart of people living in old industrial regions in Europe. The process is extremely simple. Local residents get a tin camera obscura in their hands. They go out in their environment, looking for an image that touches them. They learn to look to the light, open the tiny hole for a few seconds and close it again. And then, their image is –so to say- ‘in the box’, burned on the paper. In the dark room, Jonny develops the negative. The negative is digitalized afterwards, and projected on a large screen at the exposition.
Learning again to look closer and to appreciate what you see
‘People do learn to use their eyes again’, Jonny says. ‘No one takes a close, careful look nowadays. With the camera obscura, people learn to look closer to their environment, the buildings, the light. In the box is only one photo paper, so you really have to look close and careful before choosing your image. You learn to take your time for that again.’
European tour started
Mid June, the container left Belgium for a first visit, to the Czech Republic. A girl about the age of ten made a deep impression on Jonny. ‘She was so shy. She came to ask if she could try to make a photo. I gave her a box and explained her how to handle it. She left, came back and I developed her photo. With wide open eyes, she looked to her photo on the large screen. She turned around and ran outside. A few moment later, she was there again, with her family, being very very proud.’
Soon, the container will move to Austria, Germany and Poland, to arrive again in Belgium (Genk) on October 14th. At each stop, residents add new images to the exposition. All taken with the camera obscura technique. Jonny: ‘In all its simplicity, the camera obsura is a wonderful experience for the users, completely different from the digital photography we are used to nowadays. And by the way: the technique is approximately as old as our industrial heritage is.’
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