Joris Vandecatseye lives and works in Ghent, Belgium, but his photographer’s bio is all about the idea of the wanderer – all his walks and travels are documented with photographs, then collected in a book. Currently he has 26 of these books and scrapbooks. “I could define my way of working as one of free expression and aimless wandering. Strolling around and identifying situations, compositions and details of the world surrounding us.” In this way Vandecatseye is like the character of “The Flâneur” invented by french writer Baudelaire in an influential essay which originally appeared in Le Figaro newspaper in 1863. The French word flâneur means someone who strolls, or saunters around in the crowd, observing. The late, great designer Alan Fletcher (one of the original founders of Pentagram) acknowledged the importance of the flâneur in his book The Art of Looking Sideways, “Charles Baudelaire described walking down city streets in the 1850′s as an adventure, more dramatic than any play, richer in ideas than any book. One should become, he suggested, a Flâneur, (a stroller or saunterer). Flâneurs don’t have any practical goals in mind, aren’t walking to get something, or to go somewhere. What flâneurs are doing is looking. Opening their eyes and ears to the scene around them, wondering about the lives of those they pass, constructing narratives about the houses, eavesdropping on conversations, studying how people dress, and street life in general. Flâneurs relish in what they learn and discover.”
Vandecatseye’s work (like all good photographers) is the art of looking sideways. This open-ended practice of wandering, and looking, and framing, is a simple creative tool invaluable to commercial photographers. Vandecatseye’s work draws attention to two core skills of the professional photographer – firstly to create a compelling edit of reality. “Isolated in the frame of the photograph and cut off from the context I transform a banal reality into something enigmatic.”
And secondly the photographer’s craft is in creating an edit of that edit. With a smartphone, everyone now takes pictures on their travels, but the skilled pro, the Flaneur, weaves together a narrative, a story, a tale, that’s both focussed and open-ended and doesn’t have to feature people.
So “Leave On” is the story of a journey through America told in the shape, colour and objects discovered by the eye of the photographer.
“The 32 photographs collected in my book ‘LEAVE ON’ were made during a 6 week road-trip through the US,” writes Vandecatseye. “We set off in Atlanta, crossed the southern states, and arrived in San Francisco by the end of May, 2013. Edition is 25. Self-published, self-printed and self-designed.” In this way Vandecatseye is also a very modern photographer, the multi-skilled and talented DIYer.
The images are haunted by the absence of people, calm and measured post-apocalyptic spaces, decorated with signs, footprints, traces of people – what’s ‘left on’ as it where.
In this way “Leave On” is about the visible, how the eye of the wanderer frames and sees.
Why the title “Leave On”?
The title was very important to me to create this project. When I started the roadtrip I had no idea what the result would be. I just took pictures like I normally do. But maybe with more freedom in my mind. I took photographs of things and situations that got my attention. Atmosphere, light, color, small stories…
When I got home I let the photographs rest for a couple of months. Then I made a first selection of about 500 photographs, I printed them via a cheap online photo-service.
And so by watching them and laying them out next to each other, a series started being made. But I didn’t find the right title. It was a hard exercise to find one – because I understand the importance of a good title. All the time the title was so close. There is one photograph in Leave On with a lightswitch and some tape, written on the tape are the words ‘Please Leave On’.
To take this as a title only felt right because of the multiple meanings of “Leave”. It’s like “go on, or “leave on”. To be on a road-trip, passing so many things on such a short time is always a bit of leaving. Before you see the photographs you mostly see the title. And I think “Leave On” speaks to the imagination.
The series feel like ‘found’ images form a movie set. What was the criteria for the final edit?
About the ‘found images from a movie set’: I think that is an interesting vision. I like the idea. But for me the final criteria maybe was just being free in watching and looking for a romanticised America. And that might be the link with cinema. (In my phone I had photographs of William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Robert Frank… to keep with me, as inspiration. Not to copy, but to learn.)
Most surprising image?
Most surprising images to me are the ones of atypical subjects. Like the pink flowers, or the red handrail. They are pictures I saw at that time, but probably not many others would see them. It’s something special when such a photograph turns out to be a good one.
See more of Joris Vandecatseye here