It’s not often that the industrial backbone of the Antwerp docklands is celebrated for its beauty. Still, the way in which Dutch photographer and filmmaker Thijs Koelink captures the area in the exhibition Structures: Abstract Analog Antwerp, is undeniably elegant.
Dutch photographer Thijs Koelink captures Antwerp’s docklands in a monochromatic experiment
The panoramic black-and-white photographs, on show in Antwerp’s new Gallery Louiza, are abstract constructions of industrial lines and graphic patterns. Each image is a product of a double-exposure technique the 31-year-old photographer mastered through experimentation. In a time where we’re using smartphones to filter our digital images to get fake analogue effects, the authenticity is refreshing.
Just before the opening night of Koelink’s first solo show in Flanders, he sits in the gallery’s courtyard admiring how crisp the oversized photographs look across the bright room. “I love that the space has a bit of Asian influence, as Japanese culture has inspired my own work,” he says, referring to the bamboo trees and wooden spirit house that recall gallery owner Elly Kostense’s three decades of expat life in Asia. “The space is also very clean and intimate,” continues Koelink. “It really complements the monochromatic tone of the photographs.”
Monochrome and Japan are common elements in the projects curated by Studio Ayqido, the multidisciplinary design collective in Utrecht that Koelink started with his partner, fashion designer Manuela Eringaard.
Just a few hours later, the same courtyard is packed with people sipping coriander cocktails. The wall is animated with a captivating projection of the Robodock video footage that Koelink created to complement his static images.
Surprises of analogue
Koelink studied documentary photography and design at the Utrecht School of Arts. As a student, he lived in a building occupied by a mix of squatters and paying tenants, a perfect subculture subject for the multimedia installation he made as his graduating thesis. The project quickly gained attention and was exhibited in London’s world-renowned Saatchi & Saatchi gallery, as well as photo museums in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Eventually, Koelink “became a bit fed up with harassing people on the street to take their picture. When you have to ask for permission, your moment is gone”. Instead, he has opted to focus on the element of surprise. “I lived on ‘the little island’ of Antwerp from 2009 to 2010 and was always fascinated by the structures and industrial feel of the area.”
He started wandering the dock area with his panoramic camera, shooting the cranes aligning the Scheldt River, the Mexico bridge at the Houtdock and the MAS building – then still a construction site. Once when his film roll ran out, he decided to shoot the same roll a second time on a whim. Intrigued by the result, he continued the experiment, meticulously constructing each image until he was completely satisfied with the result.
“With analogue, what you get is a big surprise,” Koelink says. “You could create a similar effect digitally by setting the opacity and overlaying them. But these have been made manually, which makes them more objective and incalculable.”
Until 30 June
Louizastraat 13, Antwerp