In a culture where “¯\_(ツ)_/¯” is an acceptable response to both questions and statements, sincerity has become a rarity to be cherished. Like a breath of fresh air, Dutch photographer Maurice van Es’s now will not be with us forever (RVB Books, 2015) provides a welcome alternative to the haze of apathy, distrust, and sarcasm that permeate contemporary media and visual culture.
The “book” is comprised of a slipcase containing eight booklets, each of which features a different-colored pastel cover and interior paper types ranging from heavy gloss to a soft, almost translucent matte finish. The objects themselves are wonderful to behold — like a plate of petit fours, each one carefully considered and assembled to produce the highest sensory pleasure. And van Es’s attention to detail and celebration of form and color continue in his photographs. For “Textures of childhood” (2012), he combed family albums and then photographed magnified details of objects like his parents’ fitted sheet, his bedroom wallpaper, and “the big couch.” In addition to a description of each item, van Es includes a date range, which represents the time period during which the objects appear in the snapshots. By applying a kind of lifespan to the textures, van Es imbues them with vitality uncommon to inanimate objects.
An investigation of the passage of time saturates the project as a whole. For “New life” (2012–14), van Es chronicled his changing relationship with his younger brother who, upon turning sixteen, refused to be photographed. Van Es responded by producing a series of images of his brother slipping behind the corner of their house in an attempt to evade documentation; the result is a candid portrait of adolescent exasperation. In stark contrast to the younger van Es son’s distaste for familial affection, “To me you are a work of art” (2011) offers a heartwarming tribute to their mother. Described simply as “Unintentional installations made by my mother,” the booklet breaks the bound format and instead consists of a pocketed folio holding five posters depicting domestic scenes. Folded towels, stacked remotes, and hanging laundry become a visual matriarchal ode. “I love my mother,” Maurice told me matter-of-factly. But the books never come across as saccharine or twee; instead, the images demonstrate van Es’s veneration of the traces of human interaction.
As a whole, Nnow will not be with us forever acts as an expanded self-portrait, recording the small miracles in van Es’s life. While the majority of the booklets engage with his exterior life — six of the eight focus on van Es’s relationships with others — the two thickest booklets, “Putting on 2012” (2012) and “The past is a strange place” (2010–present) reveal the author as the subject. The former features details of every item of clothing van Es wore in 2012, while the later contains “photographs made while living [his] life.” The images here demonstrate van Es’s keen eye for the bizarre details of the everyday. Through his use of a powerful flash, van Es emphasizes his subjects’ idiosyncrasies and often pushes them to abstraction.
The impulse to reveal the often-unnoticed strangeness of the world has motivated photographers since the advent of the medium. Van Es presents a refreshing curiosity, which, paired with his ardent observation, illuminates the world’s unintentional works of art.
Now will not be with us forever is now available from RVB Books.