Face to Face with Nature
Rob Nypels (Leiden, 1951) lives and works in the almost virginal, isolated and inaccessible French Massif Central in Auvergne, where he has been developing his photographic work since 2006. But life wasn’t always so pure and quiet. After graduating as photographer from the Jan Van Eyck academy in Maastricht, Rob Nypels left his home to travel throughout Europe. Along with his travels, a time of movement, of various places, people and discoveries begun. In the 80s Nypels was an active part of the Dutch art world; he moved to the northern city of Groningen were he joined the local artists cooperative De Zaak, known for its affinity with the concept of art-philosophy. Photography served as a means to document journeys and projects, to capture the memory of crafted objects and significant places.
Now, in Massif Central, Nypels portrays nature, the unavoidable, unpredictable nature that surrounds him. “I organize nature because I have a large vegetable garden, a flock of sheep, acres of land with fruit trees, all which need to be taken care of for the harvest”, he says. His photographs reflect the emotional aspect this process entails: the process of living in and from nature. Branches, leaves, flowers, trunks, mountains and water are portraied purposfully out of focus, quite often in close-ups, letting (sun-)light slip though and giving form to nature. We can distinguish the shapes, the colours, we know what’s behind but there is always a veil of blur keeping us from the satisfaction of total vision. “It’s not always easy. A tree can become ill or be demolished by a storm after years of growth; taking care of animals is a daily devotion…”. The lack of sharp images transmits this sense of uneasiness but it also confers a sense of touch, bringing nature closer to the viewer by means of the haptic. The “haptic” refers to the tactile, the way the eye is compelled to “touch” and object, achieved by image distortion effects such as out of focuse, graininess, over-and underexposure, etc. In this way, Nypels steals sharp vision but gives us a more sensual, velvel-like image for our eye to touch, as he permanently does with his life.
Nypels work has been described as romantic, as a re-interpretation of photographic landscape but I can’t help thinking that the closeness to his environment and the objects he photographs, translates into nature portraiture. The definition of “landscape” entails an expanse of scenary. Traditionally in art, landscape painting of photography entails a certain distance, a representation or a construction of a natural scenary. Looking at Rob Nypels works the sense of directness, of carefull approach to nature is very strong: a face to face encounter, often a close-up portrait. French philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote that ‘the affection-image is the close-up, and the close-up is the face’ but beyond the face, he argues that the close-up and affection-image (an image that expresses and creates affect) is not limited to the face. Objects, landscapes and other images can be ‘facialized’. So does Nypels ‘facialize’ nature and his photographs become affection-images that bare the unpredictable and the experience of the photographer who inhabit his own subject. On the one hand, Rob Nypels photographs represent today’s need to fear nature and to protect it and respect it on the other: the sublime, the greatness remains but it has been tamed with a timely need to resonate and vibrate with nature.