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Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

A life navigated through photography

Photography / Nucleo by Wouter Van de Voorde. Published by Area Books. Reviewed by CON BOEKEL

Words cannot convey the sheer pleasure of holding this book and going back and forth through it, turning the pages, unfolding and folding the foldouts, stroking the paper, all the while blending the pleasures of sight and insight with that of touch.

The cover illustration of Nucleo.

It is the antithesis of the more than trillion digital images captured annually that saturate our visual world but which, like myriad sugar hits, fail to satisfy.

Having migrated from Belgium, Canberra-based Van de Voorde speaks of navigating life through his photography. There are several connected seas he sails here: family, ego, spirituality and belonging.

Nucleo, Italian for “core”, is fundamentally a family album, intended in part as a memento of his family’s young life. It is a family album like no other.

The imagery is often of family figures immersed in evocative landscapes, searching and absorbing. There are smaller stories within the larger story of family life. There is contemplation. There is tension between ego and spirituality. There is wit. It is typical of the book’s layered complexity that it can be read equally well backwards or forwards.

Such light! Muted, Van de Voorde’s landscape light and colours contrast with the blinding clarity of the impressionists. The vegetation is often untidy, tangled. The urban scenes feature urban furniture – fences, powerlines, backyard playground equipment, with decrepitude here and there symbolising the passing of time.

Invited to use post processing to “clean up” some of his images, Van de Voorde refused to do so. The dark room may not always deliver digital perfection but sometimes “imperfect” results are a better mirror to life.

Van de Voorde has a casual and unassuming technical mastery. His use of flash is outstanding. It flattens subjects, layers visual and conceptual elements, moves foregrounds back and backgrounds forward. It often strips visual elements to the bare essentials. It freezes action, capturing the moment. Light and darkness create tensions between immediacy and mystery.

The viewer/traveller is left with work to do, options to explore and journeys to take.

Despite living and working in Australia for two decades, Van der Voorde is possibly better known overseas than he is in Australia. He is part of the PhotoAccess team which generates and supports significant creative output.

In 2023 he received a Canberra Critics Circle award for Death Is Not Here… It was extensively and favourably reviewed overseas as well as domestically and rapidly sold out. Despite the hefty $150 a copy, the Nucleo edition of 450 is very close to being sold out as well.

Nucleo was designed by Laure-Anne Kayser. The design process involved close collaboration with Van de Voorde. The result pushes the concept of “photobook” to new limits.

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