Bieke Depoorter's new book comes in an unadorned protective box, with just the name and title printed in large letters on the front. There is a brief text on the back side. Full of expectation, you want to draw the book out of the cardboard, but the block is fixed. Even though the slipcase suggests an upright format, the book itself is mostly full of landscape format images. So you have to turn the whole thing 90°, and then you can immediately be drawn into the series.
Many photographers develop a plan before beginning a project, to minimize any eventualities. Depoorter chooses a diametrical approach. Chance is her most important component. In 2008 she set out on the Trans Siberian Railway. Time and again, she would get out at a station, stop passers by – who spoke a different language to her – and hold up a paper in front of them. On it there was a request for a place to sleep. The experiment resulted in rough, empathetic pictures that reveal the most inner seeds of family life. The images brought the photographer immediate fame and a number of awards, exhibitions and an associate membership of Magnum.
For the new series I am about to call it a day, she takes a similar line. She hitch-hikes all alone throughout the USA. Despite the fact that she speaks the language, it is still a real adventure to speak to people and then go home with them. On the other hand, the ease with which her hosts are willing to make her part of their daily lives, starting from the knowledge that she will soon be moving on, is unfathomable. The Belgian artist interweaves images of the landscapes she passes through in the daytime, with pictures of the places where she spends the nights. On the road again.
When she gets somewhere, she does not necessarily take pictures – in fact, the camera frequently remains unused; but there are moments of agreement, where she portrays people at the end of the day, when they can relax and let their masks fall. At those times great things emerge: a couple embracing, lonely people with sad eyes, youths who find that having an unknown guest is a welcome change, and who open up their rooms and then their hearts to her. One time, there is a letter that someone gives her, describing a cloying uneasiness of being. The photographer shows us the drama of the American family, as well as the societal setting in which it thrives. The viewer is overwhelmed by the sparks of intimacy that these pictures convey. Peter Lindhorst
Bieke Depoorter: I am about to call it a day.
Edition Patrick Frey. Zurich 2014
43 pages with 42 colour photos, 28 x 42 cm
57,00 Euro, www.editionpatrickfrey.com
The Freelens Gallery in Hamburg presents photographs by Bieke Depoorter’s series – open from 5 February to 20 March.
All Photos: © Bieke Depoorter/Magnum Photos