A series based on Slovakian fairtales collected by Samuel Czambel and Pavel Dobšinský. Sometimes sweet, mostly cruel stories about mankinds values, there is much to learn from these stories.
All these lessons of life are so well told that they spark your, well… at least mine, imagination. It did when I was young and it did again when I started reading them before I started this project.
A long list of situations, objects and figures was made from the tales. In the making I travelled through the country with Boris, my provider, guide and soon to be friend. We slept, talked, smoked and ate spam at windmill river sides, forests, garden and old communist hotels. I received a lot of help from all the people we met and who sometimes appear in the images. One story led to another and this whole travel and search for folkloristic fairytale stories became so real it was surreal at many moments. Luckily I still have my diary to remember the beautiful things and dramas that occured.
Zuzana Lapitková, curator, Central European House of Photography, Bratislava
Jaap let himself be freely inspired by what he came across. Without premeditated intention, the series of photographs that has arisen is of almost unified colour scale, green, brown and gold; a scale used also by numerous Slovak artists portraying this country.
All shots commonly reflect an atmosphere of somehow extraordinary reality, when everything seems normal, only a detail or an angle of view causes a disturbance from our letargy of daily life. It is not important at all which picture is staged and which not in this series by Jaap Scheeren. A clearly defined view of the photographer strongly connects all pictures in one body of work. All together and each for itself, they offer a statement which can reflect an impression of fairy tales in Slovakia. If a viewer is seduced to combine them all in one story or invent a new one for each picture, he can always be sure it is the right approach.
As its title suggests, Scheeren’s most recent body of work – 3 Roses, 9 Ravens, 12 Months – remains unfixed in many ways, yet retains a very subtle sense of focus. The project is inspired by and various scenes, stories and illustrations discovered in a book of Slovakian fairytales, and is centered upon the unique coalescence of fantasy, morality, truth and nature found in such stories. As one would expect from Scheeren, the portfolio incorporates a diverse range of photographic styles and strategies – still-lifes, landscapes, portraits, constructed performances, open-ended narratives, and so on – all of which invoke the humor, mystery and underlying menace of traditional folklore. A golden feather glistens in an otherwise black void; a human figure looms beneath the green-grass surface of the earth; a blinding light radiates from the heart of a tree-trunk split in two; a woodland hunter sturdily sits in a stone grotto cradling his rifle; a face, full of surprise, fear or perhaps panic, peers out from the innards of a tree; and from a smoldering pile of dry, dead turf rises the head of a dragon, a dinosaur, a griffin or some other primordial or mythic beast.
Again, Scheeren has forgone the absolute, exacting promise of photography and has instead utilized its potential for lyricism and uncertainty, appealing not to our more mature pursuits of fact, rationale and truth, but instead – like folktales themselves – to our most primal, childish senses of both worry and wonderment. That said, this does not mean that Scheeren’s images are completely shrouded in the imaginary, for photography is uniquely and forever grounded in reality, and it is important to recognize that he is not alone in using fairytales to find photographs. From the ‘Cottingley Fairies’ to Clare Richardson’s Beyond the Forest, many images throughout the medium’s history have been inspired by such stories, precisely because of both the vivid imaginings and fundamental truths that they conjure up. In fact, as Richardson subtly implied in a previous issue of this very magazine, it is for this very reason that photography can be seen as being closely related to this particular form of storytelling in that, rather than reproducing the world accurately, it distorts, enhances and transforms reality into its own unique fable, yet in the process retains an unavoidable hint of veracity: as she explained it, ‘Every folklore has a bit of truth.’
Ultimately, 3 Roses, 9 Ravens, 12 Months, represents Scheeren at his most seriously playful, and his most playfully serious; at his most clearly uncertain, and his most uncertainly clear. Because of the childish associations inherent within the work’s source of inspiration, Scheeren is free to abandon the role of impish prankster in his artistic approach and perspective, and to explore with his distinctively wandering, wayward and wonderful eye the nature of tales, the nature of photography, the nature of the artist, and importantly in this particular body of work, nature itself. Describing the common themes within these particular photographs, Scheeren has stated, ‘Sometimes I truly feel that I need to connect to nature, maybe even to become one with nature. My friends tell me that I get so absorbed with it that they start to believe I will become Mother Nature’. Of course, just like in his work, as soon a touch of pretension or arrogance – Wurm’s ‘lofty and important pathos’ – enters the discussion with Scheeren, a self-effacing punch-line is bound to follow: ‘But I know that I wouldn’t be a good mother.”