Paul Kooiker was born in 1964, he lives in Amsterdam and studied at ‘Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten’ . We are glad to introduce you to his art practice, research, and to one of his most recent books : Political Chaos.
How would you describe your aesthetics in a few words?
I play with perception.
I think we can say you belong to the generation of photographers who participated, in recent years, to the growth of the Dutch photography. As a major actor in this scene, what do you think of it?
It is great to see the interest in Dutch photography, such a small country with many outspoken and peculiar photographers. I think you can not speak of a Dutch school, the best ones are all quite individualistic.
You have already published numerous books, you also collect them, and I feel that the Book is kind of a goal in your photographic work. As a medium, what is the place of printed matter in your creative process? How do you consider this particular book?
The place of printed matter in my work is very important, because I need for my series always a lot of images to come to the essence. A book is for me the perfect medium to present a big amount of images.
During my visit to Amsterdam, you told me that you had to stop some book project that was in process with some publisher because you were not satisfied with the final result. What do you think of the explosion of the “market” for independent publishing, and the consequences in a qualitative point of view?
I believe that it will not hurt if there is such an explosive growth for independent publishing.
It is important and inspiring when there is a lot of enthusiasm in publishing. People take risks. That’s good!
You are also the co-founder of Archivo which was a publication in the field of photography. It was a bi-monthly journal, fully dedicated to the personal archives of photographers, and each issue presented the archives of two photographers in two independent quires.
From “Photographer” you became to “editor/curator”, what do you remember of this experience?
I have made this project together with Willem van Zoetendaal. It was a special experience but also exhausting. To work with talented friends and colleagues was fantastic. But the whole organization, for example, the distribution was frustrating.
Can you tell us about the residency you did in China where you created the content of the work Political Chaos? Have you been back there since?
I went there in 2006 for 3 months. You feel in China the sensation of economic growth. They see Europe as a big museum. When you are there you understand that.
I went back to exhibit my work at the world expo in Shanghai in 2010. And I had to change the title for political reasons.
Your work as an artist is extensively around the series in general, how do you consider the concept of a series?
Trough those series, and the amount of images you produce, what is the importance of the editing process in your work?
I am not so interested in a single beautiful image, I always need more images to tell my story. Because of that I like to use images which are wrong, ugly, out of focus, too dark,…etc etc.When I finished a new work I’m so involved in my work that I need for editing help from outside in the person of Willem of Zoetendaal. He edited and published almost all of my books.
When we published Political Chaos, many people were surprised by its contents and did not expect this type of work from you. Even if we can recognize your way of collecting images in series, and that it contains a notion of “voyeurism”…
What do you think of people who see your work only mainly through bodies of female figures that are sexualized, almost fetishistic details of women’s bodies?
I have no problem with that. Luckily I can still surprise people.
I still believe that ultimately the whole oeuvre is the important work. The series are just puzzle pieces.
The addition of a circle, plus a black background and a colored color filter, brings a strong graphic point of view to your images and to the book. What is your relation with graphic design? Is it something you are trying to bring into your photography?
In my work there is no relation to graphic design. But in my books, yes of course, but that is logical.
You also teach photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy (Amsterdam).
What is your relationship with your students and what do you think of this new generation of photographers that you have in front of you?
As a teacher I try to be clear and honest. That is not always good for the relationships with the students. (haha..) I am very positive about this new generation. They are not afraid to experiment.
And I am glad that they can easily take distance from the documentary tradition.
I heard in an interview with Werner Herzog saying that the most important advice he gives to his film students is to read, read, read… he keeps repeating it, and also walks with no shoes. What is your advice to young photographers?
In the repetitive style of Herzog I would say work, work ,work…. get your inspiration from life and not from the art world and please keep your shoes on!
You do very few commissioned work, yet you recently shot a limited-edition art book for Rick Owens, featuring the Spring Summer 2013 label’s shoes, bags and accessories for women. Under what conditions happened this project and what is your relation to fashion in general?
I only did one commissioned work in my life and that’s the book for Rick Owens. We came together because he likes my work. He gave me carte-blanche for the book with only one restriction that there should be a shoe in every image.
In parallel to the Political Chaos book, we invited you to do a T-shirt collaboration for our men’s wear line. The photography we used is issued from (the serie) “Black Meat”‘ what’s the story behind it?
‘Black Meat” is a Collection of 72 images of swans in Zurich/Switzerland.
I used this title because in the medieval times, swans where the symbol for the unreliable and hypocrite, so they said that underneath their beautiful feathers they had black meat. Today black meat is used in the gay scene (google).
How do you refresh yourself, what are your influences, how do you find new ideas for projects?
What are the new projects you are working on?
I can not tell because I always feel ashamed of new projects (that means I’m on the right track)
Conversation with Paul Kooiker, Amsterdam, March 2013. Photography by Études Studio.