In a career spanning more than forty years, Eric van Dieren has patiently constructed his personal, unique body of work, choosing to distance himself a little from ephemeral spotlights and stages, not to wait for the return of so-called “slow photography”, and neither following, nor expecting anything from, fashions and trends.
Nevertheless, he has spent a lot of time over more than three decades at INSAS (the Institut national supérieur des arts du spectacle et des techniques de diffusion, a film and theatre school in Brussels), where he ensured the survival and development of its photography studio, following closely on the heels of Edmée Lagrange. And his work shows clear signs of having been influenced by cinematography, music and poetry, or, to put it more simply, by the world in general, but he always takes time to ensure it his done at his own pace, keeping the world at an appropriate distance.
His body of work is sober and sometimes dark. His collections sometimes resemble reportage of anecdotes or travels, but are never trapped in a single genre.
His images touches on the themes of questioning memory, of the permeation of art, emotional relationships, solitude, the creative process, Tuscany and Israel, dense forests and the disorder in artists’ studios (sometimes in one and the same enigma). They are always monochrome silver-nitrate prints, made slowly: a process which permeates them and reveals their associations and influences, which are handled in depth and yet reveal the lightest of touches of a painter or a poet or a thoughtful essayist who doesn’t think it beneath him to take up his pen and confront the creative process. For van Dieren, photography is a discipline, a non-obsessional but nonetheless permanent exercise that is both worrying and joyous.
His world is surely not well known enough, despite at last being celebrated with this retrospective exhibition at Contretype and the publication of a monograph. His work certainly does not have the spectacular flashiness that catches the fleeting attention of the public or the mass/social media. Unclassifiable and timeless, yet always current, van Dieren’s work addresses the part of us that is open to sensations, that can be amazed, but also that questions itself, and that still makes an effort to ask itself what it means to take photographs while remaining suspicious of too-easy answers.
The process of making images is like an endless beginning, without having to prove anything, simply to see something there, again and again.