WassinkLundgren by Buck
Dutch photography duo WassinkLundgren have long been honing a penchant for capturing the ordinarily mundane in abstract and amusing ways. Having bagged the prestigious Prix du Livre for Best Contemporary Photobook at the Rencontres d’Arles Photofestival last year (with Empty Bottles, a compelling record of the lives of Beijing’s scavenging population), the pair are already getting the photography world talking with a new publication Don’t Smile Now... BUCK caught up with one half of WassinkLundgren, London-dwelling Thijs groot Wassink, to find out more.
Spread from Empty Bottles, 2007
How would you describe the WassinkLundgren aesthetic?
I don’t think we have a certain aesthetic, or at least we do not aim for one. Very often it is simply the outcome of an idea. I’m interested in looking at my direct environment and giving things a twist.
What inspires you?
Being in a city like London or Beijing. Especially when I feel I know the place very well and at the same time realise I’m a total outsider.
'Still Searching' (2006), questioned the photographic medium itself. The final image selection was made only after all the books came back from the printers and WassinkLundgren tore out the pictures they disliked. The booklet was included in the selection of best books of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
Tell me about your new series, Don't Smile now...
This is something I’ve been doing last year here in London: letting photo booths take pictures of their environment. By using a mirror, keeping the curtain open and paying the necessary £4, the booth took a polaroid of its own surroundings. The result is a strange collection of photographs in which the machine dictates both subject and timing. The pictures show shopping malls, post offices, trainstations, all commercial areas where you are normally not allowed to take a picture
When did you begin the project? Were there any unexpected results?
The first picture in this series was taken about one year ago, more as a play then a possible new project. I was just messing around with a photo booth to see what else it could do. The first picture is actually one of my favourites: a very uncanny image of a man who’s looking straight into the lens. In a way every picture in this book was unexpected. Timing, location, lighting and quality of camera were all out of my hands. I think because the outcome of every image was so unexpected and different from the previous one, I got addicted to making more and more. And then you end up with a book…
What does your work hope to inspire in others?
To look and then look again. I really love this small twist in works where something very familiar looks totally fresh and new because it’s been put into a new context.
What’s been the best/worst reaction to your work?
The best reaction is every time somebody reacts to it in a genuine way. When people are amazed or surprised by something. And it becomes of course better when these reactions come from people or artists I admire myself. But also when people make a lot of effort trying to explain why they think it’s bad, is something I’m happy with. Maybe not at first, but after a while I really am. The worst reaction is when people just shrug their shoulders and move on: ‘So what?’ But unfortunately that is always going to happen, there are just so many people!
Spread from 'Don't Smile Now...'
What’s hanging on your walls?
Not much at the moment, I recently moved flat. There’s a poster by Stephen Gill, a map with some London galleries and a mirror. But normally there are loads of newspaper clippings, post cards and magazine pictures. I’m not very interested in big photographic prints on my walls. Most of the time I get more excited by books. There are bookshelves on my wall!
What’s been the proudest moment in your career thus far?
I’m not sure if it was the proudest moment, but winning the Prix du Livre at the Arles Photo festival was something quite amazing. The idea that the jury looked through all these books, picked ours and said: ‘I think this one!’ But the feeling I like most is when I realise I’m busy with things that I really enjoy. That really is a great feeling.
What’s next for WassinkLundgren?
At the beginning of 2009 we are planning to do a project in Tokyo. For now we’re just planning, reading and speaking about it, so I have no idea yet what it will be. But I’m looking forward to it!