Rob Nypels (Leiden, The Netherlands, 1951), the son of a Napolitan father and a Dutch mother, grew up in the Indonesian port town Surabaya and in the Netherlands. He now lives and works in the almost savage, isolated and inaccessible Massif Central in the French Auvergne, where, since 2006, his photographic work has evolved. After graduating as photographer/conceptual artist from the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, Rob Nypels left home and travelled around Europe for many years. Together with his travels began a dynamic time of movement, of various places, people and discoveries. In the 80’s Nypels was an active part of the Dutch art world and was represented by ‘The Appel’ in Amsterdam. He laid the groundwork for the publishing house ‘CRES’ and the celebrated ‘illegal’ restaurants ‘Au Bout De La Nuit’ in The Hague and ‘Europe’ in Amsterdam. He then moved to the northern city of Groningen to become an active member of the artist cooperative ‘De Zaak’, internationally recognized for its involvement with the concept of art-philosophy. For Nypels, within the context of De Zaak’s philosophy, photography served as a means to document journeys and projects, to capture the memory of crafted objects and significant places. Even though he currently resides in nature, his past in urban spaces and interactions with others remain extremely important in Nypels’ work, as he has always sought to explore the causal relation between ‘untamed’ rural life and nature and ‘refined’ urban culture.
In the Massif Central, Nypels portrays nature – the unavoidable, unpredictable nature that surrounds him. ”I shape nature because I have a large vegetable garden, a flock of sheep, acres of land with fruit trees, all of which need care in order to have a harvest”, he says. His photographs reflect the emotional aspect this process entails: the process of living in and from nature. Branches, leaves, flowers, trunks, mountains and water are portrayed purposefully out of focus, quite often in close-ups, letting (sun-) light slip through and give form to nature. We can distinguish the shapes, the colours; we know what’s behind but there is always a veil of blurriness keeping us from the satisfaction of total vision. ”It is not always easy. A tree can become ill or be demolished by a storm after years of growth; taking care of the animals is a daily devotion…”. The absence of sharp images transmits this sense of uneasiness but it also confers a sense of touch, bringing nature closer to the viewer by means of the haptic. The ‘haptic’ refers to the tactile, the way the eye is compelled to ‘’touch’’ an object, achieved by image distortion effects such as out of focus, graininess and over/under exposure, for example. In this way, Nypels steals our clear vision but instead gives us a more sensual, velvet-like image for our eye to touch, as he does in his life. Nypels’ work has been described as romantic, as a re-interpretation of the photographic landscape, but I can’t help thinking that this closeness to his environment and the objects he photographs actually translates into nature portraiture. The definition of ‘landscape’ entails an expanse of scenery. Traditionally in art, landscape painting and photography entail a certain distance, a representation or a construction of natural scenery. Looking at Nypels’ nature photographs, the sense of directness, the carefulness in his approach to nature, is very strong – a face to face encounter, often a close-up portrait. French philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote that ”the affection-image is the closeup, and the close-up is the face”, but he then argues that the close-up and the affectionimage (an image that expresses and creates affect) are not limited to the face. Objects, landscapes and other images can be ‘facialized’ as well. In this way Nypels ‘facializes’ nature, and his photographs become affection-images that convey the unpredictable and also bear the experience of a photographer who inhabits his own subject. Rob Nypels’ nature photographs represent today’s need to fear nature; but also to protect it and respect it: the sublime, the greatness, remain, but they have been tamed by the necessity to resonate and vibrate with nature.
Lately Nypels has wandered to inhabited cities, towns and villages in the area, from which new work has emerged. These are not monumental images of urban grandiosity. We see buildings, streets, what seems to be a cafe terrace – all taken as if walking through, passing by. He sees the cities, the places, the people. He sees movement, as it is in reality. And then he takes it all home with him as merely a hint of a memory that can never again be portrayed as it really was. There is no obsession with visual detail in his work: ”I want to see animals, enter houses and see people embrace each other. I want to see boats on waves. To look at train stations and airplanes,” he says, and what we see is an impression of it. Perhaps instead the obsession is to connect together certain memories he can later create again, which, through the blur of the image, will be different every time, just as our own memories are. Not even once can we recall things in the same way. Nypels’ urban photographs are still blur and haptic, we are still unable to achieve a sense of total vision; but now the photographed subject appears to be far from the objective of the camera. Buildings are always seen slightly, if not completely, from afar. The cityimage is approached as if it were a landscape, treated with distance, whereas the natureimage was treated as a portrait. Of course: Nypels inhabits nature but with urbanness, he is merely passing by; inhabited places become places of transit. If his camera brought us sensually closer to nature, here it acts as a filter, translating urbanness into a recognizable interface – that of the artist’s emotional state of mind. Traditionally the objective of urban landscapes has been to communicate physical aspects of urban areas, but in this case Nypels attempts to catch the fleeting moment as he passes by, by not letting us see the physical but only the affect of his presence on, and the tactile texture of, the city’s surface. The surface of the image is the surface of our retina; both photographer and image become one on the surface as if the city was looking back at him, at us. Vivian Sobchack, film theorist and disciple of French existential phenomenology philosopher Merleau-Ponty, unites subject and object in both the existential and the embodied act of viewing, becoming film – in this case photography (and the photographed object). Viewing object and a viewing subject become one. In both the nature portraiture and cityscapes series, the artist becomes one with what is being photographed, casting aside any notion of an objective photography that can act as a means of capturing reality as it (really) is. Rob Nypels’ photographic work stands for subjective, personal photography conveyed by images of what in principle is considered ‘the world out there,’ which, absorbed by and through the lens, becomes ‘the world within’.
— Caridad Botella