Every photo by Rob Nypels embodies an atmosphere of tender tranquillity. And every photo is also an ode to the casual, the transient, in some cases the commonplace. For whomever has the right feeling and enough patience every object, every scenery, and maybe even every moment contains a certain mystery. In Nypels’s oeuvre nothing is truly ‘knowable’; the photographer leaves us, the beholders, deliberately in the dark, including in the case of photos that offer a glimpse of something very concrete. A large, leather armchair in an indeterminate room, for instance. Or: the side of a car that has blurred to a soft, white sheet. A table cloth that is almost tangibly waiting for the ‘company’ of cutlery, plates, glasses, for the small choreography of a carefully laid table. The fragile stem of a little ship that’s presumably moribund.
We can ‘simply’ look at these photos, but at the same time we have to admit that we’re not very sure of what it is that we’re seeing, possibly because Nypels has invested his photographs with so much character that everything he captures has certain characteristics that we would normally only associate with people. The main features of Nypels’s images are: concealed, introverted, intentionally cautious. The aforementioned leather armchair is unmistakably robust and comfortable, but it is also a shy armchair. This photographer steers clear of loud-mouthed and brazen objects, landscapes or townscapes.
In thinking and writing about photographers there almost seems to be a ban on the near-cliché expression ‘the decisive moment’, coined by Henri Cartier Bresson – fortunately this ban is not complete, for Nypels’s oeuvre exudes the extreme patience of a precise and roaming photographer. Nypels doesn’t seem to be looking for something or someone, but has his feelers out for tableaus, sceneries and objects that in turn seem to be waiting for this decisive moment: the moment in which they are prepared to yield up their essence and being to the right person with the right eye and the right amount of devoted attention.
Some of Nypels’s traits may be carefully distilled from his oeuvre. Here we see a man at work who takes the utmost care not to impose himself upon his surroundings. His photo equipment is not a weapon to get reality under his thumb, but it is more of a first aid kit, used to swathe details from reality with both reticence and precision. He swathes them with a shroud that leaves the dignity of these objects intact.
That shroud, that diffuse world, consistently implemented in every photo, is Nypels’s way to give the world its gentleness back. In Nypels’s work nothing looks harsh or deterring. It seems as if the photographer has explored his surroundings, looking for elements that would tolerate a true caress – and then the photographer presses the button, with immense tenderness. Yes, this is the way it should be: Rob Nypels is a chastely caressing photographer. Light is his companion. He waits for the moment in which the light will briefly adapt to his empathy and tenderness.
Pussyfooting is a way of walking, but it’s also possible to look in a pussyfooting way. Rob Nypels possesses an eye that is able to whisper almost inaudibly. When you’re gifted with this rare way of looking, the chances are greater that the immediate vicinity, but also a faraway and vast landscape, or a snowy mountain top, will show themselves in their usually hidden defencelessness. Nypels is indeed able to unveil this defencelessness.
This mystique of visible things, as the Dutch novelist Louis Couperus called it, will only be unveiled and recorded when the cautiously observing photographer – with a top athlete-like concentration – leaves everything around him undisturbed. Some photographers like to overwhelm. Other photographers prefer to be overwhelmed. Rob Nypels belongs to the latter category.
The photographer who is willing and able to be overwhelmed by reality in all its facets would equally be willing and able to efface himself. This self-effacement requires patience, practice and, above all, a ‘disconnection’ of the ego. The photographer must be completely ‘empty’ at the moment the aforementioned mystique of visible things fills the immediate vicinity.
In a book entitled ‘Illuminations’ it is inevitable that Arthur Rimbaud’s name should come up. The final line of ‘The Bridges’, one of the prose poems from Rimbaud’s famous collection ‘Illuminations’, indirectly offers some insight into the unique reality in which Rob Nypels finds himself when he discovers a glimpse of the mystique of visible things by chance: ‘A white ray, falling from on high, annihilates this comedy.’ Just before this ‘comedy’ is ‘annihilated’, Nypels pushes the button, I imagine. The photographer must outsmart the white ray of light. It is a race against the clock, but also a race against his own ego.
Light is of course Nypels’s foremost companion when he is roaming the area. But light is also an element that is particularly hard to ‘tame’. One moment a tableau or scenery may bathe in an irreplaceable light, whereas it may dissolve the tableau or scenery at another moment. The large, leather armchair in an indeterminate room will remain the large, leather armchair in an indeterminate room, under whatever star or under whatever incidence of light, but that single white ray, suddenly coming from on high, lifting the large leather armchair from its own material state in a nanosecond – that ray is so volatile that it seems to escape photography, so to speak. For his photos Nypels depends on that white ray, as coined by Rimbaud.
Rimbaud’s ‘Illuminations’ also contains the poem ‘Fairy’. In this prose poem I find a phrase about ‘impassive radiance, in astral silence’. Rimbaud has the light perform an impossible feat here: it gets into an impassive state. This is trying us to the utmost: does anyone truly know this ‘astral silence’ and does anyone know light that is truly ‘impassive’?
After all, the most striking feature of light is its dazzling speed. I had to look it up, but the speed of light is usually taken to be186,000 miles per second. Only in the unknowable domain of astral silence does this speed apparently get into an impassive state, at least according to Rimbaud.
In our utmost humility we can only guess at this astral silence. To know is to measure – but in Nypels’s case: to guess is to efface. To erase. I’ve said it before: Nypels effaces himself in aid of his photos. This self-effacement is a sine qua non to penetrate the deeper layers of reality. Somewhere in those deeper layers a shadow of a shadow of a suspicion of a hint of this ‘astral silence’ may be perceived, I imagine.
Every photo that is added to the mystique of visible things becomes a new, autonomous Thing itself. In ‘Zielenspiegel’ (‘Mirror of the Soul’) Dutch author Harry Mulisch wrote a poem about the essence and being of the Thing: ‘This thing is no ending, but the beginning of something infinite.’ Each one of Rob Nypels’s photos complies with Mulisch’s line: his photos unveil the magical moment where the beginning – however volatile and evanescent –of something that is taken out of the realm of the temporary and is now added to the dazzling realm of which we may only have conjectures and fantasies, at best, may be perceived: the enchanting realm of infinity.
— Joost Zwagerman