‘Landscape Icons’ is an on-going photographic project by Dutch photographer Janne van Gilst. Initiated in 2014 after graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Art in The Hague, the project explores and deconstructs the Dutch landscape. By using different methods and techniques, van Gilst searches for iconic elements within the environment and then isolates them from the backdrop. Almost like a scientist, she’s dissecting her surroundings and, by doing so, makes visible what is hidden: information about how the landscape was made, the human influences in it and the history of its development get revealed. To the photographer, those ‘landscape icons’ exemplarily characterize the identity of the Dutch landscape – a country whose land is almost entirely shaped and touched by the human. We had a chat with the young photographer about her ways of working, her photo projects and what is up next.
Can you describe your process of project ideation?
I always walk around with many different ideas in my head. Some of them have been there for quite long, others are new. They originate everywhere and at anytime. Someone once told me I should always write them down and put them in a visible place; the wall for example. In this way the seed has been planted and is waiting for further development. When the time is right I start working on them.
How did ‘Landscape Icons’ start then?
This project started out a bit differently. I would call it more an artistic experiment. It all started with one of my works ‘Geestgrond’. In this project I let the stories of the Dutch island Noord-Beveland, where I grew up, come to life by combining them with the typical, abstract landscapes of the island. There’s a work called ‘Wilgenkring’ in the series, which is a picture of a group of trees in this landscape. Because of the empty, flat, vast Dutch landscapes these different shapes stand out. When I realized this, I started seeing these ‘Landscape Icons’ everywhere. Most of them I discovered while sitting in the train, looking at the landscape flashing by. From this moment on, I started capturing them.
Does your work involve a great amount of preparation? Or is your way of working more improvised and intuitive?
For this project I didn’t prepare that much at all. I just started working on it. This was the first project I did after my graduation and it felt amazing to just make something without thinking about it too much. During my studies there was always a lot of focus on the conceptual part of a project, sometimes this meant the artistic experiment came second. After graduating, I enjoyed the freedom of experimenting. The ‘Landscape Icons’ were a result of this. Other projects do take more time to prepare but I think that with every project it’s important to experiment with the artistic outcome. For me the perfect project is one that’s innovating in a conceptual and artistic way.
‘Landscape Icons’ is a long-term project. How do you maintain momentum through the course of photographic projects like this?
This being an experiment based on the technique, it’s easy to keep developing it. There are still so many more icons I would like to capture. I spot them everywhere; even other people who know about the project spot them for me. Some will end up in the series; others might open up new series. For example the ‘Vlakexperimenten’ project is the most recent development, which elaborates on the ‘Landscape Icons’.
Your photos address the environment and the impact it has on the human and vice versa. What do you want to create with your project?
I want to raise certain awareness; an awareness of our surroundings. We are so used to control our surroundings. We observe changes in both rural and urban landscapes, but seldom contemplate the impact this has on the wellbeing of nature, our climate or on ourselves. We underestimate the impact our surroundings have on us. I think it’s amazing to see how much information a certain landscape can contain. So take a moment to breath in your surroundings; to think about al the memories, stories and history it contains. It’s of great value and should be considered whenever a change is made.
A beautiful approach. What’s up next?
Currently, I’m working on a project about the UK. I traveled there in June 2015 and loved it, especially the way its inhabitants see the landscape and have value for it. It feels like the landscape takes up a bigger part in their collective memory compared to a lot of other European countries. This is very interesting and makes me feel at home there.
Janne van Gilst will show a first part of a series developed in the UK in an exhibition in Utrecht end of June. This series will be published soon, so keep track of Janne van Gilst’s website, instagram and facebook.