Artist in The World, an unprecedented project by photographer André Smits
By AMARIE BERGMAN, JAN. 2017
Edgar Degas may have been the first to detect the allure of portraying an artist by experimenting with photography as a visual memoir. Voilà +/- instant immortality. Man Ray to Mapplethorpe, among others since, have traced and retraced this genre pretty well to a fine point; The Famous/The Greatest in mostly frontal, often confrontational, close-up poses. Nothing like how André Smits approaches things, partly because his focus is so egalitarian. The sole criterion is artists: he always photographs them from behind, usually at a distance and within their studios. So far, since 2008, 3440 images document the restlessness of his international transience with superlative evidence. Smits surely secures a place in the genre’s lineage by advancing inclusivity, technique and archival volume. An unprecedented project, even its magnanimous title has a delirious simplicity: Artist in The World.
We co-observe the solitary artist-as-subject with Smits; simultaneously our muscles register the same temporary stance when he paused between breaths to touch the shutter release. Without having to make eye contact, we can look into the photo. Gaze. And stare. By affording the luxury of lingering, a kind of neural rapport happens: subtleties of its unique graph seem to infiltrate the vastness of perceptual memory.
“Symbolic of themselves,” was how Richard Avedon described the portraits he took. Smits could say the same about his; moreover he exposes condensed realities, symbolic of the artists, where their work comes into being. If photographing the silence and light of architecture is, according to David Cardulús, “the art of fixing a shadow,” then the fixation here also depends on the dimensions of a specific studio and placement of its contents. We are invited into, what Bill Henson terms, “a whole other world or this whole other sensibility,” accessing an entire momentary context of spacetime: a secluded room – where we likely will never visit – of a nearly anonymous back view of an artist – who we might never recognize face-to-face – whose actual work we may never see. Well, maybe if the stars align with improbable synchronicities. Oddly enough, by multiplying variations of alternative contexts thousands of times Artist in The World somehow reassures the psyche of its own inimitable worth.
The project’s beginning was modest. In 2004, Smits was living in his small hometown of Hoek, Netherlands, when he was invited by a friend to photograph a musician. One thing led to another in a way neither he nor anyone reckoned on: he developed an obsession. These days he roves around the globe photographing as many artists as possible and, time permitting, art collectors, curators, gallerists and directors too. “Every itinerary is determined by encounters on the way. Each arrangement is part of an organic network,” Smits explains. This month, once again, he’s in New York before flying off to Buenos Aires. Annual sponsors receive two ‘link-maps’ as monthly gifts: an exuberant, psychedelic drawing illustrating the connections between the photographed artists and a collage of the images taken on the journey.
Stephen Shore noted that restrictions develop a taste for certainty. Smits set his limits years ago: no stylists, props, extra lighting or special effects. Accompanied by an EOS 60D Canon and a wide-angled lens, he is limitless in the array of artists willing to risk privacy or comments about vanity in what-has-become an enviable assemblage. The attraction might be that André Smits, paraphrasing Maurice Merleau-Ponty, gathers together the plurality of the individual into a single whole.
Artist in The World, the Never Ending Art Trip, dovetails with social media’s influence on our quickened attention spans: we adore the ephemeral. Coincidentally, ephemerality adores the euphoria of stillness.
André Smits: Artist in The World
For the web survey of his photographs, travel itinerary, sponsorship information and schedule of exhibitions: http://www.artistintheworld.com