It’s not easy being Eric de Vries, battling to keep alive the art of the photojournalism print essay at a time when conventional wisdom says that the format has had its day.
Big-picture, print-photo essays have almost universally been consigned to the dump as the dinosaur baggage of a supposedly vanishing “traditional” press, and some of de Vries’ recent work hearkens back to the glory days of Life magazine.
But of course Life is dead.
Dead in the water, too, is the project de Vries thought The New York Times would run – initial interest in the concept was strong, he said, but his compelling Siem Reap slaughterhouse series proved too compelling for print consumption.
Still, it was an interesting series, beginning in black and white with pigs being delivered on motorscooters to the slaughterhouse by day, then transferring to colour to capture the hideous blood-soaked charnel house horror of the killing by night.
“I showed how they do the slaughtering here in Siem Reap and it was really horrible. What I showed was far too heavy for The New York Times,” de Vries said.
Nowadays, Eric and his ilk have taken to the galleries to get an audience for their work, which is now tagged documentary photography, and last year the Dutch-born photographer kicked things along in Siem Reap by setting up his own photo gallery in café-cum-bar 4Faces, which he opened in conjunction with others.
But last week de Vries walked away from his stake in 4Faces. The café will continue, but the photo gallery is no more. Eric, who has plans for a new photo gallery in the future, explained that combining a bar, café and gallery was a compromise that didn’t work.
In the meantime, though, de Vries is also intent on keeping his art alive by embracing new media and going online.
Recently, he set up a photo collective, SEA/Collectiv, with five other photographers: Cambodia-based Dave Perkes, Janos Kis and Steve Goldman, plus Thailand-based Richard Reitman and Geoff Croll from Scotland.
Six weeks ago de Vries published an online PDF magazine, titled Moments, which featured an interview with guest photographer, the UK’s Simon Larbalestier.
The 22-page magazine also devoted two pages to each photographer in the collective, in order to show audiences new series being worked on. While five of the photographers presented documentary work, de Vries spun off into his other specialty, fine art, with two pages of work titled Taped, in which he photographed taped things, like flowers taped to a wall, and two pig faces with their eyes taped.
De Vries said, “I was happy with the response to the first edition. We had 700 downloads, which I think is very good, and we’ll launch the second edition of Moments later this month.”
The collective is also working with a new online Japan-based photography magazine called Latitude.
The concept of the magazine is to have 60 photographers located around the world shooting on the same day, and SEA/Collectiv’s four Cambodia-based photographers will submit local material.
For the inaugural issue due out next week, de Vries shot the Cambodian component featuring photos of the day at the Siem Reap garbage dump.
July marks a return to the gallery format, a collective group shoot to be exhibited in Phnom Penh’s Chinese House. The theme of that exhibition is “Lost” and each photographer will give an interpretation.
Finally, de Vries is also planning to do a series on the work of Dutch artist Peter Klashorst who used a mobile phone to photograph the photos of people interred and killed at Tuol Sleng. Klashorst’s phone snaps will then be rendered into artworks, and de Vries will document by photo the entire process Klashorst undertakes.
“I’m to make a documentary of the entire process, which will become a submission for the Noorderlicht Photo Festival in the Netherlands. I also hope my photos can in turn be exhibited in Tuol Sleng.”