“The uglier the better!”
JOOST TERMEER is a rising photographer spoofing the deception of the unblemished life, which he asserts only exists on postcards, in holiday brochures and Crazy Rich Asians. No wonder he named his 2018 exhibition, which explores the “realm of hyperreality” and the void between mirrors and mirages, This Reminds Me Of An Experience I Never Had. He’s eager to capture the unwanted and disregarded, and particularly fond of capturing man-made objects “because they teach us about ourselves and our yearning”. Glamcult got to quiz the young artist on his upbringing, creative benefits of Instagram, professional ambitions, and parodying as the act of love.
Where did you grow up? Were you a creative child? And what was your first interaction with photography?
I grew up in a small village with one school, two churches and a café in the Middle-South of the Netherlands, surrounded by nature. I have two brothers and three sisters, and my parents used to breed Shetland Ponies for shows, so there was never a dull moment. I remember as a kid I used to draw and paint a lot, but I was not raised with art and culture. For most of our family trips and holidays we went to the UK, and I would just confiscate my parents’ camera and shoot all the film in the first few days. Afterwards, looking at those pictures was almost more exciting to me than the trip itself, so I always had a special thing for photography and how you can capture moments of life and take them home and relive them. There’s an interesting bond you create with something when you take a photo of it. After high school I started studying Biology at the University, but after buying an analogue camera and teaching myself to photograph I realised I should chase the thing that really makes me happy: photography. Best decision ever.
In the introduction to your series This Reminds Me Of An Experience I Never Had you talk about the Eiffel Tower in Paris and “how beautiful it looked on the photos…and how ugly it looked in front of me”. How did this discrepancy become an essential element of your work? And what other tourist sights did (or didn’t) disappoint you in person?
It’s actually become one of the core pillars of my work. I have always been interested in the way photography works. Like, what does it mean to take a picture of something, and how does that affect the relationship you have with that object? And even more so: how does it affect the value that the object holds for you? On top of that we now live in a time where photography and image-making are able to take over the real experience of the depicted object. I mean, I can go on Google Street View and walk around the Pyramids of Giza in full detail! I can check out the street of my hotel in Spain in advance. But it’s always still an image you’re looking at.
The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard concluded in the early 80s that we’re experiencing the death of the real—we live our lives in the realm of hyperreality, and we connect to things that only simulate reality. We have lost touch with all that is real. The copy has replaced the original. We can all imagine a plane crashing but we’ve never experienced it. However, I don’t believe that’s a bad thing—and I love things that are bad. I believe that all these reproductions have a value on its own as well, and in my work original and copy, high and low art coexist—I even want them to be equal. I wrote my thesis on the reason I am interested in this theme; I grew up as a gay boy in a straight world. And like, I think, all gay boys and girls do, I created a second persona of myself. Like a shell, that fake version of myself pleased the world around me. Never receiving validation for the real me underneath that shell, but receiving validation for my fake persona, I started believing that the shell was actually better than the real me. I started to be the shell. Until I broke at a certain point. I think that’s why my relationship with what is real and what is fake is crooked, and why I’m so interested in the void in between.
I don’t think any tourist sight ever disappoints me, because I love observing tourists and all the souvenirs they sell on those places. This summer I’m visiting Florence, so I’ll be sure to look around for everything with David on it. Do you think they’ll censor the penis when it’s printed on scarves?
How did it feel to have your work on display at Haute Photographie? And more importantly, where would you love to see your work exhibited?
It was an exciting experience. I have met amazing people and got so much out of it. Seeing my work in such a big, professional environment is something I had hoped would happen after five years or so. I did feel like an ugly duckling at first; most of the works were black and white, and my wall was painted bright pink and I had a deck chair with testicles printed on them! But it felt good to stand out. As for where I would love to see my work exhibited I can only answer with my short-term dreams. I’m hoping to participate in FOAM’s Talent programme within the next few years. Next to that I would love to send in my work to the Hyères Photography Festival. My work is very heavy influenced by advertising, and placing it in the context of art by exhibiting is very interesting, but I would love it even more if I could take it back to the streets and magazines.
What are you currently obsessed with photographing? Do you prefer shooting the man-made or the natural as subjects?
I’m currently obsessed with food, sunset views and curtains! I prefer man-made objects because they teach us about ourselves and our yearnings. And even when I’m into natural objects I photograph them because in a way they’re shaped by human actions. I love it, for example, when people had mugs, placemats, scarves, etc with sunsets on them. I wonder if they bought it because deep down they long for sunsets? I think you can learn a lot about a person by looking at the materials they like and use.
Who are your photography heroes? Why?
Wolfgang Tillmans is my all-time hero. I actually started the study photography because of his work! I think it was in Fantastic Man where his series of men’s necks was presented, and it just came to me that there can be a place for my practice of photography. His eye for the small, seemingly insignificant moments is very captivating. William Eggleston is also one of my heroes; his jaw-dropping work changed the way we look at colour photography even today. In that line, I also love Maurizio Cattelan’s Toilet Paper Magazine and Martin Parr’s work—both very distinguishable and sometimes absurd bodies of work that are very influenced by advertising.
How much time do you spend editing your photos? (What tool do you tend to use the most?)
I only use Photoshop during my editing process. Next to the basics I always edit the colours until it satisfies me. It can really bug me if, for example, a yellow contains too much green, or a blue is too cool compared to the other colours in the image. Usually my editing doesn’t take that much time, but I work very intuitively. So during the process of editing I can get inspired to do something weird or time-consuming to the image that I didn’t think of when I shot the image. Also, I work a lot with collages, meaning that I photograph multiple images or materials that I put together digitally. And that’s quite time-consuming.
As a young photographer, what are your thoughts on using Instagram to share or promote your work? Does the medium ever undermine or clash with the essence of your work?
For me, Instagram is really working because I take a lot of random photographs that don’t belong together conceptually, and uploading them to share my work just works fine on Instagram. I use it as a way to show how I look at the world. If you’re looking for some more in-depth information and projects, I think it clashes, because all images in your timeline become equal and, come on, who actually reads large comments on Instagram? So for visually putting yourself out there, connecting to other people and creating a certain brand it’s fine. But I don’t believe it’s much more beneficial than that.
Have you ever made postcards? There’s something so luridly captivating about your photography that has the tourist essence…
Yes, I have! I’ve actually made and sold some during our graduation festival. I love taking things from worlds that interest me, preferably ready-mades that people dislike but still use, and apply my work on them. It seems a silly thing to do, but I love the parodic effect of it. I say parodic because I believe that for a parody you need a certain amount of love for the thing you’re parodying. And I feel just as much love as I do hate for the tourist imagery.
You seem to have a fascination for elevating scenes or objects that other people might consider ugly or mundane. Do you believe there’s such a thing as ‘bad taste’?
Yes, the uglier the better! Whenever someone, anyone, says that they think something is ugly I immediately find that thing the most beautiful thing in the world. I think that’s because I have felt ugly, replicable and not good enough for a great period in my life and I don’t want anything to experience that feeling, so I’ll nurture it to death. Also, the love for ugly is something that’s celebrated within the camp style. Camp just opposes every currently accepted climate, and I think the world needs that. We need people who think critically and oppose the generally accepted opinions, and make us look in a different way at the world around us. So yeah, the worse the better! Everything around us is designed. I feel like we live in a decor/set. And ‘bad taste’ is a much-needed palette cleanser in this over-designed world. It breaks the mould.
You’re currently based in Amsterdam. What are your thoughts on the city’s creative/club scene? Does it influence your work at all?
I actually currently live in Utrecht, but I love Amsterdam. I grew up in a very small village, so the freedom of expression in a city like Amsterdam, especially it’s nightlife, feels like everything I ever needed in my life. Talking to and meeting people from all walks of life sharing the same passion is something that inspires me and gives me new ideas. I’ve learned to love myself because of all the people I met in there. The practice of my art is very personal. And the creative/club scene has influenced my personal life a great deal, so yes, it’s influenced my work as well.
What is (your) summer never complete without?
Sun! You can smack me in the face with a dead fish and I’ll still be happy when the sun shines. I just love that sizzling, golden sunlight kissing Earth and all your faces. In winter I’m very much an indoor person, so when it’s summer I just want to enjoy the outside as much as possible by skinny dipping, lounging in parks, partying outside and daytime drinking whenever possible.