The Photographer Making the Mundane Exciting

In his latest photobook, Le Collège, Dutch photographer Florian van Roekel offers a portrayal of the ordinary everyday realities of college life.

© Florian van Roekel, from the book, Le Collège

Florian van Roekel came to light as a photographer and book maker with his first title, How Terry Likes His Coffee, an extraordinary book, now in its third edition, that took us on a journey through an office space. Typologies of workers, office elements and their mundane activities are perfectly assembled to create a flow and tension that keeps the reader engaged. This book immediately became a referent on how we can use sequencing and design to translate the ideas of time and space into the book form. I always use it with my students to get them thinking about the different narrative strategies available (repetitions, typologies, diptychs, zoom in / zoom out….) and the use of book materials (paper, cloth…) to enhance the original ideas.

After this, van Roekel published Fear of Fall in a limited edition of 100 copies that were sold out in one day. This is also a very interesting book where the photographer tells the story of a council estate, showing fantastical encounters between the inhabitants and other creatures.

© Florian van Roekel, from the book, Le Collège

Le Collège is van Roekel’s lastest publication which came out last year, and it too, is sold out. The book is the result of an artist residency van Roekel did at Diaphane, Picardie photography centre, creating a new body of work at the French college Jean Fernel, in Clermont de l’Oise. The original aim of Le Collège reminds me of How Terry Likes His Coffee; documenting a closed space and the people inhabiting it by focusing on the mundane activities that take place in there. This is his most valuable characteristic; he isolates insignificant moments or gestures in everyday life and puts them in a new perspective to be able to discuss aspects of the human condition.

The book includes similar design elements to How Terry Likes His Coffee - a different paper stock is used at the beginning and end as an intro and closure, for example. Van Roekel’s visual language always includes the ideas of time and space; on one hand, time is represented by varying wiped out blackboards showing the traces and vulnerability of knowledge. On the other hand, space is delimited throughout the book by many geometrical backgrounds and shapes where the individuals appear to be embedded. These images help to communicate the limits, restrictions or prohibitions always present in a formal academic environment. Florian had to find a visual strategy to maintain students and lecturers’ anonymity; he focuses his images on the gestures and bodies to communicate the feelings of joy, anger, frustration, love, and loneliness which are recurrent feelings within the book.

© Florian van Roekel, from the book, Le Collège

Van Roekel has always been working with editor and designer, SYB. This is something that you can notice in his books - there is a design consistency or signature, which I don’t think is a negative thing but once you recognise it, the excitement is taken away. The work of an editor and designer is to select and assemble the pieces of the puzzle in order to complement the photographer’s original aim or idea. This is the example of How Terry Likes His Coffee became a masterpiece on how to bring graphic and other design elements into play without distracting the viewer. In Le Collège, these elements are not that effective and the narrative structure of a beginning - middle - end seems too safe for me.

As a real fan of van Roekel’s work, Le Collège is the least exciting of his books in my opinion. Despite being an interesting theme, the book lacks the freshness and experimentation of the others: maybe this is conditioned by the rules of the institution where he worked, the nature of the artist residency, or the repetition of certain visual strategies that now don’t seem to be as effective as they once were.

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Le Collège by Florian van Roekel

Date of Publishing: 23rd of May 2016 // Design & Edit: -SYB- // Post Production: Mick van de Wiel

Lithography: Colour & Books // Printing: Optimal Media, Germany // Co Publisher: Diaphane Éditions

Edition: First Edition of 600 copies

BUY HERE

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Alejandro Acin is the director of IC-Visual Lab, an organisation based in Bristol (UK) that aims to promote and produce contemporary photography through a series of events and commissioned projects. IC-Visual Lab organises Photobook Bristol, an international festival for photobooks. He also works as a designer and editor at ICVL Studio.

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