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Born in 1976, Bruno V. Roels lives and works in Ghent (Belgium).

Getting away from the tyranny of viewfinders

The American conceptual artist Baldessari warned against the “tyranny of camera viewfinders and rectangular boxes of enlarging papers”.

He had a valid point; a lot of photography is defined by the camera used, the film (or technology) in that camera, and the paper the photographs are printed on.

Bruno V. Roels was frustrated by this and started researching ways to get more out of the process. Not just to be ‘different’ but to get away from ‘the tyranny’ of normal photography.

Roels found that the very act of developing and printing analogue photography offers endless ways to be free, artistically.

All prints have value

Instead of fussing over making the perfect gelatin silver print, for example, Roels realized that all printed versions of an image have value, and he decided to not show that one perfect print, but all of them, in one composition. Some of his compositions consist of hundreds variations of one single negative, all printed in the dark room.

Photography is a mimetic art, it imitates life. But Roels pushes it further: when printing variants of one image; he creates a mimetic feedback loop. The prints are not just interpretations of a reality, but of themselves as well.

To make that very clear Roels often uses photographs of palm trees. He’s working on a growing series called ‘A Palm Tree Is A Palm Tree Is A Palm Tree’.

He uses the iconic image of a palm tree (any palm tree) to prove his point. All palm trees look alike, and as a symbol the plants are highly recognizable. Historically they’re connected to victory, triumph, endurance, religion, hospitality, wealth, luxury, vacation, paradise. Palm trees have meaning across cultures.

But palm trees, just like photographs, are not to be trusted. A palm tree in the Monaco, France does not tell the same story as its counterpart in the warn-torn streets of Fallujah, Iraq. Or just think about the recent occupation of Palmyra, the ancient city in Syria, by the terrorist organization Islamic State. Symbolism abounds.

By using photographs of palm trees, Roels makes the idea of copying, mimicking and representation (all part of the very fabric of photography) very tangible. It’s not just a visual exercise; it has strong semantic, philosophical, even anthropological, ramifications as well.

He plans to take this research even further. Because palm trees are so widely recognizable, he’s free to deconstruct his own notions of photography, while trying to get away from the “tyranny of camera viewfinders and rectangular boxes of enlarging papers”.

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