Paul Kooiker’s latest project, Nude Animal Cigar, is a wild array of variations on the three themes revealed in the title.
It’s as if the weirdest and most beautiful nudes, mournful animals and mysterious still lifes built from cigar butts have been picked out from photography’s 176-year history – but although the images look old-fashioned, they have all been made within the past five years by this contemporary Dutch artist.
Applying digital sepia filters to all the images, he lends the series a vintage and melancholy feel, and by virtue of the sepia treatment knits this motley trio of themes together.
“My work is successful if it is about looking, and about photography,” says Kooiker in his studio, located in a quiet street on the southern periphery of downtown Amsterdam. “Ultimately, my work is about looking, and looking is the ultimate act of voyeurism.
“It makes the work accessible, as everybody is able to recognise himself in this act,” he says. “It also leaves the viewer confused. What I want to achieve is to make the public feel accessory to the images they witness.”
Born in 1964, Kooiker graduated from the illustrious Rijksakademie in Amsterdam in the early 1990s. In 1996 he won the Prix de Rome with a project on women weeing in the forest that set the bar for his future art – a montage of 40 colour photos, with barely discernible anonymous female nudes, out-of-focus shots, image repetition, and the implicit hint of voyeurism – a theme mentioned repeatedly by critics writing about his photography.
For Kooiker, photography and voyeurism are inextricably linked, and the camera is a guilty look through the keyhole, though he thinks “nothing is as terrible as erotic photography”. Instead, he sees his work as a commentary on it.
Kooiker is signing his Nude Animal Cigar at Donlon Books, East London, this evening.