Photographer Wiesje Peels traveled for seven weeks with her bicycle through the Brabant landscape to pay tribute to the historical work of Martien Coppens. Behind her bicycle she hung her own mobile Dark Room: the DoKar. She recorded the landscape and its inhabitants, had special encounters, and developed her work on the spot. The result can be admired starting September 1 at Tilburg Station as well as on the campus of Tilburg University. We spoke with Wiesje about this special project.
Wiesje Peels, photographer and lecturer at Fontys Hogeschool voor de Kunsten (FHK), was feeling a bit out of balance between her artistry and teaching. So the request to collaborate on the exhibition series "The Mix Netherlands" by the Beeldmix foundation could not have come at a better time. The assignment: to provide a visual response to the historical work of photographer Martien Coppens. To carry out this assignment, she came up with a striking approach. "In my spare time I like to cycle and especially bikepacking: getting on your bike with all your camping gear and then going out. I wanted to combine this with the assignment I was given, so I decided to go on a trip."
"Martien Coppens is a photographer who lived in the analog era. I wanted to pay tribute to Martien Coppens and also to that analog era. It therefore seemed very cool to be able to take a DoKa with me on the road, on my bicycle. And so the idea arose to make a 'DoKar' that I could hang behind my bicycle. I gathered all kinds of people who could help me realize that idea, and then in early May I left on my bicycle, with my DoKar behind it, to the Peel to pay tribute to Martien Coppens and his work. I started photographing analog and I developed and printed the photos along the way."
Photo: Wiesje Peels for 'Aarde'
"I was allowed to pick a series of 20 photographs by Martien Coppens from the Brabant Collection archives. In picking them, I had a number of criteria. I deliberately chose images of animals because I wanted to give them a voice. If there were people in the picture, I wanted them not to look at the viewer."
"Furthermore, I looked a lot at materiality; that you could almost smell the earth through the photograph. I looked very much for the earthy and primal. These are things that you obviously can't smell or experience in a photograph, but I wanted you to be able to imagine it. So I made a selection of Martien's work, and with those photographs in my head and in my heart, I started cycling around, giving an image response to his work."
Photo: Wiesje Peels for 'Aarde'
"Of course things went wrong. The DoKar got a flat tire, the undercarriage broke down and the door fell out. But I got help all the time from people on the road. My DoKar also worked very well as a kind of connector. Of course, it was a huge thing behind my bicycle. People I met during my trip were curious about my project and how exactly such a Dark Room works. In the end, I had so many wonderful encounters, and I actually became friends with people I encountered. Those people and encounters also ended up being partly the inspiration for this work. I had Martien's photographs, of course. And beyond that, I was guided by the journey I made and what I met along the way. I didn't figure out beforehand what exactly I wanted to make; I wanted to be inspired by the journey and the landscape, and that's what happened. In the end, it was just a fantastic experience to be able to pay tribute to Martien Coppens in this way."