‘What is important now?’ Artist Bruno van den Elshout’s works strive to answer that question. For the making of New Horizons, it was the need to detach from the never-ending ‘plugged-in life’ and to introduce space and tranquillity into the day-to-day routine. Bruno van den Elshout teamed up with designer Rob van Hoesel to realize the entirely textless book, presenting only photographs documenting the ever-changing serene horizon at The Hague’s South Beach over the course of one year.
Many steps were involved in the volume's creation, including a grouping system to aid in paring 8,785 total photographs down to 300, a graphic storyline to organize the selection across 212 pages, and selecting a spine which lets the book lay perfectly flat when opened. Now nominated for a Dutch Design Award 2015, the duo discuss the fruit of their collaboration:
What initially drew you to focus on documenting the ocean’s horizon?
Bruno van den Elshout: In the summer of 2011, I was lining myself up for a new project for the year 2012. I realised how much I longed for space and tranquillity and how important these qualities have become in our ever more hectic lives. From that insight onwards, it took me a only couple of weeks to figure out that the horizon is the ideal visualisation of freedom in time and space. A perfect bridge between here, now and infinity.
I had a great deal of help from my then 2-year-old son. On an otherwise regular beach visit, he pointed at a ship in the distance and called it a plane. His confusion was easy to explain: sea and air had melted into one, which made the plane seem to be flying in the sea instead of the sky.
Probably, nothing would have happened if I hadn't been walking around with this question of how to capture the essence of space and tranquillity. Once I realised that I had found the subject of my project, I then started wondering about the immense diversity I would be able to capture from just one view. Everything else was a matter of practical creativity.
Why did you select this particular location?
BvdE: The Hague's South Beach is where I go when I want to experience space and tranquillity. Where I can connect with infinity, synchronise, let go of unfavourable thoughts, get back in touch with whatever turns out to be the most important at the moment of each specific visit. I was born and live 15 minutes away from the view I photographed. On a previous project that had me travel through Europe for one year, this very same horizon literally made up my mental representation of home.
How did you protect the camera from the elements for a year?
BvdE: Through a very serendipitous encounter on Twitter, I met fellow photographer Roelof de Vries who specialises in technical photography which includes 360 degree imagery, aerial photography and time-lapse. We met up for coffee and together figured out how to deal with weather conditions like rain (waterproof housing), strong winds (stable construction), salt and sand (sprayer and wiper), heat and cold (shade and heating).
We were happy to find a ready-made housing from a company trading in surveillance material. Their biggest housing exactly fit the Canon 5D Mark II we intended to use, which solved all issues that would otherwise have popped up in relation to welding and wiring. Software-wise, we used a very basic program to electronically push the camera button followed by a couple more to make the images automatically appear on the website every hour.
How did you go about selecting the 300 photographs from the 8,785 total photographs?
Rob van Hoesel: We approached the editing from two perspectives: looking at the total body of images and the book’s concept. First, we divided the 8,785 images into groups such as the four seasons as well as morning, day and evening.
The edit of the book represents a full cycle of a journey, an adventure if you like. We described all imaginable stages one could experience on a journey such as vision, doubt, freedom, reflection, discovery and euphoria. By defining the order and essence of these stages, we were able to determine the type of imagery we would need to visualize the specific part in the book. Doubt would need grey, misty pictures while discovery would need colourful, almost surreal images. By scanning the images, we also came across images which were interesting or simply beautiful and used them in specific parts of the book.
What was your method to organize the photos throughout the book?
RvH: The defined stages of the journey we wanted to visualize were described in what we call 'The Play'. We organized the sequence on a big paper roll and defined the type of image we needed for each stage. We also considered things like rhythm and image size, very much like a musical composition. The changing rhythm adds to the visualization of the different stages of the adventure. And of course, some images just simply deserve a full spread.
From your perspective, which is the focus of the publication?
BvdE: I see it as a physical carrier of my belief that we live in a world not of scarcity – as economic science prescribes – but one of abundance. Everything we want is already here, waiting to be released once we are ready to handle it.
RvH: I consider New Horizons to be a conceptual photo book. With 300 images of the same horizon, everyone has his or her favourite. For me, it’s not about the beauty of a single image but the lustiness of all images together. The physical book only serves as a majestic serving platter.
What do you want readers to experience after turning through the pages of this book?
BvdE: The book is an invitation for people to mind-travel beyond the hectics of daily life, to reconnect to what is of real importance to them. The story underlying the selection and lay-out of the images represents the full cycle of a journey. The front and back cover are the same, representing home. Everything in between follows the unfolding stages of the adventure. At the same time, we have chosen not to include even a word of text – so people are free to interpret what they see in a way that serves them.
RvH: I want readers to feel, not think or analyse, but simply feel, away from every day hectics. What people feel can be different every time, I think that’s the beauty.
The book New Horizons is available in a limited edition of 2,012 copies.
Photos Carel Fransen, courtesy of The Eriskay Connection