© 2024 Gerphil Kerkhof



Meaning and Intention

On 15 July 2014 I held the following speech at the opening of my exhibition “Places of Healing” at LeasePlan Corporation in Almere-Stad. Though the speech was giving in Dutch, the transcript is in English to enable colleagues who couldn’t be there to enjoy it afterwards.

   "Places of Healing"

First of all it is a privilege to be able to exhibit here my images. LeasePlan Corp. collects art from various modern upcoming Dutch artists already for quite a few years and also on this Art Wall we have seen some interesting work, brought to the immediate attention of visitors ands colleagues. It is a joy to be ranked amongst the young and upcoming – and an honour to be able to exhibit here and even for the second time. Thank you very much for this opportunity.  

Telling something about my photography is a pleasure and a challenge. Though, it also reminds me of the typical question the teacher in high school asked when interpreting a poem: what would the poet have meant to say here? As if the poet typically knows. As if he would be able to explain what he intended to say. And as if that is of any interest.

To be frank, I wouldn’t be able to say what my intention was when I made these pictures – often they are obscure to me too, and I rather prefer that to stay. Look, you have two kind of photographers – those who direct the scene from a clear idea upfront – and those of us who let themselves be directed by, yes, by what? In the end, who makes the composition, determines the perspective, choses the subject at the very moment when we are somewhere. And discover later what we actually did, and interpreting the image like anyone else, as if it is someone else’s image. A process of interpretation, of discovery that in fact already starts during post-processing – and again in a discovery, associative and playful manner. That is how I work.  

Still, I believe that photographs have something to say, that photographs are indeed a carrier of meaning – but infused by inspiration, by a spirit. Photographs to me are some kind of oracle – and the process of making one, at least when they are good, feels like revelation. The trick with oracles is that the very same ‘sign’ has different meanings to different people, and all are true. So in telling what I believe the image tells me, I might spoil your meaning – and therefore I prefer using obscuring poetic words that don’t intend to explain, but just to make you puzzled even more.  

The first series are pictures taken in Turkey of three ancient sites. Photographing ruins was a true challenge to me, as it is not easy to make something ‘living’ and unique from piles of stones that are photographed millions of times each year. So in my mind I have played with the topic endlessly before we travelled off to Turkey. In the end, however, the trick was just to walk around and try to connect with the people who lived here once, their beliefs and their gods – and to capture some of what emerges from that.  

The first is a picture of the temple of Zeus from the ancient city of Olba, now in the middle of the small Turkish village of Uzuncaburç. Its priests were once the kings of this city-kingdom. Today, shepherds are dwelling around these pillars, herding their goats. I took this picture at the end of our walk through the remnants of this ancient city, returning from the other side. I was suddenly struck by the wonderful light coming from behind, as if it was the light of Zeus himself. Then I noticed the analogy between these pillars and these trees. Later the image reminded me being at the Oracle of Zeus in Dodoni, in Northwestern Greece, which is believed to be the origin of the Zeus cult. This Oracle dates back to 2000 years before Christ, almost 2000 years before this temple was built. At that time Zeus was believed to be a spirit that dwells between the roots of an enormous oak tree that stood there, in the middle of this oracle, and in the nearby spring. He was supposed to speak to man through the whispering of the leaves and the murmuring of the water – interpreted by his priests. The trees and the pillars – both home to the same spirit – spanning the many centuries and thousands of kilometres where this cult evolved to what it was when this temple was built.  

The next three images are taken at the ancient city of Aphrodisia – which housed the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. It must have been an ancient dating site, as all who couldn’t find a lover would come here to worship this goddess of love – probably with hoped-for outcomes as a result. The building on the images is actually not the temple of Aphrodite itself, as I believed initially (actually until today) but the gateway to the sanctuary – but to me it feels much more than the impressive pillars of the actual temple like the true home of the goddess of love. Maybe she fled here when her temple was converted to a church. At least, it felt to me like she was living here in this gateway, where the sanctuary connects with and welcomes those who came here to find love.  

I believe these three images represent three different aspects of the meaning of love. The first shows an analogy between the rhythm of the building and its immediate surroundings. Despite that millennia are separating the construction of this building and the growth of these trees, the tops of the latter have the same wave-like shape. That must be the radiating induction of love onto the environment of lovers. The second shows this building to be a twin of two constructions – or better: souls. This perspective shows that these soul mates are not the same and though they seem to walk in the same direction, they are at different steps. Yet, they establish one love, one couple. The third image looks up from the heart of the gateway giving again a different perspective of what love is. We see heavenly shapes connecting the pillars. Love and connection as an emanation of God, as an expression of a much deeper bond than a more earthly view on this building could give.  

The fifth image brings us to the City of Termessos. Termessos was a city withdrawn deep in the mountains above Antalya. It was a cultural island as in contrast to the area around it Termessos was not Greek and it successfully resisted against absorption into Greece. Even Alexander the Great could not conquer the city. The building you see is the aqueduct of the city – its lifeline. You also see a person here, that’s Jantina, my wife. She represents my image of its inhabitants, who I believe spent their lives - if they weren’t fighting wars or building temples - writing poems and practicing philosophy. I love pictures that seem to move you into the views and worlds other people must have seen – and this is what attracts me in this image. You see a tunnel, a hole in time – for a brief moment you look through the eyes of a Termessian. It makes you want to write poems and contemplate about life.

Foto: Peter Mantel

Foto: Peter Mantel

If we go to the other side of this wall, we see a series of images taken at Heilstätten Beelitz, a sanatorium consisting of in total 60 buildings in the woods south of Berlin. What I tried to capture here is the fight between hope and despair, life against death, light versus darkness - the cycle of life and death that is beyond good and evil – just inevitable as destiny, like autumn will always return, with colours already predicting spring. The images visualize melancholy and fatalism. I love this place because you still see, through all decay, the beauty these buildings once had, which triggers your imagination. You want to see how it looked once. You feel their silence. On the fourth image you see a person at the window. Well, physically that’s me, but the person represents the people who lived, cured or died here. Maybe the spirit of one of the patients, longing for his wife who was hospitalized across the street. Trapped between his old life in poverty in the slums of Berlin – where he will return to if he survives - and this true palace, this golden cage – but separated from his love. Or in the words of Wolf Bierman: „Ich möchte am liebsten weg sein, und bleibe am liebsten hier.“  

I hope that with these words I didn’t give away too much and only contributed more to your appreciation and phantasy. Thanks for being here.

More images of Turkey | More images of Berlin