by Sanne Kabalt

On your website I found the following words: ‘To Bogaers, a photo is not an end, only a means. It is not an endpoint either.’ For what reason do you work with photography?

Paul Bogaers (PB): Ah, Sanne, you like to start right away with a tricky question! Well, I have to admit that although my work nearly always contains photos or relates to photography in any form, I don’t consider myself a photographer in the first place. I’ve always been struggling in order to push the boundaries of the medium, and I suppose the reason for this is that in fact I was raised as an artist. In art school I was educated in a whole range of art disciplines, photography being only one of them. To a very large extent, I think, this is still recognizable in my work.

From the beginning, I have had a love-hate relationship with photography. I’ve always regarded it as a most interesting medium, but very limited compared to my needs. Photography is at its best in showing what the visible word looks like – as a record of appearance. This can be very convenient, which is precisely the reason why today’s world is overflowed with photos. An artist, however, searches for a medium that he can use as a means of expression. Photography in this respect is far more difficult to use than for instance drawing or painting. But of course, this difficulty makes it so very exciting at the same time. It is difficult, but not impossible.

© Paul Bogaers, Upset Down

© Paul Bogaers, Upset Down

My personal approach to solve this problem is to consider a photo as a semi-finished product, not as final, as most ‘real’ photographers do. I’ve always been feeling the need to still do something with it; place it next to another image, turn it around or upside down, draw or paint on it, etc. In my most recent work I even combine photographs with materials like paper maché, wood, fibers and found objects. These works I refer to as ‘extended photography’, but in fact this term would already be applicable for most part of my older work. 

Your studio walls are filled with small skeletons, masks, your old, new and unfinished works, branches, insects and objects that are hard to define. Why is it that you surround yourself with all this?

PB: I’m a collector, in the first place. I like to surround myself with things that inspire me, being the things that I collect. But it is also an essential part of my working process, which requires a large reservoir of materials and imagery that I can draw from while working. When I create, I tend to play instead of thinking. Therefore, I want my studio to be filled to the brim with possibilities. And then there are the many, many things that I am still working on. I need to regard and consider these endlessly, for creating is a slow process to me. But to be frank, I have to admit I love crammed spaces. It’s also a trait of character. People sometimes wonder how I am possibly able to concentrate with all this ‘noise’ around me, but in reverse, I can hardly stand a blank white wall, like the ones I see many people surround themselves with in their homes. For me, a blank space immediately has to be filled. 

© Paul Bogaers, Studio

Both in your photographic and textual works you often use a collage method. What is the value of combining to you? 

PB: To me, combining is one of the best ways to discover. In regard to artistic creation, two separate working procedures can be distinguished: one is searching, inventing, the other is stumbling upon, finding. Think of the famous words of Picasso, who can be thus classified in the second group: I do not seek, I find. Well, it works the same with me, I hardly ever think something out, almost everything I make I discover, I stumble upon. Already in my childhood I was struck by the magic that occurs when parts of different worlds meet by chance. 

The collage method to me is the most interesting form of combining, because it is ambiguous by nature. With Photoshop for example, it is not difficult to merge different images to one single one without leaving any mark or clue. But in most cases the result is, in artistic respect, boring. It is far more exiting to actually show the way the combination was made, e.g. having glued a clipped magazine photo next to a found snapshot. This is the principle of the collage. In the collage, the miracle manifests that two different worlds meet in a way that they most evidently don’t fit at all, but then at the same appear to fit astonishingly, marvelously well. 

© Paul Bogaers, Holiday Greetings

You have been researching the photography of thoughts; the possibility to take a photograph inside another’s mind. Could you tell us something about this fascination of yours? 

PB: To be correct: thought photography is about the possibility of photographing the thoughts in your own mind. Several occult mediums have claimed that they were literally able to do so, the most famous of whom was Ted Serios (what’s in a name!), an American who produced hundreds of his ‘mind pictures’ under ‘scientifically controlled circumstances’ in the 60s of the last century. This phenomenon was meticulously studied by parapsychologist Jules Eisenbud, who recorded his findings in his book The World of Ted Serios

Still of the book 'The World of Ted Serios'

Serios was unmasked as a fraud not many years later, and the claim itself I don’t take too seriously. Literally, I mean. The idea, however, of being able to make direct photos of your thoughts I find very exciting. I am tempted to consider it as a wonderful metaphor of that what an artist wishes (or, falsely, expects) photography to be capable of: registering not the appearance of things, but the essence. Not how the world looks like, but how it feels. Think of the dazzling possibilities, being able to capture for instance your loved one, not in his or her appearance, but as a record of your thoughts..! Ideas like these inspire me in my work. 

© Paul Bogaers, further experiments with thought photography

Association plays an important role in your work. Could you name another artist that you associate your own work with?

PB: There are several artists who inspired me, in very different ways and also different ones in different periods. I’ll try to name some, although I fear that I might forget others who might be as important.

The first name which comes to my mind is that of film director David Lynch. A movie that very much inspired me and has evidently many resemblances with my work isEraserhead. In his other films I recognize many similarities as well, and I can recommend them to the same extent, but in general these are done in a much more smooth and fancy way. His debut movie Eraserhead however, has the same murky, smudgy and black-and-white (!) atmosphere that can be found in my own work. 

Another American artist, Edward Kienholz, has had an important influence on my appreciation of art even before I went to art academy. His associative way of working, but also his method of assembling found, junk-like materials into a total environment which has a powerful and criticizing expression, has always fitted with my own intentions, ideas and approach towards art. 

When I started my photographic ‘career’ some thirty years ago, there were few artists and photographers with whom I felt familiar. In photography the large format camera was heavily in fashion, with its perfect and down-to-earth registrations of nothing but the visible reality. This never attracted me, and what I did at that time was something completely different from all around me. More recently, to my great satisfaction, photographers and artists have emerged who appear to have a similar interest in the invisible, the subconscious, the incongruous, the irrational. Dutch photographers with whom I feel associated with in this respect are Anouk Kruithof, Jaap Scheeren, Elspeth Diederix, Marnix Goossens. Also, the ‘classical’ collage has undergone a remarkable revival in last couple of years; for instance by Chantal Rens and Ruth van Beek. 

Last but not least, what projects are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?

PB: At this moment I am preparing a major solo exhibition in Foam, the photography museum in Amsterdam, which will take place next autumn (October – December 2015). This will give an overview of my most recent work, which I have been developing for the last five years. For this work I have been stretching the boundaries of photography still more. Photos are not just limited to representations, they often extend to dimensional objects themselves, as I combine them with paper-maché, cardboard, fabric, wood and all kinds of found materials. The boundary between material and the representation of material fades, and the whole expands towards assemblage and installation.

The title of this show will probably be The Mud Years, which refers to the atmosphere of the works, the materials that I have been using and also to a more philosophical notion, which expresses my basic vision of life, on humanity. The essence of this is that we all try to look confident, as if we have every aspect of our life in hand, whereas in fact we are only muddling along through our lives, completely governed by our ignorance, hubris and stupidity. This awareness strikes me every single day, and occasionally makes it difficult to carry on. More frequently, however, it fulfills me with a healthy sense of relativity, and sometimes it even evokes a smile on my face. 
All the three of these, the gloom, the relativity and the smile, are manifest in my recent work, I think. It is about conjuring the mud. 

© Paul Bogaers

© Paul Bogaers


Paul Bogaers 
The Netherlands