SINT WILLEBRORD / THEIKE
The infamous village Sint Willebrord in the south of The Netherlands is the epitome of Dutch village culture mixed with alleged criminality and an apparent strive for luxury. It is a tight-knitted community with strong family values who protect their own. The notorious village, which has been dubbed “Theike”, has been approached before. People wanted to report on the life here but were met with reluctance. It is therefore not surprising these projects were not very successful in capturing the everyday and ended up focusing mostly on criminality and other stigmas. Being born not far away from there, the village has always had a place in my heart. I could never seem to let it go and always remained fascinated by it, though I physically strayed farther and farther.
Theike is a village that is very homogeneous. It consists mostly of Caucasian, native Dutch people. The only diversity in the village is brought forth by the local Chinese restaurant. This restaurant has recently earned its first Michelin star, proving that the people of Theike strive for luxury most of all. That is something that is also visible in the way people live there. More examples are the much higher higher density of swimming pools, saunas, home-gyms and bars than in any other village in the area.
They seem to be great fans of artificial beauty; it is as if nearly every home has a tanning bed and every yard has artificial grass, instead of the real, to make it easy to clean and keep up good appearances. Theike also has four times the amount of police officers than adjacent neighbouring villages of the same size. A lot of money present in the village, which pays for the grand houses and swimming pools, is said to be made partly illegally. So perhaps the entire village is just a facade.
The almost movie-script setting is what fascinated me about this place. The closed-off nature of its community and the reluctance to share information about their lives with strangers is what drove me to this place as the setting for my research model. There is a contradiction to be mentioned about this wondrous place; this reserved community does have an open online presence. I wondered if I could gain access to this tight community using images they posted themselves. Would I be able to show the true heart of Theike? Or would I forever maintain my position as an outsider who can not fully grasp this place? In the end I hope to have started to answer the question whether or not a research can be conducted through only online means.
This project is a study into a photographic and journalistic research method in the digital landscape using found footage. We as artists must adapt to the world we live in and use its challenges as opportunities. I believe found footage from sources such as social media should not be discarded; it should be preserved. They are the new negatives of this era. The project is also a crutch to tell the story of online visibility and online privacy. I have always maintained a stance of using only that which is publicly available for anyone. The fact that this project has challenged in me strong ethical debates about the content of the material is the exact thing I wish to address. I want people to understand how online privacy is impossible and advise them a careful attitude. It is something that we feel we all already know, yet somehow rarely follow up on.
It has therefore proven very fruitful for me in terms of the magnitude of material I was able to apprehend by observing the inhabitants of Theike and collecting their footage. I have been working as a voyeur and online anthropologist for about one and a half year. The found footage gives a documentary look into Theike. What I hope the project mostly does is give a broader yet more in depth scope. The images are recognisable as Dutch and show the “everyday”. Voyeurism and looking at the “other” (person) are central in the project. I ask the viewer to observe and celebrate this place for its culture, that may have been able to flourish because of the fact it is so closed off. It is a place where time seems to stand still. Using the vernacular photography of the inhabitants who share what matters most to them online, I strived to create a timeless document consisting of typologies and gifs of the many aspects of life in Theike.
There is no denying the world of photography is changing. We live in the digital age. There is a never-ending stream of images that can be found online, ever growing, showing you anything you can possibly think of. It exceeds the expectation. Our entire visual culture is being transformed by this. We as people can offer and receive information from different angles than before. The digital landscape allows an extraordinary perspective; the ordinary citizen more often has a voice in the discourse. We have the option to be better informed and better equipped about and for our society. I believe this is a positive development and I encourage it. I also feel the need to explore and research the online world and its footage closely, as it is a big part of our everyday life and society.