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‘No’ Title (2012)

‘No’ Title is about the nobility in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands about 300 families are of nobel descent. In 1994 the Dutch government has abolished the right to become a part of the nobility. Except for the Royal family nobody can obtain a title. A title is inherited through male lineage. The group of families belonging to the nobility theoretically can become extinct.

Why did I choose this subject?

Because both my grandfather, after whom I am named, and my mother are of the nobility. I am not. Because of the fact that this subject does not seem to play a role in my life. Because I realized that I do not know much about nobility. Because I am curious about what nobility actually entails. What does it mean nowadays?

My mother was a little surprised when I came up with this project. She also found it rather amusing that, at this point in my life, I suddenly had an interest in this subject. She expressed some reservations. “It’s a delicate topic” she said, and the people who do research in this subject matter have often encountered resistance. My mother would not like the same thing to happen to me. So I started by making appointments with people who know my family and know me. We talked about all sorts of things. I wanted to get closer and catch the essence. But I was dealing with a group of people who would rather not be photographed. If you are from the nobility you keep it to your-self. You don’t make it public to everyone. How can I make portraits of a group of people who would rather not participate?

“The enigmatic aspect of nobility is in the grey area of objective traits and perception”, writes Ileen Montijn.

During my quest, I attended a funeral where there were a lot of people of nobility. I felt a distinct atmosphere. The clothes, the heads, the group exuded something. And suddenly I saw it. Recently I had seen pictures made by a Polaroid SX70. A camera which looks like a stylish leather cigar box.

This is what it should be. A charming, old fashioned camera which instantly produces photographs. No reason for mistrust, because the person who was photographed could, on the spot, say if they liked the picture or not. No big camera in between myself and my subject. Proximity, but the quality of the photographs is picturesque and detached. The distance which is appreciated so greatly by this group of people. To me it seemed as the ideal combination.

In order to shade against the romantic photographs, I decided to make an audio recording of all of the people I photographed. I asked them what it meant to them to be of nobility. It was all kept anonymous. No family name, “NO TITLE”.

To be of nobility seemed something which was easy and hard, an advantage and a burden, a feeling, recognition, a sum of things, a code, a bright red uniform, a mission or a cardinal point, noblesse oblige, a window on the past, a memory, a survival strategy, the same as having red hair or nothing. Sometimes it was a family house, a story, a figment of the imagination, a certain kind of upbringing, style, language, a group, at times nostalgia, and at times indifference.

I was told numerous times, during the conversations I had with the people I was making a portrait of, that if I wanted to do a project about the nobility, I would have to have a clear stance about the subject.

What does it mean to you? What is your position? What is your opinion? Do you support it?

Are you against it? I was starting to wonder about with what view I was taking pictures.

The view of an insider or an outsider? Did I want to be accepted or should I remain at a distance?

My answer lies in the pictures. In the quest for a detached view of something which is close to my heart. In an attempt to get close to something which at times seems to be very far away.

In between that distance and proximity, is where it is.

(Amsterdam, 2012)


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