THE EUROPEANS – Arnold van Bruggen & Rob Hornstra 

‘The Europeans’ – Arnold Van Bruggen & Rob Hornstra Return With Another Compelling Project Focusing On European Life. Article by Collective owner Samuel Fradley:

Faced with a complex and chaotic migrant crisis, Ukrainian conflict, Brexit, Russian sabre rattling and now a global pandemic, one could argue that the European Union and Europe as a whole are in a state of shock. As quickly as progress is made on one crisis, another rapidly unfolds before us. Not since the rise of Nazi Germany has the ideals and European values of a collective group of nations been seriously challenged from both home and away. The rhetoric and discourse spoken by politicians and individuals of power across the political spectrum echo the past more than ever before. Photographers like those from the generations before us are once again are on the frontline of the European theatre, capturing the events of the present and documenting the people who are living through these turbulent and ever more uncertain times.

THE EUROPEANS - Arnold van Bruggen & Rob Hornstra the south west collective of photography ltd women in white singing  
Janina, The Former Capital, 2019

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In a library in the former capital, women have gathered in folk clothes on Saturday mornings to sing traditional songs. They explain: “The noble, hardworking woman is at the heart of every song, how they used to weave and crochet together while waiting for the men to come back from the war. But they didn’t come back. It’s all about life and survival, there’s a lot of loyalty and strength in every song”.

Rob Hornstra and Arnold Van Bruggen have been at the epicentre of European photography for the last decade and a half with their critically renowned works ‘The Sochi Project’  being at the forefront of their practice. The Sochi Project’ documented the changing landscape of Sochi from 2007 until 2013, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia. These images documented a changing Sochi landscape before it entered the public eye of the international media.

THE EUROPEANS - Arnold van Bruggen & Rob Hornstra the south west collective of photography couple hugging on a beach
Love Couple, The Former Capital, 2019

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Half an hour’s drive from the former capital, deep in the region’s vast forests at the end of a muddy path you can find Samsonas meat factory. The director guides us with pride and enthusiasm through all the departments of the company. The place where the carcasses enter, where especially strong men with freshly sharpened knives tackle the dead animals, to the large buckets of meat porridge for sausages and wooden drying rooms for hams. “Within 50 years’ time, I expect major changes in meat industry, I think we will eat more insects and worms to get our protein. Nowadays we are not that far yet. Our people want to eat ‘normal’ food. But you never know how fast things can change.”

A brief synopsis:

“The Europeans is a portrait of modern Europe. Travelling from region to region and from theme to theme in this multi-year project, photographer Rob Hornstra and writer and filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen will create a 21st-century timepiece on the European Heartland. Hornstra and van Bruggen see Europe on the eve of drastic change. Populism and authoritarianism are on the rise, ghosts from the past seem to return.”

Ghosts from the past have certainly been reawakened and the cracks are beginning to widen. A constant drumbeat of nationalism, sickening rise antisemitism and seemingly endless conversation and relation to the Second World War have made modern events somewhat harder to navigate and fix. Deeply rooted in modern European culture and in education and society are the horrors and events of the past. Whether that be for better or worse, its something we cannot seem to shake. This is a period of human history which will no doubt be looked at with intense scrutiny by all of those who come after us when our time inevitably reaches its end. ‘The Europeans’is set to be one of these documents that reference this period of the human timeline.

THE EUROPEANS - Arnold van Bruggen & Rob Hornstra the south west collective of photography ltd dancer dressed in traditional clothing with pom poms
Monika, The Former Capital, 2019

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Monika, born and raised in the former capital, has been a dancer with the local show orchestra Ąžuolynasfor fifteen years. “When you are born here, you will always carry the city in your heart. Not only the people make it special, but also the large city parks and plenty of possibilities to go out or visit cultural events. And our famous basketball club of course. Actually, this city has everything.”

The latest project is inspired by the works of Henri Cartier Bresson. Arnold van Bruggen and Rob Hornstra seek to come up with an updated version of his famous body of work Les Européens in 1955.

“The photographer Henri Cartier Bresson published his book Les Européens in 1955. He looked beyond nationalism or local customs in the individual countries. He sought evidence for a greater identity, a European parable shared by the people and the landscape. More than sixty years later, Hornstra and van Bruggen share this ambition. It’s time to come up with a new version of The Europeans.”

Since the 1950s Europe and the world have become almost unrecognisable and has reached a moment of momentous importance in history due to Brexit, the pandemic, and less discussed, the rapid and growing power of China. Therefore it is only natural that artists set out to explore and document the world we face. One can only wonder what Bresson would think and how he would approach the subject of Europe in the modern-day?

THE EUROPEANS - Arnold van Bruggen & Rob Hornstra the south west collective of photography ltd close up portrait of man with blue eyes
Vidas, The Former Capital, 2019

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On the truck slope of a distribution centre, an early queue of men appears who have clearly lost the connection with society. Amongst them is Vidas. He tells us that he worked in the Netherlands and Norway. His father is very ill. But on the horizon there is a better future. “Two more months, two more months,” he says, over and over again. “Two more months, I’ll have my green card for the US! And I want to go back to the Netherlands! My back is broken, but I want to work!”

The images, taken in a similar approach to previous works, are poignant, intriguing and a true masterclass from Hornstra and Bruggen both in their execution and subject matter in their preffered format of ‘Slow Journalism’. Diverse, powerful and authentic, a breath of fresh air during the pandemic that we are all dealing with. What we are seeing in the images, in the people, is the real discourse of the epoch and the effect that has on the European people. A resemblance to Bresson in the images? Yes. Will comparisons be made? Yes. Once complete, it will be an intriguing and phenomenal viewing experience for the viewer to see how Europe has changed over the years, especially in the form of an exhibition ( when we can all go back to normal of course! ).

Perhaps we could be witnessing the start of the most in depth and most important European photography project of a generation?

Artist thoughts:

‘Europe is in a state of flux. The financial and migrant crisis seems to have been averted, but the political aftermath is only now becoming apparent. Where some political forces are seeking refuge in a united Europe, others are vociferously turning away from it. The European Union is the favourite scapegoat of national politicians, even though more and more issues are regulated at European level. The media and politicians are distrusted, which has not stopped this distrust from being politically exploited. This is despite polls and statistics showing that the majority of Europeans are often both happy and prosperous.’

“According to analysts, the political battle is no longer being fought over socio-economics but over culture and identity: urban versus rural; newcomers versus natives; tradition versus new norms and values; the globalised economy and culture versus the more orderly world of village, city and countryside. The call for strongmen and leaders is growing louder, both in the political and cultural domain.”

“Against this backdrop, Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen have set out to travel the periphery of Europe. Drawing on their earlier experiences for the long-term Sochi Project, they will spend extended periods in places far from the daily news cycle. Documenting the direct causes of tensions in Europe is not the main goal of this project. Rather, ‘The Europeans’ is a journey into contemporary Europe and an examination of what it means to be European in the 2020s. How will we look back at this decade?”

THE EUROPEANS - Arnold van Bruggen & Rob Hornstra the south west collective of photography couple hugging on a beach
Love Couple, The Former Capital, 2019

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Although the former capital is sandwiched between two rivers, there’s hardly a good place for swimming. But between the busy city highway and a campsite is a public beach, where Aironas and Aivita regularly come at the end of their summer holidays. This is the place where teenagers find their summer loves, where families come to picknick and elderly people try to get their sports exercises done.

It seemingly feels like old wounds and 1930s sensibilities are creeping back into the minds of many, something that must be prevented for the future of peace and development of humankind. ‘The Europeans’is still at the early stages of the project but fantastic progress has already been made. There is much left to explore in the future but from the images we are seeing, its something we can look forward to.

The project has recently had its first regional publication and a brilliant online exhibition titled ‘The Former Capital”. The Online exhibition is a fine example of Hornstra pushing the boundaries of what is possible in contemporary photography, consistently elevating and innovating the medium in ways not previously seen.

“The Former Capital is a region wherein the wake of newfound independence, nationalism and militarism are on the rise. The search for a strong, own identity is strengthened by a stagnating economy and the consequences of depopulation. The surge of globalism, open borders and a new morality often clashes with those clinging to the values of the conservative class.”

Images from the online exhibition:

THE EUROPEANS - Arnold van Bruggen & Rob Hornstra the south west collective of photography former capital digital exhibition
The Former Capital Digital Exhibition
THE EUROPEANS - Arnold van Bruggen & Rob Hornstra the south west collective of photography former capital digital exhibition
The Former Capital Digital Exhibition
THE EUROPEANS - Arnold van Bruggen & Rob Hornstra the south west collective of photography former capital digital exhibition
The Former Capital Digital Exhibition

The physical exhibition has now been opened to the public:

The Europeans Physical Exhibition
The Europeans Physical Exhibition

The Former Capital can be viewed as a brilliant online exhibition here: www.theeuropeans.fmEach regional publication is accompanied by an accessible low-cost publication, which is also available in a hardcover edition including signed print, which support the artists and project as it continues.

Specifications:

Publisher: The Europeans / Kaunas Photography Gallery

Design: Kummer & Herrman

Softcover: 112 pp

Dimensions: 170 x 213 mm (6.7 x 8.4 in.)

Language: English / Lithuanian

Print run: 1,000 copies

Price: € 9.50 – £8.40 + p&p

Purchase from HERE

We look forward to seeing how this fantastic project progresses over the coming weeks and months and cannot wait to see what’s next. Stay safe everyone!

The Europeans

“The Europeans is a portrait of modern Europe. Traveling from region to region and from theme to theme in this multi-year project, photographer Rob Hornstra and writer and filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen will create a 21st century time piece on the European Heartland. Hornstra and van Bruggen see Europe on the eve of drastic change. Populism and authoritarianism are on the rise, ghosts from the past seem to return.”

Website: https://www.theeuropeans.fm/

Instagram: @theeuropeans.fm

Photographer:

Rob Hornstra: http://robhornstra.com

Instagram: @robhornstra

Article by Collective owner Samuel Fradley

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