European Prospects
Exploring European Identity through Photography

In 2014, Dutch photographer Wytske van Keulen was invited by Le Chateau d’Eau in Toulouse to make new work at several Maisons de Retraite in and around town. The elderly people living in these homes – some with mental disorders or behavioural problems – live institutionalised. The confined spaces in which they live shape their existence, a place with its own laws, a microcosm at the fringe of society.

Wytske van Keulen Residency

Residencies | 25 February 2015
Monsieur F., Room 56, protection against possible thieves Monsieur A., Room 147, movie ‘The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ Madame B., Room 76, granddaughter with cat Madame D., Room 105, remembrance for Monsieur D. Madame F., Room 311, books, notes and autumn leaves Madame L., Room 117, radio antenna Madame C., Room 238, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita Monsieur A., Room 54, teenage movie collection Monsieur F., Room 56, cupboard construction for electrical cords Monsieur A., Room 54, running water and empty sugar bags Madame M., Room 131, coffee with cold water Madame F. and Monsieur G., Room 15, tobacco pipes Monsieur F., Room 56, open door secured by elastic spider and blocked by bathroom door
Monsieur F., Room 56, protection against possible thieves

All photographs were taken in April 2014 and January 2015 in Toulouse and Graulhet, France.

In 2014, Dutch photographer Wytske van Keulen was invited by Le Chateau d’Eau in Toulouse to make new work at several Maisons de Retraite in and around town. The elderly people living in these homes – some with mental disorders or behavioural problems – live institutionalised. The confined spaces in which they live shape their existence, a place with its own laws, a microcosm at the fringe of society.

The photographic series is not a mise en scène distanced from reality, but allows us to get into this intimate world through fragments and details. Wytske van Keulen reveals the uniqueness of these homes beyond their superficial banality. Every picture draws a portrait of a resident without the actual face, offering a true ‘psychological landscape’.

Van Keulen’s eye rests upon some leaves found in a park or a box full of DVD’s sitting on a chair, recalling all the hours spent watching them. Some images are filled with objects, from votive mementos to souvenirs. They reveal a lifetime summed up on the corner of a shelf or haphazardly hung on a wall.  At the same time, the bareness of a room tells of a particular and unchanging ritual focused on a single activity, an obsessive gesture fighting against the hidden anxiety of the everyday. A simple wire tacked to the wall, a radio antenna, becomes a sign for the need of contact with the outside world.

Along with her images Van Keulen wrote short personal texts which allow us to follow her into these intimate settings. Like her earlier work this new series show us the flow of life. Also it tells the photographer’s experiences through the exchanges with the people who welcomed her into their world. The emotional swell, which arises when one enters into her work, comes from feeling the deep empathy found in the blend of her vision and her voice.