May 1, 2007
A Dutch photographer captures a vanishing way of life.
Glance at a Bert Teunissen photograph and you might think you are seeing a seventeenth-century Dutch painting by Vermeer or Rembrandt. Old World details—patterned tile, an oak kitchen table, cured meats hung from rafters, streaming sunlight—point to simpler times, before digital-age conveniences. For the past decade Teunissen has been documenting the interiors of hundreds of aging European homes in which the main feature is natural light.
The spaces remind the photographer of the old house in Ruurlo, the Netherlands, in which he grew up; it was demolished when he was nine years old, and his family moved into a brand-new modern building. “I realized my old place that I loved so much, knew so well, and grew up with was gone, and I’d never see it again,” Teunissen said at a recent lecture accompanying an exhibition of his work at Aperture Gallery, in New York City. Having covered nine European countries, he has now expanded his project to document the vanishing spaces and slower pace of life in Japan, with trips to Russia, Turkey, and the Baltics planned for this year.
Teunissen sees the project as an exploration of atmosphere and light, but also as a narrative about authenticity. “The inhabitants of the houses I find and photograph still have a sense of the importance of time, and the value of the daily and yearly cycles of life,” he says. “But their houses and ways of living are fading out of our societies forever, together with their knowledge.”