Vincent Delbrouck’s photobook Dzogchen doesn’t take its cues from photography itself. He appears not to be interested in replicating the obsession that many photographers have with the surface, of the exposure or the composition, and instead approaches the image with a much more robust utilitarianism. The result is work that takes a very pragmatic and playful hand with the negative, the print and the page, not viewing any source material as sacred and instead using these products as only a starting point for a truly irreverent artistic process.
From the front cover to the last image, the usual tropes of sumptuous colour, gorgeous pastels and minimal composition are completely abandoned for a maximalist, collage heavy riff that isn’t afraid to pair harsh colour with imposing shadow, or obviously washed out pages with red paint dripped over them. The first image, cheekily, is of a knife, and with this attitude of dissection he has constructed a book of purposeful play.
Many photographers want to shy away, worried about issues of mis-representation, yet what Delbrouck does with his images deviates so far from reality, representation and the country itself.
The book is made up of collage and painting, in combination with more traditional single-page images. But while this may seem like a small difference, the way a book reads – as it is almost post-modern in its farrago of aesthetic and constructed approaches – makes for a much more joyful and dazzling reading experience. The sequence just bursts with energy: moving so rapidly from image to collage, to painting overlaid with photographs, to photographs of collages, to inserts of writing back to single image to massive double page landscapes may sound disorienting, but it really, really isn’t.
This book is of Delbrouck’s time in Nepal; it’s one of several that he has made while spending time in the country. It’s a really different book from more contemplative or slow photographic works made by outsiders in Nepal (one may think of Shinya Arimoto or Naoki Ishikawa as counterpoints). Delbrouck seems to want to capture the way that a new place seems energetic, amazing, and curious, even in the ways that it’s ugly. One such image that speaks to this is of an animal halfway through being butchered. It’s such an ugly part of life, but is captured and sequenced amidst so much energy and vitality. Many photographers want to shy away from photographing places they don’t know, worried about issues of mis-representation. Yet what Delbrouck does with his images, his paintings, and the way he layers the work deviates so far from reality, representation and the country itself as to bypass those anxieties. Dzogchen is a book of the heady energy of exploration, of being impressed with the smorgasbord of sensory adrenaline and feeling of being totally present in the pace that hits you as soon as you exit the airport in a foreign country alone and pulsing with excitement.
Formally, then, this results in a really beautiful whole. The book isn’t about a place, it’s about a rush. The images aren’t linear or narrative, instead they are oh-so messy and contradictory. I love this work because it’s a delight to look at and an affirming way to tackle the situation of being somewhere new, responding and wanting to stretch that feeling out and share it with others.