ALEX CRETEY SYSTERMANS ALEX CRETEY SYSTERMANS

Introduction

Familiar

The familiar world as an ever changing landscape, an evolving language constantly creating its own complexity.



We recognize—or think we recognize—everything in these photographs: situations, landscapes, people, who could be neighbors, friends, even family members.Nothing spectacular, but a gentle strangeness, attention paid to tiny details, moments suspended in time, variations in light when it becomes magical and surrounds everything with a familiar halo of unreality.Both realistic and mysterious, inexplicable and yet close, this universe is constructed pictorially—before devoting himself to photography, this artist was a painter—around colors that with the greatest prudence avoid describing, all the better to make themselves felt.The eye, never feeling attacked, plunges into an atmosphere devoid of roughness, there in complete serenity to move about from detail to detail, to a pose, a moment of abandon, an acceptance, the fullness of a landscape, the fluidity of the sky when it meets the sea, the supple elegance of an interior that has become a still life. Close to us, close to our homes, should we decide to look at them, here is a succession of moments of light that exalt the beauty of the world while declining emotions.


— Christian Caujolle, Paris Photo, Nov 2013.



The Familiar series is a body of work that approaches everything that is familiar to the photographer, who tries to maintain his naïve fascination and the delight he still experiences while documenting what he finds exotic during his work as a travel photographer. The series is made of portraits, candid moments and familiar scenes and still-lives. It experiments the thin line between fiction and document by using poetry in a domestic universe.

— Landscape Stories, 2014




The photography of Alex Crétey Systermans is primarily an aesthetic experience. A great deal of information is conveyed by the subtlety of the colour and the line and by those alone. Then there are the themes, and with them the divide between personal and editorial work. On one side he portrays his family (Familiar), he wanders (Presqu'île, The Month of Ghosts), he takes his time (Slowdown), on the other he travels, follows an itinerary and keeps to deadlines. This change of perspective creates drama. We no longer see his travels in the antipodes in the same light when we think back to the scenes of family life, and we look at those scenes differently when they portray a return or the imminence of departure.
Although he comes from a fine arts background (he started using photography for his visual research before taking it up full time), his work has a literary quality. If you were to arrange his sequences in chronological order, you would be looking at an autobiographical novel - the story of a double life that becomes the raw material for a work of art. The dividing line between personal work and documentary is overcome by the homogeneity of style and the continuity of viewpoint. The familiar and the exotic are the two boundaries between which his talent, rather than being dispersed or failing to fulfil itself, is revealed.


The desk








This photograph of a desk is taken from Familiar. It’s his father’s desk. We see it from just behind the person who is usually seated there and we could place a hand on the absence of his shoulder. Antiques sit cheek by jowl with the functional without ceremony, the desk is sagging, the books are placed higgledy-piggledy on the shelf and if there is a kind of order, it’s touching. Nothing looks more like a portrait than a photograph of a room full of memories. However, what strikes me is all the things that relate to travel and to family, the son’s themes amongst the father’s stuff. Starting with the photographs within the photograph: that of a boat on one side, those of loved ones pinned one on top of another. Then there are the navigational instruments, the word ‘captain’ on the drawer and it’s so cramped that it feels like a cabin. Suddenly the familiar and the exotic are no longer concepts, on the contrary they inscribe themselves in a filiation, the most basic narrative, of which this photo is a great mise en abyme. It uses a very Proustian juxtaposition of time and artistic approach to suggest the birth of a vocation.


— Loic Thisse, Selektor Magazine, 2014




UNIVERSAL BEAUTY IN THE EVERYDAY

Alex Crétey Systermans photographs from ‘Familiar’ traverse the known world of personal history; memories, friends and family. His pictures attempt to capture a collective unconscious, a beauty in the everyday, of our need for the familiar; family gatherings, a quiet moment, staring out the window, watching a child play in the backyard. All of these small, seemingly insignificant details becoming a signifer, a singular moment that encompasses a lifetime.

This sense of exploration, of seeking a language to describe the human condition is at the heart of all of Systermans work. His use of photography a means to engage with the complexities of the real world. Originally a painter Systermans uses the medium to find and create images that already exist in the world. And it’s through this visual search for metaphors that he find himself in spaces that lie between the familiar and unfamiliar, ordinary places that he transforms into lyrical poetry, creates a universal song, a common language that is not of one place but of all.

In ‘Familiar’ he turns the camera on his family. And while they are personal they personify the everyman, they seek out those quiet places that have a history, touch on the essence of self, yet are insignificant in themselves; the old bathroom sink, the kitchen table, the bedroom, the floured fish waiting to be fried.

It’s both a personal and poignant portrait and a revealing document that illuminates the majesty of life. His pictures remind us that it’s the small things that keep our fires burning, our minds ablaze when the darkness descends when all feels lost. And it does come. To all of us.

Mutantspace, 2015