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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

BOOK REVIEW: ARI VERSLUIS & ELLIE UTTENBROEK "EXACTITUDES"

Image Above: ©Ari Versluis & Profiler Ellie Uyttenbroek (01. Gabbers).

 

 

“L’exactitude n’est pas la verite”, translates to “Accuracy is not the truth”. This quote was spoken by Henri Matisse, whose painting style was so unique, his paintings become a part of his larger aesthetic, losing their individuality within the collective uniqueness of all of his work. This idea is the embodiment of what Ari Versluis’ Exactitudes demonstrates. The quote sits on Ari Versluis and Elli Uyttenbrook’s  website’s ‘about’ page, which explains the implications of their project Exactitude. The title is a combination of the words “exact” and “attitude”, implying that the subjects in the book have precisely the same attitude as each other, identical in their differences. Flipping through the text, page after page of similarly dressed people stare up as Versluis, exposes the anthropological reality that individuality exists only in fleeting moments in today’s world where trend forecasters scour the internet for anything new to broadcast to the masses. The other definition of exactitude, the quality or state of being accurate or correct, lends itself to the cause, supporting the accuracy of the project that is obvious to the naked eye.

©Ari Versluis & Profiler Ellie Uyttenbroek (Left: 37. Chairmen, Beijing, 1999; Right: 68. Formers, Rotterdam, 2005).

 

 

When the project started in the 90’s, almost 20 years ago, it was an assignment to define and photograph the youth group known as ‘gabbers’ in Rotterdam. The tracksuit wearing, bald headed party kids had a remarkable similarity to one another, despite being counter culture in nature. Versluis noticed this and was inspired to create (literal)  boxes for the variety of people that exist.

The subjects were found on the street and invited to their studio, told only that they must wear the exact outfit they were spotted in on the street, allowing each portrait to ring with unfabricated, unstylized truth. Each of the poses was created organically by the first of each ‘type’ they photographed, and then immaculately directed for the remainder of the portraits.

©Ari Versluis & Profiler Ellie Uyttenbroek (Left: 15. Tattoo Babes, Rotterdam, 1997; Right: 16. Manipulation, Rotterdam, 1997).

 

 

The pristine organization of the photographs on the pages of the book reflect the way it seems each person picked their outfit; precisely and with express purpose. The portraits seem to imply that they couldn’t have gotten dressed with any purpose other than fitting in, the similarities between their outfits and the outfits of those surrounding them on the page uncanny. This pattern Versluis highlights is obviously a combination of many simple factors; trends, marketing, and availability of certain styles of clothing, in partnership with more complex socio-economic and anthropological factors. Our consumption is streamlined and pre screened by companies before we even get to look at clothes and decide what we want and what we don’t. Social pressures make people who don’t have a strong sense of personal style adapt and conform to the group with which they find themselves surrounded.

©Ari Versluis & Profiler Ellie Uyttenbroek (Left: 47. Mothercare, Casablanca, 2000; Right: 59. Mininas, Praia, 2004).

 

 

One group of women labelled “Tattoo Babes” shows women with specifically placed tattoos topless with their arms crossed over those controversial circles on their chests. They are neighbored by a group of men, shirtless, labelled “Manipulators.” Versluis draws a circle in red Sharpie around the perception of men Vs the perception of women and provides a narrative where a topless man is arrogant and evil, a manipulator implies, and topless women are rebellious and free spirited, the men oblivious even to the privilege they carry being able to be photographed topless and remain unsexualized. No matter the comment Versluis makes, each individual’s traits are diminished by the presence of 11 other identical figures per page. The 37th group stands apart, however. This group of older men of seeming Asian descent are photographed in shirts reminiscent of the military uniforms we are used to seeing the iconic “Chairman” in. They stand apart from the swells of people searching to define their identity around them. With their somber pose and occasionally smiling faces, we see them holding on to a piece of their past they are comfortable in. Their camaraderie and union seems welcome to them through the thin black borders separating them, seen in their varying expressions, a sign of true comfort.

©Ari Versluis & Profiler Ellie Uyttenbroek (Left: 32. Showpieces, Beijing, 1999; Right: 19. Vagabonds, Rotterdam, 1998).

 

 

The project has a snarky and cheeky edge to it that sets it on the opposite scale of other street style books, which work to highlight the ‘unique’ fashion of city dwellers. Commenting on the sameness of others is in itself a pattern seen from counterculture artists, lumping Versluis in with other ‘hipster’ types who look down on mainstream and conformist ideals, effectively proving his point that everyone has an archetype.

 

By Natasha Zedan

Summertime Salon 2015 at Robin Rice Gallery

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