Paul Gofferjé - Defenders of the Land

The exhibition is the result of the 'Post-Middendorp' award, a documentary photography assignment handed out once every two years by the province of Groningen. An accompanying text by Paul Gofferjé follows below.

An ode to the 'Defenders of the land'.

A few years ago I made a resolution to portray the 'real defenders of the land' in Groninger history. As a photographer I pictured the following: rugged manual workers building dikes, or reversing the flow of the sea with their shovels everytime a dike would break through. The Post-Middendorp award was handed to me, in order to actually create this image.

After a lot of research, it turned out that the above mentioned romantic image had to be replaced by another, at least as interesting, image. The defenders are not merely 'rugged workers', but much more: surveyors of the dikes, fishermen, inhabitants of the monasteries, guardians of the lighthouses, guardians of the floodgates and the pumping-engines, the rat and mole catchers and ofcourse the farmers and their jurisdisction of the water-board. In order to protect their business especially the farmers have fought for generations to hold back the attacks of the sea.

Breathless, I read the accounts of the many floods in which thousands of countrymen lost their lives, and in reading I arrived at what a Roman said in 47AD: he doubts, wether this soil, where poor people have erected mountains, belongs to the earth or to the sea.

This revised image I have captured, still under the title 'Defenders of the land', utilizing a special panorama technique.

The romantic cliche of small men opposite the forces of nature, the sea, is shaped in the transparencies by picturing man as small a possible in a landscape that seems to go on forever. The panorama photography (transparencies with an average length of 1,5 meter) was chosen to put a contemporary meaning into the old super-cliche. The chosen technique encompasses a great deal of giving directions by the photographer who, with his unprejudiced look, places the people (back) into the scenery (the landscape) which they created themselves.

Through using this method many questions arise in the viewer, about the people in the image. And although men clearly dominates nature in the transparencies, and the sea seems to be kept at a large distance, there is at the same time an increasing emptiness around them.

As men drew anew the land, my camera draws man. The panorama suggests an infinity from left to right, the flattened eternal curve of time.

Paul Gofferjé, September 1996