Debby Thijs: cerebral naked in a landscape of woods and spirits.

Photography of Debby Thijs (1988) carry more than a hint of Unbearableness within them. The unbearableness of love for life like this one shows for example his most obstinate side in Romance. Playing affectionately with darkness, with horror, known since Grimm, a tradition that is being extensively continued in films and music nowadays.

David Lynch is the big master here. For a lot of people a passe-partout in film/photography, because: dark and disturbing equals Lynch. Yes ok, but no, there’s more. A whole lot more.

A painter has paint, ideas and passion. An art photographer has choices, light, ideas and his or her personal (or constructed) emotional life.

The photographer brings the viewer to the world of doubt between fiction and reality by playing with evocation. The photographic work of Debby Thijs clearly doesn’t bring us in the direction of the so well- known ‘register, understand and explain’, but in the direction of ‘captivate and feel or sense’. Her photos are carriers of veiled emotions. The viewer can un-veil them. The dark pictures request the viewers the willingness to disappear in the photo-surface, the willingness to undergo a ‘suspension of disbelief’. When you look at her pictures you get lost in a dark forest, which when examined closer, surprisingly enough, is situated within oneself. It raises malicious questions. What does the photographer want to reach? Where does she want to bring you? Does she want to evoke spirits or does she want to expel them? The shape of her work is that of an intensive aesthetic, derived from Romanticism, but in a self-cultured style which Debby Thijs very wisely has made her trade mark . Her visual language is a construction, a lexicon. The images altogether form a whole, a language, a choir of melancholic soul soldiers who sings the perhaps completely absent story into a myth by whispering together. The melody is more important than the partition. In her photos it is the music of the Silence that dominates.

In some images the tension stretches out to the point where suspicion grows of a possible painful stroboscopic derailment. Other images are then again more comforting. Softer. Fairylike. Misleading probably. The black-and-whites appear one by one like photos taken on the boundary line between absolutely black and the per meter decaying (flash)light, a wink of time, gone in an instance, from light to pitch black. The colour photos bathe rather in a pleasantly warm monochrome trace. Once again, carriers of veiled emotion. Debby’s photos come from the soul and are also destined for the soul. With this angle there is yet again a semantic hitch in the cable. Namely, what is soul photography then? Or if we want to ask nicely; what is interior photography? ‘Die Seele’. In our Western culture Soul stands as it were constantly with capital S, because of exclusively appropriated land of the Christianity on the one hand and the (somewhat sticky) civic romance on the other hand . In that time the rising citizens sought to legitimize their own status and an alternative for the aristocratic aura via Soul experience, Culture and Romance. We can better not use the word Soul so light, it is quite polluted. Just to say, a historical-semantic problem. Therefore we maybe need to drop the big S of the terminology around Soul and search for the small ‘s’, then we can, somewhat freed and better than before, keep our attention at a pre religious pre civility. Then we arrive at an ever-latent primal spirituality which lies dormant in human nude, in forests, turbulent waters and fog curtains. We suspect horny satyr, nymphs and weird rituals there, but that is just our mind that’s playing. Experiencing nature and sexuality. As concrete country people, we are There in our deepest inner more than ever. Our spirit hasn’t forgotten our nature. This unforeseen mental return to spirituality dating in 2013, can be translated as either ‘desire’ or ‘receptivity’. In this young photo’s work here lies a pagan prayer.

As far as the reference marks go, Debby’s photos make me land constantly in shreds from the cinema of Ingmar Bergman and in a journey of Japanese expressionist photographers of roughly the last forty years, in which the keywords are; black and white. Grainy. Dark. Mysterious. Soul loaded. Raw. Countless examples from this school. The link to Japanese artists is not coincidentally because they are, not Christian, historically speaking, and therefore completely different interwoven with this ‘soul matter’. In the religion of Shinto, the ‘kami’ are worshipped with a lot of respect , these are the Japanese nature spirits who are present in special places in the nature. Or better, projected by the human capacity towards religiosity and deep respect for tradition and nature in itself. In Debby’s work I notice a high sensitivity that borders on the religious.

I want to call her work ‘pagan natured’. To that extent that her photographic approach has something anti-religious and rebellious in it.But every party has a price to pay. What is Seen cannot be Unseen. Sehnsüchtigkeit ( the yearning)pulls himself forward, the direction is uncertain. Debby Thijs embarks on the area of uncertain humanity. It is expressionist photography that is strongly related to vulnerable finite of our humanity against the infinity in the time of nature, darkness, mystery and mysticism. Unsteady paths. Ravines. Balancing exercise. Therefore it is good that the heavier images get their counterpart in more ethereal, more coloured, more romantic works. It is good that both sides of this spectrum, dark and light, each exercise their own strength in consistency in this particular, young oeuvre.

To sum up, I want to call Debby’s photography ‘pagan’. Pagan is anything but pejorative here. It carries purity in itself. That same dual purity as in the consideration whether we are carried or thrown into the world. The term paganism is a badge of honour for these works. It’s about the intensifying and sharpening ‘Da-sein’, being There, cerebral naked as it were, in a landscape of woods and spirits. – Peter Waterschoot, photographer-curator