Jaap Scheeren

Fw:Books, 2022

ISBN 978-90-831658-8-2 Pb


Much as we might ‘love’ nature, it is often said that the natural world is indifferent to the human species and our fate. It would carry on perfectly well without us. But what if the natural world – all those birds and animals, trees and bushes and all the rest – actively hated and despised us, for our rapaciousness, destruction and mess? That is the premise of this bracing Dutch photo-novella. It tells the tale of a narrator, gender unknown, who, feeling listless, goes out for a walk in the woods and dunes, starts to feel rapturous about nature and at one with it, but soon gets the creeps, hears ‘fuck you’ coming from all sides, and (plot spoiler alert) is finally persuaded by the voices to go and drown him/herself in the sea.

            The story, by Rik van den Bos, is concisely written, its words spread thinly across the pages. Mainly the book consists of photographs by Jaap Scheeren: pictures of trees and shrubs, animals and birds, representing what the narrator sees as he/she walks around. Many are overtly anthropomorphic. In the earlier, rapturous section, trees look as though they are hugging each other, tree roots could be holding hands, close-ups of bits of tree resemble male and female genitalia, some apparently in flagrante. When the abuse starts, birds, animals and bushes appear to be giving us the middle finger (‘flipping the bird’). As a reader, you often have to be quite generous to see the pictures as Scheeren means us to see them. It takes a degree of paranoia to interpret pine candles, or a swan stretching its neck, as vulgar finger gestures. The book is darkly humorous, perhaps, if a bit crudely done. But although lacking polish, its underlying idea is potent and disturbing, and stays with you.