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Contour Gallery Rotterdam : Jan Pypers : Diorama


So you have photographers who cherish the moment, decisive or otherwise. In their judgement, the maker must always be alert for what is momentarily worth capturing. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the other image-maker; he or she who swears by control. And some among them go very far – Gregory Crewdson e.g. mobilises a small army of collaborators and realises his scenes like a film director.

Jan Pypers (Belgium 1982) belongs to the latter category of photographers who strive for control. Control he achieves in a very special way – but we will come back to that later.

Today, he is showing the Diorama series at Contour gallery in Rotterdam. They are grand images, with wide views. In each of the pictures, people are confronted with nature, with powerful impressionable animals, fauna we do not normally get to see. The image Diorama-Ursus 2024 is an exemplary: on the left, a large brown bear, on the right, a group of adolescents in sportswear. In the background, a football pitch with a stand marked with the word ‘Visitors’, and the message is clear: we do find ourselves in cultivated space, BUT we too are visitors. It also recalls a memory Jan Pypers mentioned in the past: suddenly, as a child, he found himself in a forest face to face with a deer with big antlers, it filled him with fear but also with an idea of connection. This is a recurring theme in his work: in Diorama, Pypers considers the clash between cultivated space and nature; in Nightgardeners (the previous series), the emphasis was on the loss of the link between human action and existence and nature.

Pypers is inspired by film, and by directors who evoke atmosphere. It was also his first love – he studied film production. The images look almost like film stills and are bathed in a dreamy/strange atmosphere, challenging you as a viewer to imagine the sequel: how do they get there, what is going on and… how does it end?

The series is called “Diorama”, viewing box, and that actually says a lot about Jan Pypers’ philosophy as well as his working method. He creates an illusion and does so by creating viewing boxes. The Diorama is centuries old: the lamentation of Christ by Niccolò dell’Arca (c. 1435-1440) in Bologna is de facto a Diorama, and by extension you could even describe the nativity scene as such. But it is from the late 19th century that plenty of Dioramas are realised – viewing boxes with zoological, ethnological, natural history or historical subjects for museums, for educational purposes. Whether miniatures or life-size, they have one characteristic in common: they make what is distant in time or space visible, and fit perfectly into the need for visual culture of 19th- or 20th-century man. And that is precisely what Pypers’ does, making the invisible visible.

And now to how he achieves it. I mentioned briefly the need for control, which he attains by creating models. Very meticulously, he creates a world to scale, with incredible attention to detail. He builds landscapes, buildings with all kinds of materials. And as in Dioramas, he works with forced perspective, creating the impression of depth. It is a monk’s work into which he puts a lot of energy. And then follows an incredible and unexpected step: once the image is finished, he destroys the model.

Jan Pypers creates the widest panoramic landscapes to scale, and asks pressing topical questions about man’s relationship with his environment – until 12 May at Contour Gallery Rotterdam.

John Devos (ad)


Contour Gallery
Josephstraat 164
3014 TX Rotterdam
The Netherlands
[email protected]

Thu-Fri 11am – 5pm
Sat 1-5pm
Wed & Sun by appointment

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