Image © Gert Jochems.
Gert Jochems turned to photography after practicing sociology, yearning for a more creative outlet to explore his interests. Photography, he says, allows him to create something more tangible, actual objects he can use to comprehend life: “When I worked as a sociologist, my job was talking, talking and talking. At the end of the day, there was nothing concrete done, nothing made.”
But while photography has fulfilled this need, a sociological approach still informs Jochems’ work. S, one of his major series, is what he terms a look at the daily life of “regular” Flemish people, shot in their very regular Flemish living rooms. These regular people, however, lead not-so-conventional lives in private.
Jochems found his subjects through various websites connecting people with similar sexual inclinations. He emailed couples and individuals with monikers such as “Ginger and Tramp”, “Nice and Easy”, “Oink Oink” and “Janette”, and proposed photographing them, ensuring their anonymity, if they preferred. He also attached a photo of himself “because a lot of people on sites like that won’t even [consider overtures] without a photo”.
More than a hundred images make up the final edit of the book, which is published to coincide with an exhibition of the work at Foto Museum Antwerp. It is almost anthropological in its scope, a cross-section of sexual experimentation that includes portraits of individuals, couples and groups engaged in sex or in various states of sexual play. “Bizarre sex, the weird stuff, that was the easiest to locate: people consciously experimenting with it. S&M is visual, and being watched is part of the turn-on. Ordinary sex – that’s a lot trickier.”
Jochems is an invisible observer in his subjects’ sitting rooms, bedrooms and basements, and only rarely do we see a face looking into the camera. “I’m totally focused when I’m taking pictures,” he says. “I only concentrate on forms, light, image – not sex. Your mind is elsewhere, concentrating on the technical side.”
Image © Gert Jochems.
S wasn’t originally intended to be an exploration of sexuality, but by bringing in the local, almost incongruous, dimension of Flanders – as opposed to focusing on cities or nightlife as many such projects do – Jochems was able to make the work he was after: “Although all the images are made in Flanders, the subject remains ‘exotic’ for me; it is still far away from my own personal life. Belgian people cannot look at these images ‘as something strange, of far-away people’. I hope that by making the pictures in a local context, the images become more ‘universal’.”
These images of the bizarre and secretive among Jochems’ subjects are somehow both exotic yet everyday, but the anomalies that fascinated Jochems from the beginning remain. “Odd that some people don’t mind being photographed by a stranger at their most intimate,” he says. “Odd that it’s possible to photograph sex without it being porn. Odd that something as abstract as mystery can be photographed.”
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