Wouter Le Duc‘s photographs from his series ‘The Constellations of Winter’ follows the same lonely road that Danila Tkachenko took in her exploration of hermits living in the forests of Russia. Both artists are fascinated with those that feel compelled to leave the comforts of modern civilisation and retreat into the natural world, away from society, from its trappings, from the relentless dictatorship of materialism.
People have always felt the need to escape the structures imposed on by society however, with the advent of industrialisation in the 19th Century this desire increased and in the 20th Century all vestiges of the past were finally swept aside as the individual finally triumphed over the collective. Now, in the new millenium we continue to blindly struggle onward, into a brave new world, tired, stressed and out of touch with humanity. This march, this war on the human spirit has created a collective unease and into this vacuum many have fled, looking for solace, peace and a deeper connection with the world about them.
This uncharted territory is the subject of Le Duc’s pictures, each image an attempt to express this desire for isolation, for retreat, to break the chains of societal convention, an exploration that was to be both a physical act and a conceptual journey. In the winter of 2010 he lived in a cabin in the forests of Sweden, walking, thinking, drawing, writing, the harsh conditions opening his mind to a new reality, giving him a different perspective of life in a capitalist society. As did the work of a close relative who spent her days exploring societal structures through the internet, reaffirming her own prejudices about the world around her.
Both threads of thought deeply resonated with Le Duc and in 2013 he began researching the work of Freud and Jung as well as the Surrealists who were heavily influenced by early 20th Century psychoanalysis. These elements; living in isolation in Sweden, the internet trawling of his relative and his research, led him to create a body of work that reflected both the physical reality and the unconscious experience. The photographs in the cabin took on the physicality of isolation while the portraits became covert signifiers and reminders of a mental state which once was reality. This duality leaves the narrative open to interpretation and questions our need to escape and why we have failed those that chose to leave. Here’s what Le Duc has to say about his work:
As long as I can remember I looked with respect and fascination to those who lived their lives in an unfamiliar fashion. I talked to and photographed the outcasts, the broken, the lost, the ones without a house or a home. Meeting seemingly ordinary people who turned out to be refugees from conflict zones in the middle east or who played their self-invented game in which they created their own imaginary world ignited a spark to spend my time to investigate their journey in life.
This lead me to my quest to tell stories about eccentric people situated on the periphery of society by choice or chance. I tell stories of both fiction and nonfiction, which are inspired by a great curiosity in people, current affairs, personal experiences and historical characters. I focus on the core of my subjects; Where did they come from, how are they fulfilling their lives and where will they go from here.