Erik van der Weijde

You now live in Brazil but you were born in the Netherlands. When and why did you decide to move to Brazil, and what has this changed for you and your way of taking photos.

Well, I first did a student exchange, back in 1994, and I loved Brazil so much that I kept coming back every year. I eventually met my wife and we decided that for the time being we could have a better life here in Brazil.
In the early 2000s, when I was still in art school, I was always travelling between Brazil and the Netherlands, so in a way I kind of became detached from both worlds. Neither of them was home. I think my perception of both Brazil and Europe, not belonging to either of them, became influenced by that. I feel like an outsider in both countries and I photograph with that distance as well.

What interests you in daily life scenes, such as trees, houses, family pictures and so forth?

I believe that in a way, in everyday life, everything is present, if you look carefully. The feeling a movie or a song can give you can also be obtained from a building in the street you pass by every day. I am also interested in what’s behind the things we see all the time and take for granted. I also like to look for patterns. To give things a place and to try to understand them. To put my own daily life into a grid.
But, pictorially speaking, I am always looking for images that are iconic. A tree, or a house, or my son, that might look like all trees, houses or kids. Images that are both unique and universal. Those are images I always look for.

The Books ‘This is not my Wife’ and ‘This is not my Son’ contain photos of your wife and son. In most of the photos your son’s face is covered with masks or other stuff. Can you tell us about the reason for this? Does family equal home for you?

In the case of the book about my son, I was playing with scenes that I saw him act, with his friends or alone. He really thought he was Spiderman in that costume and I was a photographer looking for that iconic image. Many of those photos we reenacted later during the day, in another scenery or with different light. So it was in no way the father photographing his child. That project was more about the triangle father-photographer-son.
In the new book ‘This is not my Wife’, it’s a bit different. My wife is of course very aware of the camera and posing in a different way. She knows she’s posing for the photographer and not for the husband. And for me the game was to get pictures of this very intimate relation that were both universal and at the same time unique. The woman in the photos could be anyone, yet at the same time it could only have been me who took the photos, you know?
And yes, family equals home for me…

For your book ‘Der Baum’ you took photos of trees at places that have a certain historical meaning. This places the tree in a special context. Do the wilderness and the chaos of nature play a special role in this series? Can you tell us something about the series and about your relationship to trees?

I don’t like trees in particular, but I like photographs of trees. I just think trees look good in pictures. So for me this series is not about the trees at all. It is about the places. The places interest me. If you know more of my work you will notice that many of the tree pictures were taken during other shootings. For example the photo of the tree in a German Nazi neighbourhood comes from the ‘Siedlung’ shoot, other tree photos come from other series that are yet to publish. Inspiration for this book came from a book from 1931, also titled ‘Der Baum’, that showed the beauty of the trees in the German landscape. A couple of years later the publishing company of this book affiliated with the Nazi party, which in a way stigmatised all their titles…

The German Nazi past around the time of the Second World War is the topic of some of your series, books and zines. Also some of your publications have German titles, ‘Siedlung’ for instance, or ‘Der Baum’. What is your connection to this era and why do you capture it so often?

There are two main reasons why this is a recurring topic in my work. Both come from my childhood, of course.
My grandmother is German and she married a Dutchman right after the war. When I was a boy and became interested in the war, she never wanted to talk about that time. So for me as a little boy the war became even more interesting…
Secondly, during one of our family’s many holidays on a camping site in Southern Germany, I found a metal box filled with a kind of Nazi collector cards. It felt like I had found a forbidden treasure, at the age of 8. The box and the images, colour and black and white, with a red border and a black eagle, were so beautiful to me.
The next thing I remember is that together with my father and the camping manager we burnt all the hundreds of cards. The whole episode and the burning ritual became a very big thing in my mind. I think I often try to re-create the feeling of these (forbidden) images. Does this make sense?

Your work also covers the theme of prostitution in Brazil. Is this a big issue in Brazil? Why are the faces of the prostitutes from the beach not visible? Was this your decision or the decision of the women?

Prostitution is not really a big issue in Brazil. Maybe it’s a bit more visible than in Europe, because Brazil has such a strong body culture, but that’s it. The thing is, about 10 years ago the town where we live was flooded with European tourists looking for cheap sex. And while I was taking pictures on the beaches, many of the girls assumed I was also a European tourist looking for some fun. At one point I decided to include this scene in the beach series. Many of the girls wanted their face to be in the pictures, they thought of becoming famous or something, but I wanted to show them as objects, as the male tourists see them. They are plastic, just like the other objects on the beach… The harsh flash, the colours and the paper all reinforce this point of view.

There is a big contrast between National Socialism, family, and prostitution. Why are you interested in such different topics, and is it hard to jump back and forth between those really different topics?

All the topics I deal with in my work are things that interest me because I don’t fully understand them. But as a curious person I try to examine them in order to give them a place. Like photographing, then filing them and archiving them in a drawer. At least they are not floating questions anymore at that point.
The topics I publish in my work I consider as Subway Stations; I ride these different lines underground and sometimes I get out at a certain stop. In my mind National Socialism and prostitution, or family, can even be on the same subway line, but the viewer will only see the stations above the ground, so that might not make any sense at all, right? So instead of having one real thread in my work, I have different colours of lines, which link all topics or subjects. But sometimes you have to change lines in order to understand…

Can you tell us something about your latest zine, which you did with your mother-in-law? What is it about?

It’s a zine about cows from the Nelore breed, one of my favourite breeds. They’re cute. For the special edition I designed a cute felt doll and since my mother-in-law works a lot with thread and needle, I kind of forced her into working with me. I wanted to have an edition of 25 dolls, as this was my 25th publication, but she only made 15.

Do you plan to do another photozine edition where you cover or curate works of other artists?

Actually not at this moment. I always have ideas for the next 10 publications or so, but other artists’ work is not part of that. Yet.

Most of your publications are sold via your own publishing house 4478zine. Why do you do this and what publications do you have planned for the future?

First of all, because I like to do all these different things. The timing and scheduling of releases, the production, post-production, marketing, distribution and administration, I just like it all. I also like to have everything in control. Another important thing is that this way I can keep all the money that comes within 4478zine walls. So I invest 100% of the earnings of my titles in new publications. At this moment ‘This is not my Wife’, in collaboration with Rollo-Press, is in post-production and will be released in mid-April. I have a limited edition series of card sets, called Souvenir, in production and I have something great in pre-production, due for summer or fall. I want to keep it a bit of a secret, because I’ve been photographing this topic for over 10 years now, so for me it’s a big thing. Like giving birth after 10 years! So stay tuned for many interesting things coming soon…