Tuesday, December 19, 2023


Photography Book Review | Brian Rope

Title: Nucleo

Author: Wouter Van de Voorde

Publisher: AREA Books (Paris)

Format: 240 pages (all with foldout), 32 x 23.5 cm, softcover (with dustjacket)

ISBN: 978-2-4935-0911-6

Having become aware of Wouter Van de Voorde’s photography, Laure-Anne Kayser of AREA Books (Paris) approached him to do a book. Like his previous sold-out book Death is not here (published by Void, another European company), sales of Nucleo have been excellent since it was first launched on 8 November 2023 in Paris at an Art Book Fair. 

The Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson named Nucleo as a Book of the Month for December 2023, saying “Like the fantasized nuclear family to which the book’s title refers, the photographer’s family watches the forest burn, plays in the water and stirs up dust. Bureau Kayser’s ingenious layout delicately crystallizes a tale of family self-sufficiency and autarky.”

At the Canberra launch of the book National Gallery of Australia Photography Curator Anne O’Hehir was effusive in her praise for the book, describing it as having a great sense of “isolation being separate” and suggesting that life seems random and chaotic - a series of events only connected by our experiencing them. The word success comes to mind!

C and F at Lightning Ridge, Wouter Van de Voorde, 2019

F throwing sand in the air, Wouter Van de Voorde, 2023

Announcing the book’s publication, Area Books described it as an “emotionally charged photobook, this work encapsulates a decade of artistic evolution, exploration, and the essence of family life set against the backdrop of the Australian landscape.” As I explored the book I found myself very much agreeing with the description. It reveals so much of the artist’s journey and, simultaneously, his family’s life experiences whilst his art has changed and evolved.

Originally a painter in his Belgian homeland, after moving to Australia in 2008 Van de Voorde found his creative sanctuary in photography – which he has suggested provides the advantage of speed over painting. The artist considers his adopted home country through his camera lenses. The photobook is a visual odyssey tracing the life of his family, starting from the birth of his son, Felix, and continuing to their most recent moments captured during a twilight walk on Cooleman Ridge, a nature reserve close to home. It reveals 10 years of the family’s shared experiences, organized chronologically.

C, F and F on Cooleman Ridge at Sunset, Wouter Van de Voorde, 2023

It is certainly not a traditional family photo album though. Members of the family have been photographed exploring parts of the land on which they live or are visiting for some reason. There are images where their faces are not visible, images taken in an ordinary backyard and others where family members might be seen as exploring a nondescript place. There are no photographs of the artist himself. Rather, his presence is evoked through his observations. Exploring the pages I sometimes wondered what I was looking at, or what the children were doing. All of this adds to the intrigue. His wife’s family lives at a considerable distance, his family on the other side of the world. The book reveals his immediate family’s shared moments in Australia.

A Ngunnawal elder explained to Van de Voorde how the land looks after people who live on or even just pass through it. He now has a clear understanding of how the land provides solace, nourishment, and a deep sense of belonging. The artist poetically explores this relationship, drawing parallels between a trig point’s archetypal house shape and the skeletal remnants of a house. He sees this as a metaphor for his family’s life - being inside a house without walls but feeling protected and cared for by the landscape.

C and F on Mount Arawang, Wouter Van de Voorde, 2023

The book’s design utilizes a horizontal layout folded in two. Opening the book at the central fold subverts the typical chronological flow, instead delivering a most Japanese approach to layout. I first saw the latest image, from September 2023, then read in reverse order. This folding technique enables juxtaposition of visual and natural patterns whilst challenging the conventional concept of time. You can get a great feel for the book at https://area-books.com/en/nucleo. As a bonus for purchasers, each copy of the book has a numbered print signed by the artist slipped into the front cover. And just look at this image showing something of the wonderful structure of the book:

At the local launch, O’Hehir suggested Nucleo is, a legacy for the artist’s children. She is right. This artist has assembled and shared a very successful portrait of his art and his family’s life.

This review is also available on the author's blog here.