Wouter Van de Voorde – Nucleo

Nucleo is the newest in a series of remarkable books by Belgian artist Wouter Van de Voorde. Living in Canberra, Australia, for a sizable number of years (the Belgian/Aussie accent is a thing to behold), Wouter has been consistently and obsessively photographing his local landscape, family, and whatever bramble or dilapidated structures he can find. Reminiscent of John Divola’s obsessive commitment to military barracks, Van de Voorde returns to specific locations, often at night and with a forensic eye for details. More recently, he has focused on birds and family life. His last book, Death is Not Here, published by Void, sold out quickly and was a brilliant investigation into what humans share with fossils, birds, and generational shifts of time. There was a heavy emphasis on family, with his wife and young son a considerable focus of the book. There was also a heavy dose of Void’s now overly familiar ennui in the pacing, design, and layout of the book.

Though Death is Not Here and Nucleo share some subject matter. The former book with Void, as much as I love it, had some artifice built around around it to fit the publisher’s branding. This is a known element with Void as they consistently tend to publish bodies of work that can be shoehorned into their design aesthetics and spooky/dark/light transgressive choices of subject matter. This is no different from most publishers working today, as branding is a huge part of the artists they tend to work with. With Gost for example, you know you will get a strong documentary presence. With MACK, latent identity politics and safe branding with strong artists that will shift books, mostly vertical in nature. That is not to say that I did not love the Death is Not Here book, I did. That stated, Nucelo, which shares a different attitude toward Wouter’s work, with less emphasis on an enforced and passing morbidity found in the Void book, which feels a bit more in-line with how I perceive Wouter’s work.


Having known and worked with the artist (see Bleak House, VOID, 2022) for a half-decade and having worked with him in Belgium, I feel it is worth noting that Nucleo feels much more confident in the handling of his photographs of family, which remain sweet, caring, and inclusive. Death is Not Here did not share this emphasis, with the outward delineation of the book being more fashioned to carry the weight of death and of the publisher’s normal emphasis on this theme. With Nucleo, the emphasis is on family more precisely and is more a reflection of the artist than the publisher. The family theme here does not feel secondary or like an add on to a discussion about darker themes. Life exists in a more natural state in Nucleo than Death is Not Here, which is more in-line with how I think of Wouter and the way in which he makes images and cares for his brood. This does not exclude broader questions that carry consequential weight. Images of the landscape in the book hint at the fires that have ravaged Australia over the past years, but this is a footnote to the ongoing life of a family, not the other way around.

I am biased while writing this in a number of different ways. I know Wouter and his family and before knowing them, I was already a huge fan of his work, so my review will be slanted toward the sentimental. I am also biased because I find myself slightly fatigued with the tropes of baseline “dark” books that have come out from a number of sources that often feel agendized and refuse to eek toward a more progressive cerebral output. This is not a reflection of Void, but a general criticism. I think their more recent book by Adrianna Ault, Levee, for example, do much to absolve them in being entirely complicit in childish motifs.


I also felt, and I think its fair to mention, that there was a bit too much overlap with Death is Not Here and another Australian photographer Matt Dunne in his book The Killing Sink, which Void published by the artist within a year of Wouter’s book. Knowing that Dunne paid for the book (Wouter did not) to be published with Void and seeing the subject matter of a bird book being pushed ahead of Wouter’s leaves me slightly skeptical of why the publisher decided to produce two books with similar geography (if not image excellence) and similar subject matter. The similar push towards omens and the ominous in both books paired them unnecessarily.


In regarding this release, I am much more encouraged to see the author and publisher working in tandem to work on a book that deals more coherently with Wouter’s work and location without the stumbling blocks of trying to subvert the tendency to push an agenda. It is also a subject matter that another artist will be unable to pinch as it is incredibly personal. Within Nucleo, Wouter’s voice emerges triumphant and that has much to do with the publisher feeling out the images, but also the way in which the images should best be co-ordinated to fit the artist’s intention. The emphasis here is a a wise selection of images that speaks about place, family, and the artist’s obsessive line of image production. It is robust with all sensitivity included. My only critique here is the binding, which I am not a huge fan of. This same binding can be found (although without the bolts) on Andres Gonzalez’s American Origami published a few years back with FW: Books. They called it staplebound reversed gatefold. In any event, that does not stop my enthusiasm for Nucleo, but I wanted to fair in my estimation of it in the lineage of Wouter’s books that is currently building steam. There is a great sensitivity in the book and I am, however biased, happy to add this to my collection with his other volumes. There are apparently few copies left, so get them before they dissipate into the…



Original Press Release


‘Nucleo’ is a visual odyssey that traces the life of Van de Voorde’s family from the birth of their son Felix, a journey that spans a decade. The book is presented with a horizontal layout folded in two, which subverts the typical chronological flow: opening the work, the reader encounters the last image of September 2023, which directs the reading in reverse order to the actual temporality of the events. Thus, the conventional concept of time is challenged: while events unfold in a linear manner, the perception of mnemonic time develops retrospectively.
Thus, retrospectively, the narrative of ‘Nucleo’ unfolds.

The theme of isolation is also central to ‘Nucleo’: the family described in the book is portrayed as existing in a state of self-sufficiency. The sequence unfolds, mysterious and suspended, through shared moments amidst the pristine, and at times violent, nature of the Australian bush.

Area Books, 2023
Softcover, 24 x 32 cm
Color and b/w photographs
English text

Edition of 500 copies

Posted in Australia, Contemporary Photography, Europe, Family, Landscape Photography, Nucelo, Photobook, Photography - All, Reviews - All, Wouter Van de Voorde and tagged , , , , , , , .