COMEDIAN George Carlin coined the term “vujà dé” to mean the opposite of the French idiom “déjà vu”. It describes experiencing something familiar as if it is strange and new, and lends itself to the title of Simon de Haast’s exhibition, VUJÀ DÉ – The stories we tell ourselves at Ground Art Caffé from April 7 to May 31.
De Haast’s photography is of everyday objects and scenes where he plays with motion, curiosity, light, and colour, in a way that triggers an exploration of one’s own story, seeing the familiar in new ways and capturing them using pixels, computational photography, and rule-breaking. Another way to describe his work is as a photographic version of found object art.
“I draw inspiration from Colour Field artists such as Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler, and of course Mark Rothko, to produce large format archival prints,” says De Haast.
Innovation is partly driven by figuring out how to break the rules and escape the conventional way of doing things. Innovators are able to look at familiar situations and see them with new eyes — because this fresh perspective helps them become aware of opportunities and possibilities that no one else was noticing. Artists have been doing this for centuries, experimenting with paint chemistry, style techniques, and media.
So too with De Haast’s art, he challenges the various rules photography such as keeping the camera still during long exposures. Instead, he moves the camera or object to allow the pixels to paint themselves. Keeping the lens attached to the camera body is another rule that he breaks; free-lensing is a technique of detaching the lens and holding it just in front of the mount. It’s also a great way to keep the sensor dust cleaning services in business.
“Each image has a backstory to how I ‘saw’ it, and very little post-processing is performed. What appears here is as the sensor recorded it,” says De Haast, who grew up in Kwazulu-Natal and resides in Cape Town. He has been using a camera in one form or another for over 40 years, including shooting rock bands for Rolling Stone SA magazine. So don’t be surprised to see rock band references riff through some of his images.
“I am completely self-taught, from working with fixer in the darkroom to understanding composition and exposure.”
De Haast believes in the idea of a portfolio life, and is expressed in other work that he does for an advertising agency as their innovation lead, where he helps clients with vujà dé, seeing old things in new ways. “So it is natural that this creative heartbeat finds itself in my photography, a place that I’ve always felt is my artistic home and allows me to combine art and technology.”