Unavoidable Cases

Flor Declercq

It is strange how human bodies can be dictated to. As if a perfectionist takes human flesh into his hands, moulding every external detail to fit a norm. Any characteristic body language is silenced, the individual takes the correct posture, falls into line and all personality disappears.

Discipline tolerates no exceptions. Anyone refusing to submit to the norm is set apart as “a case”, to be worked on until he too is in line.

For Blue, See – Mount Song – Los Domadores, Titus Simoens spent several months in schools where discipline creates order. Day after day, he lived with the students until he was as much a part of the scenery as their own shadows. With the alertness of a watchful outsider, he kept within the narrow mechanisms of those school systems, waiting for the moments that escaped the strict daily routine.

This book collects those moments. These are unguarded moments when the photographer manages to get beyond the all-pervading obedience. His images show precisely those details to which the norm must yield. They fall between the rules of the precisely determined daily routine and increase the visibility of what those boys are and remain: individuals.

These are deceptively light-weight pictures. Titus is a secure photographer who takes a well-considered position, with no intention of measuring himself against discipline. Appealing to the viewer’s imagination, he creates an atmosphere without directly stating the sometimes harsh environment. Your own experiences or your ideas about the situation rise up into mind. But time after time, a bitter tension prevails.

What you are looking at is burning hearths of human emotion. Titus captures those boys’ camaraderie and fun. But they are also children who are far from home, forced to reconcile their own little worlds with the rigidity of school life. And then, on top of this difficult reconciliation, they have to accept being photographed. They do as they are ordered. You see them forget the photographer and look nowhere except deep into themselves.

This is ultimately the story they give you to read. However much these boys run in line and do what they are told, they remain always individual cases, as we all unavoidably are and remain. It is a loneliness that carries the name of individuality and that we too experience from time to time.

Titus is aware that he is constructing incomplete stories. As an outsider, he struggles with preconceptions, and as an artist with choices that prevent him from fully experiencing the candid moments. For this reason, he handed out cameras for the boys to take pictures themselves. Placing the students’ own spontaneous and unedited pictures alongside his own, he incorporates the children’s own uninhibited way of seeing things into his own vision.

When you leaf through Blue, See – Mount Song – Los Domadores, Titus’s images and the children’s photos seem to reassure you. Wherever they are in the world, children confront their concerns with the same integrity. But perhaps what this generous narrative proves most of all is that Titus always and everywhere looks at his subject matter with a profoundly human eye.