Winner of the Baloise Art Prize 2009.
“Whiteout” is the title of a series of photographs by Belgian artist Geert Goiris, who captured these images during two visits, each several weeks long, to the Antarctic in 2008 and 2009. The analog color transparencies document the lives of people working at the research stations there under extreme climatic and material conditions. However, the main protagonist here is the endless expanse of the icy wilderness, filled with crystal-clear light.
Goiris chose the title “Whiteout” in reference to an experience that had a lasting impact on him. During one of his two visits, on a journey to the coast, he found that the diffuse reflection of low sunlight considerably lessened his perception of the surrounding contrasts. The light differences suddenly seemed almost non-existent. The horizon line had disappeared, with the sky and ice-sheathed earth converging seamlessly. Goiris had the impression of moving within an infinite void. Such a borderline experience can lead to psychological pressures that give rise to feelings of unease and anxiety. Often such feelings may be compounded by disorientation and an impaired sense of balance. The resulting shift in perception, both of the self and of the surrounding reality, is suggested by Goiris’ use of the term “confabulation,” which he chose as the title for a 2009 exhibition of his “Whiteout” photographs at Kunstforum Baloise. It is a medical term that is used to describe a distortion of memory in individuals who perceive their incorrect recall of incidents as true.
For the most part, the photographs are based on a simple and conventional compositional approach, with no discernibly seductive or manipulative artifice. The “Whiteout” images look like documentary or journalistic photographs. On closer inspection, however, they reveal a thought-provoking complexity.
Bleak and lonely landscapes on the edge of civilization, where humans, animals, and vegetation survive under extreme conditions—these are Goiris’ chosen subjects. He describes the artistic fruits of his endeavors on all continents as “traumatic realism,” whereby photography is the medium that reveals the unfamiliar and the uncanny of the quotidian.