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The fragile touch

It seems inappropriate to place an introduction between the viewer and the photographs of Pascal Baetens. He, after all, puts nothing between the viewer and the girls. By which I don’t mean just that they are naked, though for the most part they delightfully are. I mean that he doesn’t place himself between them and us. He doesn’t impose on them or on the viewer.  His vision doesn’t obtrude.

Pascal Baetens was born in Belgium in 1963. He was educated at what he calls ‘a monks’ school’. He was given his first camera when he was 11. He studied law and politics at university. He has written about his adolescent dreams of love. His work has been shown in exhibitions and published in magazines throughout Europe.

The bare facts of his biography are, though, if he won’t mind my saying so, irrelevant. He is the quietest, the most unintrusive, the least assertive and egotistical of photographers. There are those who are immediately and unmistakably recognisable. We know what to expect.  We find their vision and fantasies interesting or not as they accord with our own. Pascal Baetens lets us find or discover our own. The effect, as in many of his photographs, is characteristically spontaneous.

He has written that his intention is to portray an emotion, not just a pretty body or fantasy or moment in time. And he says that he has succeeded when the viewer recognises the emotion. In fact, he goes further than that. The emotions he portrays are not manufactured or imposed  by or for himself or the viewer. ‘Look lustful. Look available. Look vulnerable. Look shy. Look sexy.’ The emotions come from the girls themselves. Some l ook us straight in the eye. Some don’t. Some do sometimes. They are, in fa ct, like girls you see in life and as you see them in life except that, as they might be in your mind but are not in the street, they have nothing on.  Of course, it is not quite as simple as that. Look, for example, at the compositions, the framing of the girls in the space, the apparent accidents of light and shade. A girl leans nonchalantly, apparently all unaware of what she is offering or the thoughts she might provoke. It is as though she has been caught there, not put there. At first sight it is artless, apparently unconsidered. Apparently. But of course not.  

Richard Cook (extracts from his introduction of the English version of ‘The Fragile Touch’, published by The Erotic Print Society, London, GB, 1999)

Pascal Baetens. Verhalenverteller. Zijn stof oogt simpel. Zijn ingrediënten zijn inderdaad vaak weinig meer dan een naakt meisje in een verlaten fabriekshal. Toch klinkt zijn ‘click’ beslist anders dan die van u of mij. Het verschil? Die schuilt wellicht in de volgende anekdote. Ooit legde men de grote Coco Chanel een jurkje voor – gekocht op de markt voor een paar ordinaire franken – dat na een eerste blik precies één van haar peperdure haute couture creaties was. Chanel keek ernaar – minachtend, hooguit een fractie van een seconde –en sprak toen de woorden: ‘Inderdaad, nèt één van mijn jurkjes, en toch weer niet.’ Dat verschil nu, dat verschil in emotie tussen echt en onecht, dat waarachtige, spat van het boek van Pascal Baetens. Het lijkt allemaal simpel, maar het is het niet.Zijn kracht is het Indirecte. In tegenstelling tot pornografie, dat driften direct stilt, hebben zijn beelden een vertraagde werking in zich. Ze blijven –soms ongemerkt – rondspoken, om zich vervolgens, in zo’n even mooi als prachtig onverwacht moment, weer in alle kracht en felheid te manifesteren, in welke donkere kamer van het hoofd ook. Alzo wordt wederom bewezen dat erotiek de belangrijkste ‘drive’ in dit leven is.

Peter Yeh, hoofdredacteur Penthouse Nederland (uit zijn inleiding van ‘The fragile touch’, uitgegeven bij Foto Art, Brugge, Belgium, 1999)