Angeniet Berkers and 15m2 of freedom

Features November 14, 2015

The whole time I kept thinking; could I live like this? Would I be able to have such a small living space, could I handle the cold and taking very very very cold showers?

When I was nineteen and my mother kept dragging lost people and sad animals into the cabin we lived in, I decided to hunt for my own place. I ended up trading a couple of beers for a wagon and lived on 15m2 in my parents’ garden for a while. When Angeniet Berkers contacted Sunday Mornings with her project 15m2 of freedom, it felt like a trip down memory lane. The wagon I used to live in is overgrown with Ivy, but luckily it is not the only wagon turned living space in the Netherlands. Angeniet spend some time hopping from mobile home to mobile home, documenting unique living spaces in Holland. She bundled her photographs in a beautiful book, mixed with quotes from the inhabitants. Curious to hear more about the project, we had a word with the Dutch photographer.

ANGB-201410260229-6 ANGB-201411080236-3251 15m2 of freedom by Angeniet Berkers03 ANGB-201411090238-17 15m2 of freedom by Angeniet Berkers04 ANGB-201411080236-6

Can you tell us a little about yourself? 
Well, I am 30 years old and live in a small house in Rotterdam with my cat and grandpa (almost 13 years old) grey fluffy dog. I study (currently having a half year break though) Documentary Photography at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague part time. Next to that I worked as a Social Worker with troubled youth. I was born and raised in the city of Nijmegen, in the east of The Netherlands, there are a lot nice forests around that place which I actually kind of miss. It was great growing up there! A very nice memory that comes to mind is me building big fortresses in my room with sheets and clothespins, you could crawl underneath my bed where I read books and thought of all different kinds of stories.
Mmm and a guilty pleasure must be that I’m starting to really really like karaoke! I’ve got infected by my boyfriends enthusiasm haha!

Can you tell us a little about your latest book 15m2 of freedom?
In the 3rd year of the Academy we always organise our own exhibition with all of the 3rd year students together. The theme was ‘Endless Possibilities’ that year and it reminded me of one of my best friends who bought a big truck, got her license and decided to be a traveller from that day on. The freedom you have when you live in a house on wheels was the starting point of the project. I started to look for squatted spaces, where it was still possible to live like this in The Netherlands and Germany. I used to squat myself a long time ago and the people I’ve met during the years helped me with getting in these rather closed communities. At most of the sites I stayed for a couple of nights and had a wonderful time meeting all these great new people. When I was there I got fascinated by the small spaces people lived in and after a while decided this should be the main focus of the project. This way the viewer could use their own fantasy more when looking at the pictures, wondering about the people living there. After the expo I decided it would be a great challenge to self publish the book and with the help of 100 people buying the book in advance I managed to do so. It was a great adventure and I’ve learned a lot by just going for it! Working together with graphic designer Mark Holtmann and lithographer Sebastiaan Hanekroot from Colour & Books was amazing. They Both did a fantastic job, lifting the project to a higher level.

Why did you decide to print a book in this digital age? What’s the value of seeing your work in print?
A book exists, you can touch it and smell it, that gives a whole other experience than a computer screen. A photo book is also a great way of getting your work to be seen by others, it is definitely a form of promotion.

What fascinated you about these small mobile living spaces?
The whole time I kept thinking; could I live like this? Would I be able to have such a small living space, could I handle the cold and taking very very very cold showers? I think it was also some kind of personal research, I’m seriously thinking of getting a trailer or cabin myself on a campsite near Utrecht. It would be magical to wake up in the woods every day! I would not want to live squatted though because I really can’t take the uncertainty.

Living space seems to be a reoccurring theme in your work. One of the other series on your website that stood out was ‘The Bedside Table’ where you literally photograph a bedside table in a shelter. Can you talk about this series a little?
With the Royal Academy of Art we go on project weeks from the second year on. Two years ago we went to Riga, the capital of Latvia. I was looking for people living off grid because I was working on a project like that in The Netherlands and I found out that living like that in Latvia is not a romantic choice but pure necessity. I decided to change the subject to poverty, since the country is one of the poorest countries in the EU and it recently got the euro. I went to soup kitchens and also to a homeless shelter where people can stay for the maximum of 5 days. During the day they are not there but they leave their stuff. It struck me how they made their tiny space personal in such different ways. Most of them were really tidy, had a newspaper, a photograph or a left coffeemug. Others were almost empty. Even though I never met the men living there it felt like I got to know them a little bit.

Why is photography your medium? What is so special about it? Have you ever tried other media to tell your stories?
Photography is the ultimate excuse to go somewhere or to get somewhere you would otherwise not get into. I am a very shy but curious person and the camera gives some kind of special powers, I can do so much more when I have it with me!
In the future I would love to make a web documentary, perhaps I will do that for my graduation. Filming a documentary would be a great challenge as well.

Who or what inspires you artistically? Can you name some of your favourite artists? Why do you get inspired by them?
I’m very much inspired by the work of Tamas Deszo, Bryan Schutmaat, Evgenia Arbugaeva, Danila Tkachenko and Bieke Depoorter. They all have the same kind of melancholy about them which grasps me when I look at the pictures. Very very strong narrative portraits, beautiful landscapes and a dreamy romantic but harsh way of living. The pictures become so interesting I think because of the contrast between beauty and ugliness. They tell a story and by that arouse emotions. For me photography is all about that.

How do you hope to grow as a photographer?
I would love to become a photojournalist covering important stories wherever in the world and being published by important media. Also I would love to be mostly doing my own projects, making books, web documentaries, film documentaries etc. etc. etc.

What is your favourite photobook, why?
Oh I can’t choose!! The adventures of Guille and Belinda by Alessandra Sanguinetti is a big favorite. The pictures are amazing, their real lives and fiction are beautifully intertwined. The series is really a product of cooperation between the photographer and the photographed.
I love the colours and atmosphere of the photo’s!

What is the best advice you ever had as a photographer?
Go for it :)

Who should we interview next?
I would be very curious about the stories of one of the photographers I’ve named earlier: Tamas Deszo, Bryan Schutmaat, Evgenia Arbugaeva, Danila Tcachenko or Bieke Depoorter!

w. angenietberkers.nl

If you want to support this maker, consider buying the book here.

Intro by Rebecca Rijsdijk
Words and pictures by Angeniet Berkers

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