Behind A Door, a brief essay by Roelof Bakker

I’m intrigued by what’s behind a door.

What’s my neighbour’s living room like? What traces of past lives remain inside a vacated 1930s town hall? What human marks are visible in the sports hall of an Edwardian school? What spaces hide in the basement of a mid-century office block?

Behind every door is a multitude of stories, real or imaginary. Often, I discover truths about myself; the rooms become mirrors of my state of mind, or reflect events from the past.

The spaces in the photographs of Beneden/below (2015) are located in the basement of a block of flats in Arnhem, the Dutch town I left behind when I moved to London in 1984.

The building was previously the head office of a large chemicals multi-national, with the basement spaces functioning as plant rooms, as well as having been designed with a dual purpose to operate as a hospital in the event of a nuclear attack during the Cold War.

The first time I recorded there, the plant rooms were in the process of being stripped of machinery; obsolete equipment, cables, pipes, fuseboxes, switches and miscellaneous debris filled the rooms lit solely by fluorescent strip lights. When I returned four months later, the spaces had been cleared; sections of walls had been knocked out and holes appeared where pipes and cabling once ran.

I was drawn to the raw beauty of these bleak rooms without windows, which seemed like film sets of the imagined nuclear shelters of my early 1980s teenage mind, when World War III seemed imminent.

I was also surprised to discover interior design elements similar to those in 17th century Dutch paintings of domestic scenes: open doorways, high ceilings and the pattern of the floor tiles.

Inspired by the compositional approach of de Hooch and his 17th century contemporaries, I set out to photograph these subterranean rooms absent of life. Below, in the gloom, I felt at home.

— Roelof Bakker, January 2015

With kind thanks to Jan van den Broek and all at De Grote Enk, Arnhem, the Netherlands.

Photographs from Beneden were exhibited in situ at De Grote Enk, Arnhem, the Netherlands throughout 2015. Three photographs from Beneden are included in the spring issue of the journal Confingo (issue 7).


Roelof Bakker Beneden

Beneden Roelof Bakker Below Arnhem Netherlands

Beneden below Roelof Bakker

Photographs from Beneden