For most people, palm trees evoke daydreams of exotic holidays in sun-drenched locations. For Belgian photographer Bruno V. Roels, they’ve been the focus of much of his life’s work, and his latest show at New York City’s Howard Greenberg Gallery, A Palm Tree Is A Palm Tree Is A Palm Tree (a play on poet Gertrude Stein’s oft-quoted “a rose is a rose is a rose”), depicts the extent of Roels’ fascination with his uncommon inspiration.
“For me, palm trees evoke history, exotic locations, luxury, freedom, and an Indiana Jones-like mystery,” says Roels. “But there’s also a certain sense of post-colonial shame, and often palm trees bear testimony to distinct gaps between rich and poor. I may claim that palm trees are palm trees but there are enormous semantic differences between a palm tree in Switzerland and one in North Africa.”
Having never been one to conform to modern standard practices of photography, Roels’ approach to his work comes off as experimental. He shuns the mainstream idea of only revealing the one most perfect version of an image, instead producing sometimes hundreds of variants of the same image, using techniques such as solarisation and under- and overexposure to do so. Where others might see errors, Roels identifies beauty and importance in the development process. The end product is wonderfully melancholic and tactile: that iconic spiky silhouette distorted and abstracted until you’re not even sure what you’re looking at anymore.
A Palm Tree Is A Palm Tree Is A Palm Tree is at Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, until May 5, 2018.