“I do not want to go back – no launch parties or openings anymore. Wearing the same pair of jeans every day, feeling the sun on my skin and deciding whether I will stay or go on the day itself. I also love that everything I own here fits into two saddle bags and a backpack.”
Robin de Puy’s thoughts, jotted down in her journal on 4 June 2015. At that point, she had been in America for four weeks and covered 4908 km on her Harley-Davidson. Another six weeks and 5092 km to go. De Puy is a young portrait photographer in great demand. In 2014, she decided to go on the trip as a way of escaping the pressure of public expectations. Her success has a downside: the constant flood of commissions leaves her almost no time for autonomous work and she feared losing her sense of creative freedom. Her American road trip gave her the chance to go back to deciding for herself what to photograph. The result is a splendid series of portraits, now presented by the Hague Museum of Photography in the photographer’s first ever solo show in a museum setting.
Robin de Puy is currently one of the Netherlands’ most popular portrait photographers. Her career took off immediately after she graduated from the Fotoacademie. Her Girls in Prostitution series won her the Photo Academy Award for the best final year project of 2009. She went on to win the Dutch National Portrait Prize in 2013 for a photograph of fellow-photographer An-Sofie Kesteleyn, who was seriously ill at the time. Both prizes were presented at ceremonies held in the Hague Museum of Photography, creating a particularly warm relationship between the photographer and the museum. The main clients commissioning De Puy’s work are Dutch magazines LINDA and Vrij Nederland and the Volkskrant newspaper. She has recently added international clients like Bloomberg Businessweek and New York Magazine to her CV.
De Puy set off across America in May 2015. Her most vital equipment was in her saddlebags: a couple of lamps, two cameras and a lighting umbrella. She followed no set route but toured the country looking for distinctive faces to photograph – people of all ages and both sexes whom she just happened to meet on her travels. She specifically did not want to record social contrasts or the antithesis between urban America and the country’s endless empty spaces. Robin de Puy’s work adds a new dimension to the classic genre of the American Photographic Road Trip, most famously practised by people like Robert Frank, Jacob Holdt and Alec Soth: her sympathetic portraits could have been taken anywhere between Washington, Warsaw and Vladivostok.
The first week of Robin de Puy’s trip was recorded by documentary filmmaker Simone de Vries (who had earlier made films about Rutger Hauer and Erik Kessels) and cameraman Maarten van Rossem. Halfway through the trip, they rejoined her for another week. The resulting documentary will be broadcast by AVROTROS on Sunday 20 March.
The exhibition comes with an English-language publication entitled If this is true, I'll never have to leave home again. The book will contain extracts from De Puy’s journal and be designed by SYB. Issued by Belgian publishers Ludion, it will be priced at € 39.90.