"All things of value are defenseless"
The quote seen above may not belong to Johan van der Keuken – instead, it belongs to his friend, surrealist artist and poet Lucebert - at its core, however, one can detect all the things that provided the foundation for the work of the Dutch pioneer documentary filmmaker. In a filmography that stubbornly defies classification, van der Keuken's work seems to hover around the same storyline – explored from different directions and seen from different points of view.
Johan van der Keuken went into photography from an early age and released his first photo book when he was only 17 years old. One year later, he moved to Paris to study film. This marks the beginning of his impressive career, during which the Dutchman managed to complete 55 films, publish 9 photo and film books, and share his deeply personal cinematic style. Disregarding the linear depiction of time and reality, and shunning talking heads and typical interviews, van der Keuken focuses, on the one hand, on a formalist experimentation on the aesthetic boundaries of the medium and, on the other hand, on the documentary as a means of conducting a comparative study of phenomena, which raises questions but leaves the viewer free to answer them. The primitive, abstract approach (influenced by the artistic movement CoBrA), the experimental automatic movements of the camera, and the rapid-fire or, at times, slow-burning editing are some of the qualities of his writing, which, combined with his unconventional framing negating stability, comprise the raw material that's ideally mixed on the ingenious auteur's canvas.
Johan van der Keuken is the man who traveled the entire world, facing the unknown with a thirst for knowledge. He's the artist whose work, with its social, ethnographic and political layers, has been the subject of academic studies. Most of all, however, is the provocative filmmaker who didn't hesitate to film even the most sacred and personal moments of his life, redefining the boundaries between art and life.