Q&A: Geert Goiris — Peak Oil


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? Magical realism, at times alternated with pragmatic pessimism. What will baffle future generations about our day and age? How we neglected our ecosystem, stood by and watched the rapid extinction of so many species and didn’t take real measures to halt global warming. How we embraced artificial intelligence without truly considering the effect it might have on our existence. How we took our supermobility for granted: it seems unlikely that air travel will remain as cheap and accessible as now. Future generations will talk nostalgically about our age as a time where there were still non-digital natives around. Are you aware of any conspiracies? The perpetuation of our greedy way of life (in the rich North) comes at a price which we don’t pay (yet). We are distracted and instructed by education, by media and propaganda to consume, entertain ourselves and be quiet. Meanwhile, the worldwide political elite is solidifying their power every day a little more, posing behind the smokescreen of ‘democracy’: as if they are merely facilitating the will of the people. Economics is the global religion and everything revolves around what you have rather then who you are. I was raised with a lot of different kinds of music, but talking about conspiracy, the lyrics of Stiv Bators come to mind. Already in the 1990 he knew “if voting could change things they’d made it illegal”. He also sung: “open your eyes see the lies right in front of you”. It is not that simple, of course we are not victims or components in a planned conspiracy of some evil mastermind. But it is true that opportunists everywhere are aware of the fact that it takes less mental effort to condemn than to think. Despite our access to knowledge and global connectivity, we witness the rise of stubborn intolerance and provincialist reflexes. In the long run however our innate will to freedom will prevail. What is it that interests you about photography? It can record things we cannot see or notice and it produces portable time machines. What is the worst thing about city life? Air quality is terrible. What part of the planet would you like to explore? Islands! As many as possible. What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? Is supernatural the same thing as paranormal? Paranormal extends over our conception of the normative. But if supernatural describes something beyond Nature, then I don’t think I can understand it. For I see Nature as an all-embracing force of which we are but a small part. so I don’t think we can ever see the limits of this force, let alone have a look over its horizon. Of so-called paranormal phenomena, I am quite convinced of the possibility of telepathy. It is a force most people don’t use or practice well, but it feels logical to assume that this kind of communication it is within the reach of our mental capabilities.

If you had to align yourself with a leader in history, who would it be? I prefer the underdog, the silent but resolute individual who stands up against the prevailing herd spirit. Someone like August Landmesser, or in more recent times Malala Yousafzai. Pick a field of science to be an expert within. Biology. What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? It happens quite often. Just recently I was in Ethiopia and found myself on the backseat of an off-road vehicle. We drove past a donkey with one front leg bound together at its knee so his hoof was pointing up, aligned with its thigh. The poor animal was basically standing on three legs on a steep hill and it couldn’t move. This was such a sad sight that it took me a while before I realized what I had just seen, by that time we were already a further down the road and I was too shy to ask the driver to stop and turn back. I had my camera nearby, but it felt awkward asking to photograph this sad scene, also I didn’t want to scare the donkey by coming too close. The animal was either punished (unlikely, but it really looked like a terrible sentence) or it might have had a problem with one leg of hoof. This donkey was so caught, so immobilized, that its image still lingers in my mind. Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side.Photographer. Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. Impossible. How often do you take other people’s advice? About 50% chance, it depends very much on the circumstances and who is giving the advice. Describe a personal hell. The tax office and the people who work there. Crowded shopping malls, a slaughterhouse or an industrial animal farm. Which living person do you most admire? Most people who are alive are worth admiring for one reason or another. On what occasion do you lie? Sometimes when I teach I can be more diplomatic than honest. I do my best to encourage young aspiring artists but sometimes the fostering goes too far and I start to see potential where maybe there is none.

What was the last crime you witnessed? The tax office in my city systematically squeezing money out of ordinary people and leaving the wealthy and powerful undisturbed. What is the best way to educate yourself? Talk to people of all walks of live, different backgrounds, convictions and degrees of power. It is the best way to get a glimpse of the intricacies and complexities which make up daily existence. What is the next book you want to read? I have just started Landscapes of Fear, by Yi-Fu Tuan. Ultimate camera? NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) must be an insanely powerful viewing instrument. Also the WorldView-3 spacecraft which can identify objects as small as 31cm while zooming past Earth at an orbit of 617 Km. must possess one of the most performative camera technologies today in terms of sharpness and resolution. I’d love to be able to see what such a camera system could do if it could be adapted for ground use. The possibilities of surveying technologies such as LIDAR also seem very exciting to play around with. Most used camera? A Linhof Technica 4 x 5 inch view field camera is my preferred tool, and if I need to work handheld I use a Plaubel Makina. What object do you want? One liter of elemental Mercury. What object do you need? Nothing really, but I am currently looking for one liter of elemental mercury. How would you explain the internet to someone from the 1950’s? Imagine being inside a study cell in an immensely vast library where hundreds of librarians are ready to answer any question you can ask and who are continuously bringing new books and articles to your tabletop. Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? Yes, but I should move more instead of sitting in front of a computer screen. Describe a cheap thrill. Seeing happiness in people around me. Another one is looking at our dog when we are driving our car at 120 Km./hour and she puts her snout outside the window, closing her eyes to fight the wind. She loves it so much, even though it is hard to bear it. This conflict between enjoyment and resistance is such a great sight. Pick an historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to.Tomorrow. Are impulses more important than consequences? Yes. Which talent would you most like to have? To play at least one musical instrument well. What is your plan for the next 24 hours? Not much. Today is a day without any appointments, so I will use it to go through a pile of videofiles I’ve shot these past months and throw away the boring footage to clean up disk space. When I am done with that, I have earned a long walk with our dog and later in the evening a film and a beer.

‘Peak Oil’ is a new series of photographs by Geert Goiris, addressing the topic of our contemporary oil culture. Commissioned by Rubis Mécénat cultural fund, Goiris was given permission to the Rubis Terminal sites in Rouen and other sites in Europe. He tackles the subject from the outside, limiting himself to that particular moment when oil is seemingly without drama. This is not about the technical feat of extracting the oil from the earth, nor about the economic, social and/or geopolitical effects generated by its existence. Rather it is about the in-between stations, the moments when oil is only potentially active. — (source: Roma Publications)

Available now through Roma Publications in an edition of 600 copies with a print. Design: Roger Willems. Visit — geertgoiris.inforomapublications.org for more information.