After the Second World War, The Hague, Holland, was a city of skirmishes every year over collections of discarded Christmas trees to burn on the night of the year’s passing; often, the violence on the streets leading up to every New Year’s Eve would get out of hand. With the blessings of local authorities, the violence slowly evolved into a battle between Scheveningen and Duindorp, two coastal neighborhoods separated by a harbor, to see who could build the biggest bonfire.
Romke Hoogwaerts’ family is from Scheveningen, and he decided to make their bonfire story the subject of his first major photographic study. After two years of documentation, research, interviews and writing, his book and film are finally nearing completion.
Vreugdevuur Scheveningen will be published by Gnomic Book this September and is now available for preorder via kickstarter, secure a future copy at: Vreugdevuur Scheveningen — Kickstarter.
Rachel Jump — Hello Romke, thank you for sharing Vreugdevuur Scheveningen with us. Can you briefly explain what initially inspired you to create this project?
Romke Hoogwaerts — From the moment I first saw it, a few years ago, I was transfixed by it. To me it is this unbelievable realization of a fantasy many of us share to build something extraordinary, with your closest friends, and then to burn it to the ground. That is quite literally all it is, catalyzed by a rivalry and taken to an absurd extreme. I think that these two absurdly gargantuan towers, the week-long techno party, the wildness of it all, can only have happened here in Holland, and only with this particular historical context. I can’t see that it would have ever been allowed in any other situation, anywhere else in the world, at least not in this way. I think that is why I wanted to document it: to memorialize this realization of an absurd fantasy that might never occur again, if it ever ends.
RJ — I find the emotional undercurrents of this body of work to be compelling, as they seem simultaneously celebratory and cautionary. Could you speak about this in regard to your editing process?
RH — Thank you, I appreciate that reading. It’s hard to put into words, I think. Obviously my project is celebrating this community’s work but at the same time I hope to create a layer of separation, a detachment—distance, almost as if to treat the scenario as something ordinary. I think this is the best way to treat scenes that are simultaneously admirable and questionable. This is something I tried to make especially present in the complementing documentary film which I am currently editing.
RJ — In the second year of creating Vreugdevuur Scheveningen, you decided to incorporate video in addition to creating still imagery. From your perspective, what aspects of this project needed to be enhanced/elevated by the film?
RH — The film has two inherent qualities that the book does not. The first and most important difference is the distinctive ‘hardstyle’ techno that plays throughout the entire week. It’s intense and pounds throughout film. In anticipation of that I made sure to film a lot of long takes, because it meant I had to work with the rhythm of the music in my editing. Secondly, since the film is in color, the experience of the fire is very different. I treat it in a similar way in both the book and film, a state of trance of sorts.
RJ — How do you think the photographs, the book, and the video inform this series in different ways?
RH — The book and the film depict the same general arc and some similar angles and shots. They complement each other, but they are definitely distinct—it’s almost as is one is looking through a lens of the past (the photos and book) and one is firmly rooted in the present (the film). In the film, you also get to experience several very special moments between the members of the community—it cuts past the opaqueness of the book. After I filmed it and had started editing it, I got to watch Dana Lixenberg’s three-channel film Imperial Courts, which complements her famous book with the same name. The film is aesthetically very different to her book but the stillness of it is really transporting and adds a special quality to the experience. It was really refreshing to watch and it does something similar to what I’m trying to do with my own film. It just hits you on a different empathic level. In watching it I also felt somewhat justified in my decision not to interview anyone at the scene, ha! I wanted to keep that sense of distance while being so close to it all.
RJ — What did you learn from creating this project, and what are you hoping your audience will take away?
RH — I dove into this project with the intention of creating a photo essay article for a magazine and came out of it making my first book and film. I learned a lot of hard lessons along the way, both practical and emotional. I applied a lot of ideas for the first time. Some worked and some didn’t. I think the greatest lesson I took from it all was about my own resilience, but I don’t know—I was so drawn to it that I also kind of lost myself in the process. As for the audience, I hope they find a sense of marvel in this work—I hope they got lost in it, too.
Vreugdevuur Scheveningen is a deep dive into a working-class story of epic proportions, photographed and filmed by Romke Hoogwaerts. Every New Year’s Eve in Holland, two neighborhoods build rivaling bonfires on the beaches of the The Hague. These days they are the biggest in the world.
Romke Hoogwaerts was born in Atlanta in 1990. His Dutch parents frequently moved for work, to Hong Kong, Italy, Spain, Singapore and Vietnam before Romke moved to New York City, where he received a degree in Visual & Critical Studies from SVA (2013). He has independently published several photography books, mostly for his former project, Mossless. For that project and for a variety of other publications, he has written about and interviewed hundreds of photographers. Vreugdevuur Scheveningen is his first major project as an independent photographer. To see more of Romke’s work visit: romkehoogwaerts.com
Rachel Jump was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1991. She received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2014. Her black and white photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally, and are held in collections at the Museum of Contemporary Photography and the RISD Museum. Rachel’s work has also been featured in various print and online publications, including DIE ZEIT, i-D Vice Germany, Der Greif, The Photo Review, FotoRoom, Shots Magazine, and LENSCRATCH. In 2018, FotoRoom named her as one of “Ten Female Photographers You Should Know”. To see more of Rachel’s work visit: racheljump.net