By Peter Waterschoot, 15.10.2013:

Debby Thijs’ work carries more than a hint of Unbearableness. It has love for life and Romanticism within. There is an affectionate play with darkness and subtle horror. In her works there is a certain presence of Grimm, fairytales with an abject fascination for fear and and the mystique.

In cinema, Lynch is the grandmaster in these dark matters. But, Lynch is far too often used as a passe-partout name when reviewing art that is dark, disturbing and aesthetic. Ok, there is a grandmaster, but there’s more to it. A whole lot more.

A painter has paint, ideas and passion as tools. An art photographer on the contrary has only choices, light ( or absence of light), ideas and his or her personal (or constructed) emotional life to his or her disposal.

This photographer however, guides the viewer into a world of doubt. Between fiction and reality.

The photographic work of Debby Thijs is not about ‘registering, understanding and explaining’, but more about ‘captivating, feeling and sensing’.

Her photos are carriers of veiled emotions. The viewer can un-veil them. The dark pictures request the viewers’ willingness to undergo a ‘suspension of disbelief’. When you look at her pictures you literally get lost in a dark forest, which when examined closer, is surprisingly enough situated within the viewers’ Self.

It raises malicious questions. Where does she want to bring us? Does she want to evoke spirits, or does she want to expel them?

Her romantic visual language is a construction, her own lexicon. The images form a whole, a language, a melancholic whispering choir of soul soldiers. The story is absent, but the music of silence is there. The melody is more important than the partition.

In some images the tension stretches out to the point of fear. A stroboscopic derailment might lay ahead. Other images are then again more comforting. Softer. Fairytalelike. Misleading probably.

The black-and-whites photos are taken on the boundary line between blackness of night and the per meter decaying (flash)light. A wink of time, gone in an instance, from light to pitch black. The colour photos on the other hand, bathe in rather pleasant warm monochrome colours. Once again, carriers of veiled emotion.

Debby’s photos come from the soul. But, what is soul photography?

‘Die Seele’. In our Western culture Soul is, as a matter of speaking, written with capital S. This capital S is appropriated land by Christianity and civic romance. Soul is semantically a quite polluted word. We might need to drop the big S and start searching for the small ‘s’ once again, we’re bound to find it, somewhere there. Way back, in a a pre-monotheistic world.

And there we have it, the ever-latent primal spirituality. In Debby’s pictures this spirituality lies dormant; in human nudes, in forests, turbulent waters and fog curtains. We suspect horny satyrs, nymphs and weird rituals there, but that, is just our mind playing.

Nature and sexuality are functioning hand in glove in this photowork.

In arts, as in life, return to spirituality can be translated as ‘desire’ or ‘receptivity’. Hence, in this young photowork lies a pagan prayer.

As far as the reference marks go, Debby’s photos make me think of Ingmar Bergman cinema and Japanese expressionist photographers. Keywords are; black and white. Grainy. Dark. Mysterious. Soul loaded. Monochrome romanticism. The link to Japanese artists is not coincidentally.

Most of the Japanese are not Christian and have never been. They are differently interwoven with the ‘soul matter’. In the religion of Shinto e.g., the ‘kami’ ( nature spirits) are worshipped with a lot of respect. The Japanese nature spirits, and ghosts of the deceased are believed to be present, especially at special places in nature.

It makes us think about non religious human capacity towards spirituality and about respect for tradition and nature. In Debby’s work I notice such a high sensitivity that I’d like to call her work ‘pagan natured’. To the extent that her photographic approach has something anti-religious and rebellious in it. It is expressionist photography that reflects on vulnerability and humanity, within the frame of the infinity of nature and time. Resulting in darkness, mystery and mysticism.

But every party has a price to pay. What is Seen cannot be Unseen. Sehnsüchtigkeit (the yearning) pulls itself forward, the direction is uncertain.

Unsteady paths. Ravines. Exercise.

Her heavier images get their counterpart in more ethereal, more coloured, more romantic works, and that’s a good thing. Both sides of the spectrum, dark and light, are balancing each other, for the better of the oeuvre.

Conclusion: let’s sum up why I want to call Debby’s photography ‘pagan’.

Pagan is anything but pejorative here. It carries purity. That same dual purity as in the consideration whether we are ‘carried’ or ‘thrown’ into the world. The term paganism is a badge of honour. It’s about the intensified and sharpened ‘Da-sein’, being There, cerebral naked, in a landscape of woods and spirits.

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