THE MORNING NEWS WILL RESUME PUBLISHING ON MONDAY  |   For there will be turkey first

Ads via The Deck

Gallery

In Jeroen Hofman’s riveting narrative pictures, training grounds for emergency workers and soldiers in the Netherlands become playgrounds where the real world—the very dangerous real world—hardly exists.

Jeroen Hofman, born 1976 in the Netherlands, is an editorial and commercial photographer. He is currently in the process of self-publishing his book Playground, which was released in November 2011. Playground is a long-term project in which he photographed training facilities where members of the fire brigade, the police force, and the ministry of defense prepared for various situations. Jeroen often takes an elevated position with the use of a platform crane while shooting his large-format images of these orchestrated scenarios. In his commercial and editorial work Hofman often focuses on portraiture.

Hofman is represented by Lux Gallery, Amsterdam.

All images courtesy the artist, all rights reserved.

TMN:

How did you come to be in these locations in the first place?

Jeroen Hofman:

It all started when I was at the Maasvlakte (an area near the harbor of Rotterdam) looking for a location for a series of photographs. Completely by accident I found myself driving through a post-apocalyptic landscape: blackened industrial complexes, a concrete building, scattered burned-out vehicles, all surrounded by refineries and heavy petrochemical industry. Only when I got closer, I realized something wasn’t right. There was nobody living in the building. This ghost town turned out to be a training ground where Shell and BP’s offshore crews prepare for possible industrial fires.

TMN:

The scenarios you found are serious, but in the pictures they’re detached, as if we’re watching children play with toys. Did you notice this early on? Was it part of your attraction?

Jeroen Hofman:

The training grounds in my project are also secret worlds—with one essential difference. These are safe enclosed playgrounds. Training here is play, theater in a hidden world. “For real,” but not really—not yet, and hopefully never. These areas are often huge in scale. The largest one in our country is Marnehuizen. It’s a complete military training town: houses, a bank, a supermarket, town hall, train station. It even has a sewer system. Everything there is fully functional. If you have ever played with LEGO you will immediately notice the similarity.

TMN:

Can you imagine doing a book where the emergencies were actually taking place?

Jeroen Hofman:

In these facilities it’s all just play: stage-acting on a few enclosed square meters. If you make a mistake, you get to try again. Wrong decisions do not have fatal consequences. But what I call “Playground” will someday become reality for the people in these photographs. For some this will happen sooner than they think. The Marine Corps trained at Marnehuizen for their mission in Uruzgan. They were the last group that shipped out before the mission was terminated. At the edge of the training ground they’d built a small compound surrounded by a wall like the ones you find all over Afghanistan. It was the marines’ job to go looking for explosives and narcotics. Two months after I made the photograph, they were sent to Uruzgan. A few of those marines lost their lives there.That’s the dividing line where “Playground ends” and reality begins—the deadly seriousness that follows, the real world, I would not like to be standing over that in a cherry-picker.

TMN:

What are you working on now?

Jeroen Hofman:

The launch of my book Playground was on Nov. 3. Self-publishing is a lot of work. It is like climbing a mountain, and after the summit you have to go back down—that is what I am doing right now. Self-publishing is self-distributing and self-promoting, and that is an awful lot of work.

So I am working on a lot of assigned jobs now to pay back the printers of my book. I have always loved a mix of commissioned and non-commissioned work. For now I am orientating myself to find a good representative in the UK and USA.

Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded The Morning News. He is the author of Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down and You Lost Me There. His next novel is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. His Kindle e-book for The Morning News Editions, about visiting different American towns called Paris, was selected as a notable essay for Best American Essays 2013. More information can be found at his website. More by Rosecrans Baldwin