Marijn J. Kuijper, Regarding you & me. Six attempts to get closer to my father.

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2019 (here). Softcover, unpaginated, with 183 monochrome and color reproductions. Includes a tipped-in facsimile of handwritten note and a childhood drawing by the photographer. Design by Studio Suze Swarte. In an edition of 275 numbered copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: An intimate portrayal of longing, Regarding you & me. Six attempts to get closer to my father presents both a reckoning with loss and the enduring endeavor to overcome it. It is a challenge to find the right words to write about Marijn J. Kuijper’s book, and it begins with the title – the humbleness of its premise and the complexities it corrals. How do you write about longing without betraying the essence it is made of?

Kuijper was three years old when his father died. Having missed him on many occasions “as father figure and role model,” his absence became especially painful when Kuijper was about to become a father himself. He began to wonder what kind of a father his father had been in those three short years – and whether his father would have been proud of him. These queries about fatherhood weren’t new, but an extension of others pertaining to gender and identity – how they are performed and inhabited – that first emerged when Kuijper realized he was transgender. Born as a girl in 1980 and living as a man since 2008, he says he never learned what it meant to be a man. “I often wonder what masculinity entails. How should a man behave? What should a male body look like? Am I a son to my father, or am I also his daughter?” To define and understand himself, Kuijper felt the need to retrace not only his father as a person, but also the ways in which he could relate to him. To do so, he revisited family photographs, Super 8 footage, objects, and memorabilia – “the only tangible traces” that his father had left behind. Structured within six moving chapters, his book is poised on the gestures that constitute Kuijper’s attempts.

“Tracing your silhouette”, the first chapter of Regarding you & me…, unites a series of family photographs capturing Kuijper and his dad in intimate moments of everyday life. We can see them at home cuddling in bed and horsing around; outside playing in the snow or taking a walk; on vacation, marveling at the sea or caressing a donkey. You, like me, might have similar pictures from your own childhood – these repository planes we rely on for the memories we were too young to hold on to. What makes Kuijper’s images different, however, is their physical deconstruction: as if visualizing that there is not even the smallest memory, he cut out the figure of his father, leaving nothing but his silhouette. An absence or blank space that not even a photograph can fill – but that the second chapter, “Things you’ve touched”, attempts to bridge.

One to a page, these images of things he had touched range from a mug, a pipe, and towel, to a board game and film equipment. Like most objects, they hardly evoke and never replace the actual person. What they do reveal, though, is Kuijper’s loving gaze: the sense of comfort and stoic beauty in the way he photographed them, against neutral, softly lit backgrounds and from slightly titled angles – regarding them not just as objects but witnesses to existence.

This gesture of seeking and finding evidence runs through most chapters of Regarding you & me… – and closely relates to Kuijper’s interest in photography in general: its subjectivity, particularly given the medium’s illusion of presenting factual truth. Tapping into the threshold of this dichotomy, “Collecting proof” is structured by a series of black-and-white close-ups of Kuijper’s and his father’s bodies. Arranged into grids, we see their ears and hairlines, their legs, feet, and smiles – and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell them apart. The grid that touches me most, both for its bravery and tenderness, is a double-page spread of their chests, which are sometimes dressed, and sometimes bare. It is also the first time that the viewer is allowed to glimpse into Kuijper’s physical transition. I asked him what kind of proof he was hoping to find in making this chapter.

“After transitioning from male to female, I wanted to know if I looked like my father. I wanted to compare our bodies in detail. […] Finding some of these similarities felt like proof that I was, now, also his son. At the same time, it made me realize that it had nothing to do with being male or female. I always thought my hands were very feminine, as a result of my XX chromosomes. But then I looked at my father’s hands, and they look like mine.”

I have to admit that it is hard to tell to how closely father and daughter – father and son, did and do resemble one another. But what is palpable, and more powerful, is the desire for resemblance. This personal perception of self and scanning of identity is first inverted, and then countered in the following chapters. “Looking through your eyes”, a sequence of nine Super 8 stills made by Kuijper’s father, shows his young daughter paddling in the sea, while “Official identities” reproduces expired driver’s licenses, passports, and other identification cards. Looking at these rather dispassionate documents, with the white space around them, allows for a pause from the book’s emotional and visual density. The longer you observe them, however, the more descriptive and revelatory they become – not just in terms of dates, heights, and physical features, but also personal choices. Changing his name from Marjolein to Marijn, Kuijper also chose a second name: Johan, the name of his father.

One of Kuijper’s main concerns when working on Regarding you & me… was that the book would be too personal and difficult to relate to. “In my head many ideas were tangled up and it took me a long time to untangle them and really focus on the story I wanted to tell.” Speaking to mentors and his professor at The Hague’s Royal Academy of Art, he realized that he wanted to portray less of a relationship than an attempt of getting closer without ever truly achieving it. This sense of longing relates Regarding you & me… in scope, not style, to a variety of other photographic projects, including Larry Sultan’s Pictures from Home, and Diana Markosian’s Inventing my father (both of which Kuijper references as inspirations). The singularity in Kuijper’s book, though, lies in its analytical yet heartfelt approach – a topography of loss that is also reflected in the calm and elementary design, and achingly distilled in the final chapter.

Unfolding as two parallel timelines, “Becoming older than you ever were” retraces father and child across decades, at the same age and similar poses, both in color and in black-and-white. In 1983 his father’s timeline stops, while Kuijper’s continues.

In the simplest sense, Regarding you & me. . . is a book about absence. It is fragile and conceptual. You might call it an archive of similarities, a search for approval, a labor of love, a work of grieving. Tipped-in between the final pages, a handwritten note describes Kuijper’s experience of grief as a seven year old:

“My daddy is dead / I don’t like it  / I’m sorry for my mom / And also for my grandma and grandpa / And for my aunts.”

Written in response to a school assignment, these words are followed by a small drawing of a figure, sadly standing next to another one lying in bed. A self-portrait, perhaps. Together they show us another layer of Kuijper’s book: a wound that goes beyond time, identity, and gender. One we all know, but rarely share.

Collector’s POV: Marijn J. Kuijper does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely connect directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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