“Wherever people feel safe (…) they will be indifferent.”
― Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

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The series Safe Distance takes its outset in the media images of the increasingly louder protests against the prevailing social structures (Indignados, Occupy, Gezi Park etc.), and the feelings of helplessness and admiration which they invoke in me.

I began working on this series in 2013 at the time when the demonstrations in Turkey around the occupation of Gezi Park peaked . Besides the traditional news media ( both on-and off-line ) many demonstrators were filming with cell phones or cameras directly and from within the demonstrations, and broadcasting these video-streams live on the internet. On special websites you could follow these live-streams, and find yourself as it were, in the middle of the demonstrations , the preparatory process or the aftermath.

Because the events in these recordings were not commented on by a reporter, there was room for doubt and personal interpretation. It was rarely clear what was going on exactly and who the protagonists were. These nocturnal streams were poorly lit, pixilated and blurry, and because of that they seemed endowed with a profound depth and sometimes a picturesque beauty. The heavy contrast in the images reminded me of the chiaroscuro of Rembrandt and Caravaggio, and invoked scenes from classical paintings, including the burning cities of Bosch, the solitary figures in the desolate landscapes of Friedrich, and the images of revolution by Goya and Delacroix.

With mixed feelings of admiration, powerlessness, shame and curiosity, I started to capture screenshots of the live-streams and edit these. I focused on specific moments and scenes and tried to isolate them. I gave the stills a black frame, which focuses the viewer’s eye as well as creates a sense of distance and tunnel-vision. The final prints have become a mixture of photographic imagery, graphic design and painterly interventions. Some suggest a narrative, others are almost abstract.

The series is an attempt to interpret the original footage as well as to question the position of the viewer: What is my role in the events that I so eagerly observe from a safe distance ?

Simultaneously this way of editing fulfills a long-cherished wish of mine to find a way in which the photographic element in an image is retained , but acquires a different charge through editing that does not try to conceal itself. By means of some fairly simple interventions, e.g. enhancing an element or color from within the photo[1] and altering the proportions of the picture, the depiction transforms into pure color – pure surface – without breaking the logic and reality of the image. The photographic image reveals itself as a construction.


[1] Or more correctly: Screenshot of a video-still. It seems problematic to use the term ‘photography’ considering the many layers of codecs and filtering the video-stream is subjected to before arriving on my desktop.


29 Aug 2014 – 18 Jan 2015 Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Storytelling in Contemporary Photography and Graphic Design.

The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam presents the exhibition On the Move: Storytelling in Contemporary Photography and Graphic Design. It is the latest edition of the Proposals for Municipal Art Acquisitions that the museum organizes every two years, with the financial support of the City of Amsterdam. The selection of acquisitions from this exhibition always comprises an important addition to the holdings of the museum.

On the Move focuses on recent developments in photography and reveals the myriad ways in which artists and photographers build their narratives in dialogue with graphic designers. The title On the Move refers to the journeys taken by many of the photographers in creating their projects, as well as the new directions in photography.

Samira Ben Laloua, Ernst van der Hoeven, and Frank Bruggeman │Marc Roig Blesa and Rogier Delfos │Verena Blok │ Sara Blokland │Olivier van Breugel and Simone Mudde │Persijn Broersen and Margit Lukács │Sarah Carlier │ Elspeth Diederix │ Meike Eggers and Michael Anhalt │ Ringel Goslinga │ Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen │ Robert Knoth and Antoinette de Jong │ Thomas Kuijpers │ Kadir van Lohuizen │ Anaïs Lopez, Eva Smallegange en Linda Braber | Hans van der Meer │ Theo Niekus │ Gábor Õsz  │ Rune Peitersen │ Ahmet Polat │ Johannes Schwartz │ Petra Stavast │ Anoek Steketee and Eefje Blankevoort │ Martine Stig │ Nadine Stijns │ Andrea Stultiens │ Elisabeth Tonnard │ Witho Worms and Hans Gremmen

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About Safe Distance

From the exhibition catalogue:

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Viewed from a distance, Rune Peitersen’s work looks like a series of jet black images with mysterious light sources in their centers. Move closer, and a common denominator emerges: the images all show nocturnal demonstrations or scenes of conflict, such as a street in Istanbul with stone-throwing protesters surrounded by plumes of smoke. Peitersen found the pictures online, in live streams from the mobile phones of bystanders keen to report on the events. The shaky video images and low resolution of this kind of citizen journalism are now all too familiar. Peitersen reflects on the image stream by capturing screenshots and placing black frames around the stills. This makes them seem almost painterly, but also creates the sensation of observing the nocturnal disturbances from afar. In this way, Peitersen questions our position as online viewers eagerly observing conflicts from a safe distance.

Exhibition text Alkovi Gallery

The exhibition in Alkovi presents an edition of Rune Peitersen’s Safe Distance and Safe Distance: High Ground photography series’. Peitersen is an artist based in Amsterdam whose work deals with the thematics of looking in various ways: how we perceive and how we relate our own experience of the world to that of others.

Safe Distance (2014) consists of screen captures from Internet live-stream platforms where people participating in demonstrations share the material they film in real time. The aesthetisized images of Peitersen’s point out the alienated and voyeristic position of the viewer to those events that currently shake the entire global situation. Safe Distance: High Ground (2015) on the other hand recycles the live-videos captured by the drones and copters used in US military operations that have been uploaded to the Internet. In Peitersen’s screen captures, the data normally attached to the image is wiped out leaving intact only the pictorial information. Through this kind of erasing gesture the focus is again turned towards the viewer.

The Safe Distance photography series’ portray two apparently opposite agencies: the self organized movement in the streets and the systematic use of power. By presenting a selection of these two series’ in Alkovi, which as a window vitrine is a part of the public space, we want to reconsider the alleged passivity in the role of the spectator. Especially in the current image overflow, we need to remember that the viewer position is never disengaged.

Rune Peitersen