May 10 2012
Exactitudes, the photo project started in 1994 by Dutch photographer Ari Versluis and profiler Ellie Uyttenbroek, is probably the best way of crushing any persisting dream you have of individuality, if that's the kind of bizarre, masochistic thing you're into. Spanning almost two decades, Exactitudes is an anthropological study of every social group and subculture the duo can get into their studio, from the Beijing kids obsessed with Scream Records, and fur-loving Italian women, to stay-at-home dads and religious rockers in Rotterdam. Every group is photographed in a super uniform way and placed in a grid, to accentuate their similarities and differences. I spoke to Ari about the project and what it's all supposed to mean.
VICE: Did you realize Exactitudes was going to become such a mammoth project when you first started?
Ari Versluis: No, the start was an accident, actually. A Dutch telecoms company commissioned me to portray youth culture, and gabber culture had just sprung up in Rotterdam, so I took some portraits of three gabber guys and that was that.
A while later, we were sitting in the studio, drinking a little too much wine, and thought it would be great to have hundreds of these identical portraits, so we went to Nightmares, this big gabber party at Energy Hall in Rotterdam, and asked loads of them to come into the studio. Most of them were pretty drugged-out, but we managed to get a few in, and the Dutch media loved it, because people had written about gabber, but no one had managed to properly photograph them until we did it. Then, from that moment on, we never stopped.
Do you style the models yourselves at all?
No, not at all. That's why Ellie doesn't like to be called a stylist anymore, she prefers to be called a profiler. When we started, styling really wasn't a big thing at all. The British had some stuff going, with Simon Foxton and that early i-D thing, but everyone is a stylist nowadays, which has devalued the term. And it brings confusion because people think we dress the people up, which we never do. If we see someone we like in the street, we ask them to come in wearing the exact outfit we saw them in.
Very true. What about Smas?
Oh, Smas is Dutch street language for a rough girl. There's a lot of Dutch-specific ones, actually. Speedfreaks, for example, is very Dutch. There was a big club here in the Netherlands called Now & Wow, which had a night called Speedfreaks, where people dressed similarly to the Tektoniks in France–loads of gel on their hair and stuff. That one marked an important change for social groups in the Netherlands because it involved lots of Islamic people, who weren’t so visible in youth culture groups before, so that was quite an emancipatory thing for them to do.
I saw you shot the Cassette Playa crew, which is a different approach to the one you usually take. Why was that?
Yeah, it's not a real Exactitude, in the sense that it's based around a designer rather than a particular social group, but we were in London and just really liked Carri Mundane's stuff, so thought it would be cool to invite her and a few of her friends to the studio. We've made a few similar ones in the same vein, like a Haider Ackermann one for example, but Cassette Playa was the only one that made it into the book.
Fair enough. Which group has been a real passion project of yours to shoot?
The Gabbers. It's the first series of the whole project and just so fascinating to me. It was the first real Dutch youth culture, and it happened to be kids who listened to hardcore, aggressive techno and chose to wear candy-colored neon tracksuits, which was amazing. Rotterdam went from having zero record companies to suddenly having 2000, all selling gabber, and this was before the internet so it was all very local and organic. Also, it really changed the way we looked at street fashion in the Netherlands–it made us reassess what could be done. So yes, for us, I think that is the key series.
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