Henk Van Rensbergen Biography

Henk van Rensbergen is a Belgian photographer and airline pilot whose exploration of abandoned buildings helped pioneer the urban exploration scene. His photographs document the crumbling beauty and accumulated histories of factories, mental hospitals, former residences, prisons and power stations across Europe. He produces photobooks, and his work has been featured in numerous publications worldwide and in exhibitions in Belgium, Netherlands, and France.

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Henk van Rensbergen was born in 1968 in Brussels. He purchased his first camera when he was 16, taking photos of derelict buildings that he discovered in his spare time. The photographer began sharing his interest in deserted building online in the early 1990s, building a website to publish his images before the internet became widespread. There, he slowly found a community of like-minded individuals who began sharing the locations of other abandoned sites.

Of his work, van Rensbergen has said, 'the challenge in photography was not simply to record what was there to see, but to reproduce the atmosphere: the tension, the complexity, the philosophical questions, the emotions and the surprises these places would have in store.' The photographer often returned to the same locations to bear witness to the looting, razing, or demolition of his subjects.

Henk van Rensbergen's day job as an airline pilot eventually allowed him to explore places further abroad, including Japan, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Brazil, Africa, and the United States. In 2007 he published his first photobook: the first volume of 'Abandoned Places'.

In 2017, van Rensbergen began digitally augmenting his photographs, placing animals amongst the dilapidated architecture. In this series, 'No Man's Land' (2017), an orangutan gazes at the viewer from a neglected hotel lobby, an exotic python wraps itself around a trompe l'oeil painted bathhouse, and a rhinoceros grazes amongst a decaying passage. In these images, the artist conjures a post-human world where animals occupy the remnants of civilisation.

'Imagine the world if we're no longer there', van Rensbergen said in an interview with Flanders Today. 'No more religion, no more wars, no more arguments, no more traffic. I mean, the world would be perfect. Except of course that we wouldn't be there to enjoy it. So can something be perfect if the creatures judging it as perfect are no longer there?'

Amy Weng | Ocula | 2021

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