Kissing Project

& other works
Kris Dewitte
Curator: Jan Van Woensel

In 2019 keert fotograaf Kris Dewitte terug naar de tentoonstellingsruimtes van Jan Dhaese Gallery met zijn nieuwe solopresentatie "KISSING PROJECT & andere werken". Het KISSING PROJECT was een centraal onderdeel in Dewitte's 2009 zeer geprezen retrospectieve tentoonstelling in The Suntory Museum in Osaka, Japan. Sindsdien is het project blijven groeien met meer mensen van alle niveaus van roem en schoonheid om deel te nemen aan de gesuggereerde intieme ontmoeting van de titel. Een decennium na de eerste tentoonstelling van "KISSING PROJECT" in Osaka, geven de foto's in de nieuwe tentoonstelling van Kris Dewitte in Gent, ons een update van dit intrigerend evoluerend project.

Writing about the work of Dewitte might not be the easiest of tasks. In my conversations with the man behind the camera he often stresses that a motivational explanation should not obscure the experience of the magical moment when the photo was taken, as well as, it should not blur the experience of the viewer with the presented image. As much as I would like to agree with the viewpoint of the photographer I am nonetheless burdened with the assignment to introduce the content of his exhibition. Therefor, I decided to give more context to the subject of Dewitte's project from the viewpoint of the critical observer. In my opinion, in our contemporary times of continual sociopolitical turmoil the kiss has become a poetically charged political act of resistance. This resistance of beauty is ageless and without boundaries. The kiss as an ultimate symbol of love (strategically placed in a sociopolitical framework) goes back a long way. One of the strongest of such images might be taken by Alfred Eisentaedt of a nurse and a sailor publicly entangled in a subliminal kiss of relief, joy and hope at the moment when the news of the surrender of Japan broke in 1945. Kissing was a favorite pose encouraged by media photographers of service personnel during times of war. Eisentaedt was a master in candid photography, each time capturing moments of spontaneous life most remarkably. The acts of kissing in the photographs of Kris Dewitte were put in action in certain agreement between the persons involved. Nonetheless, they equally master the beauty and honesty of pure life “as vulnerable as possible,” refering to the words of the photographer himself. “Photos should become real, removed from a pose. Storytelling. A moment of life”. In fact, the kiss as a recurrent motif in art and popular media is interesting. Kissing is considered as one of the most intimate acts two figures can share between each other. In famous film productions the narrative often builds up towards that epic and magical moment of the so-called Hollywood kiss. It sometimes symbolizes the relieve of tension between two leading characters and ensures the comforting feeling of relational harmony. But kissing never includes one emotion singled out. Its intimacy is the consequence of its emotional complexity. Think for instance of “Ghost” (1990), starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, in which intense feelings of unreachable love and grief explode in the moment of their in reality impossible kiss. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio's famous kissing scene in “Titanic” (1997) is one of youtful and passionate revolt placed against the omen of pending disaster and self-sacrifice. In “The Notebook” (2004), Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling's heavily rained on kiss combines emotions of heartfelt longing and the unfailing commitment to trust in their reunion. It is no wonder that the complex beauty of such moments of intimacy caught the attention of numerous artists, including Kris Dewitte.

One of the most remarkable anecdotes the photographer shared in a 2008 self-written text is the following: “Some relationships actually blossomed from the kissing photo shoot while some others ended. In one memorable scenario, a Polish girl living with her boyfriend-artist in a beautiful house in Montmartre, Paris, returned to her home country after their kiss – their last – after a relationship of eight years. He called the photo “a kiss is just a kiss even if it is a kiss of death”.” As mentioned earlier in this introductory text, a kiss can come with motivations that aren't always so Hollywood-romantic and well-intended. The biblical and equally timeless Judas kiss that defined the unfortunate plot of the story of Jesus Christ is one example that can't be erased from the history of famous kisses. Allegedly, the “Il baccio della morte” is the Italian mafia's spin off of the Judas kiss with death by execution as their worrisome shared outcome. Oliviero Toscani's 1991 controversial ad for United Colors of Benetton comments on the religious and sexual conflict of human nature. The photograph shows a priest and a nun in clerical vestments, kissing. In 2012, the same company launched the “Unhate Campaign” which featured images of world leaders kissing each other frontally. Billboard-sized photographs of Pope Benedict XVI kissing top Egyptian imam Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, and of former President Barack Obama kissing his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez “cut through all cultures, nationalities, faith and gender and they promote a global debate.” It goes without saying that these cleverly photoshopped images of kisses sparked immediate outrage from the Roman Catholic Church as well as from The White House.

While at this moment somewhere in the world a young couple timidly kisses for the first time and experience how time stops in that shared, magical moment, the act of kissing has proven to carry potentially complex statements too. Kris Dewitte's gallery exhibition “KISSING PROJECT & other works” is more than anything else a project about the beauty of the kiss and the beauty of the people he admires, including Patricia Arquette, Joachim Trier, Betony Vernon, Dita Von Teese, Trixie Whitley, Mamie Van Doren and Amanda Lepore. Dewitte manages to capture moments of real life in a masterly gesture since three decades of working internationally on and off film stages. I often wonder how his world-famous subjects seem to be so at ease in front of the lens of Kris Dewitte's camera and I found a potential answer in a quote from the aforementioned Alfred Eisentaedt, who said: "I don't come as a photographer. I come as a friend."

Jan Van Woensel, december 2018


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Ajuinlei 15B
9000  Gent
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Kissing Project ©Galerie Jan Dhaese & Kris Dewitte©Galerie Jan Dhaese & Kris Dewitte