As free as a bird

In the Netherlands some 35.000 people live in caravans or mobile homes, spread over more than 1100 sites. Local authorities have been responsible for their pitches since 1999, but it is not a responsibility they relish. Indeed, many local authorities would much rather these pitches did not exist. Ever since she cycled past it as a little girl, documentary photographer Suzanne Valkenburg (1981) wondered what life was like in a mobile home park. What she found was a warm family culture that has been oppressed for many years now.

As free as a bird is an ostensibly casual portrait of an invisible, closed community. A world in itself, containing free spirits not constrained by employment agreements or civic duties, with their own unwritten rules, their own professions, their own taste and culture. The series shows not so much the poverty and precarity of the self-styled travellers’ existence, but rather their resilience as they try to make the most of life.

Valkenburg offers a subtle presentation of humanity and pride yet raises questions too. What is community spirit? What does freedom actually mean? And is true independence even possible, or just an illusion? 

Artist Bio

Suzanne Valkenburg (Netherlands, 1981) graduated in photography (MFA) at St. Joost School of Arts in Breda (NL) and is a documentary photographer.

From a background as a visual artist, she makes unremarkable worlds visible with her long-term projects and photo series. No flat, overly stylized images, but striking, pure images. Both autonomously and on commission, she shares her images with people who are looking for real and pure images. Her photo series As free as a bird is also captured in a self-published book and exposed at several exhibitions. 

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