Strong Room by Roelof Bakker and Jane Wildgoose

-Reviewed by Eleanor Hemsley-

Strong Room holds an enchanting collection of photographs alongside a short story that reignites a sense of archaic longing within us. The focus is, as with many other things, on the digital age, and the things modern day humans are missing out on. But this doesn’t come across as a stuck-in-the-past piece. Instead it’s more of a pining recollection, a remembering and longing for the past whilst being firmly set in the present. It’s a collection of photographs from an old strong room, a council chamber and a maintenance room, and a story that sits us in the centre of a library, surrounded by books and silence.

Strong Room Roelof Bakker Jane Wildgoose

The collection of photographs taken by Roelof Bakker are wonderfully reminiscent of older times, if a little repetitive. The photos really set us up for the story to follow and intertwine nicely with it, making us see and even smell the old, worn furniture and battered packaging. It does exactly what it is meant to do, in that we find ourselves thinking and remembering what it would be like to live in a world without technology, where second hand shops are for the old and the new, and where people’s history can be found simply by looking through a pile of papers.

But what really makes this collection for me is the story that follows. The photographs manage to put us in just the right mind set to read the wonderfully descriptive ‘A Visit To The Archives’, and it is no disappointment. We find ourselves lost within a beautiful world of old books and shelves, that are falling apart and smell of their previous owners, until technology swims back to the surface, interrupting the memories and bringing us firmly back to the present, to our virtual reality.

And this is where the piece manages to succeed where many others fail. Instead of being brought back to the present and feeling comfortable there, we find ourselves longing once more for rows and rows of books, or old fireplaces filling the room with their scent, and for the things that can be touched. And whilst taking us on a physical trip down memory lane, the persona also goes down one from a memory, reminding us that it is often the smells of old things that remind us of our own pasts, of the good and the bad things that happen. And this is something that we realise won’t happen with technology, for it has no smell, and so no gateway to our forgotten memories.

The photographs taken are wonderfully nostalgic and perfectly reflect on the story. The old gallery chairs with the leather worn away to show the fibrous maze beneath give a real sense of abandonment, and along with ‘Strong Room (4)’, a photograph taken of rows upon rows of rolled up blueprints and drawings, we can almost feel the dust building up in our throats. But this isn’t a bad thing, not at all. Instead it’s a reminder of the things that have been forgotten, and like in the story that follows, we remember what it’s like to remember.

Jane Wildgoose has managed to create a piece that fits perfectly with Bakker’s photography to allow us a short walk into the past, so that we can remember what it is to touch and smell and feel. But don’t be put off, for the feeling resurrected within you when you read this won’t be that of sadness, more of remembering and longing, so that you can once again lose yourself within a world that has almost been forgotten.