Building worlds through set design and manipulation, Joost Termeer’s photography work is a trip

Inspired by cars, people, supermarket projects and culture, the photographer turns mundane objects into unrecognisable adaptations.

26 February 2021

When Joost Termeer was young, he’d travel with his family across England in the summer. A “cheesy story”, he says, but for as long as he can recall he would take all of the holiday pictures. “Next to family photos I would document our travels by photographing the surroundings,” he tells It’s Nice that. “I remember being obsessed with the camera. Even to a point where I would feel that the closet it was stored in had some kind of sacred value; I would sometimes just open it and look at it. I can still remember the smell: old wood, varnish, paper and dust.”

Joost is currently based in Utrecht, where he’s lived and studied there for the last eight years. Born further south in a small village called Nieuwaal (with around 500 residents), he was inundated with nature and wildlife. In fact, he adds, the only thing separating his parent’s home from the river Waal was a dyke and nature reserve, and his parents also owned many animals, such as Shetland ponies. He’s always viewed space and nature as a necessity for feeling grounded and, despite being located in a city and with plans to move an even bigger one – Amsterdam – it’s something that he relies on in the chaos of it all. So much so that when he decided to study biology at university, he would travel three hours a day. It wasn’t long until he packed in the commute and decided it was time to move into the metropolis’ domain. “After realising that working within the field of biology wasn’t the thing I wanted to spend my life in,” he notes of a sudden change, “I moved to what was the clear solution: photography.”

Although biology was predictably an apt choice in studies for the nature enthusiast, photography plays an equally as important role – if not more so. He’s attracted to the medium mostly for the fact that it requires a certain level of observation and “way of looking”, he says, which is similar to how he views the world. What he’s referring to is photography’s ability to be altered, and to isolate objects and situations, “carefully focussing on them by leaving out all of the surrounding noise.”


Joost Termeer: painting with tape (from my diary), 2020 (Copyright Joost Termeer, 2020)

Joost goes on to describe how his practice is one that revolves around image and set building, all in all pulling inspiration from anything he sees around him. This can be cars, the way people move, supermarket products, pop culture and modern visual culture. Once these ideas take shape, he’ll adapt it into an image – building on visual research and striving to achieve a level of “childlike freedom”, he adds. “That’s part of why I like to work with photography, it has an undeniable connection with the world around us (you could call this reality, but I think that word raises more philosophical questions) because we still read images as reproductions of reality.”

This is precisely why Joost’s work has a profound surrealist trademark stamped on it. All of his stories, memories and identities are abstracted into a whirlpool of artistry, where the photographer’s main goal is to “stimulate and tickle” the viewer’s imagination. It’s an act of manipulation that sees regular objects, mundanities and pieces of the everyday brought out of context and formed into a new reality – a Joost reality. This is evidently so in his most recent body of work, a collection of photographs called no thin-ness. A result of lockdown confinement in his studio a few days a week for about eight months, Joost built a new publication that’s been designed and directed by House TMM. It’s a book that treads between art, photography, cataloguing, numbers and “giving meaning by interventions”, such as form, colour or diptychs.

From this, he created a mini-series consisting of the similarities found between objects, featuring siblings I (I), siblings II (II) and siblings II (II). “Two siblings are close-up doll faces, open mouthed, wet and sexualised. The other pair are objects referring to future artefacts, as if archived by a historic institution,” he says. “I created those to challenge the way we look at objects.”

Joost directs us to a further piece titled (the view) is adorable, a picture he finished up at the end of last year that’s framed with swallows printed on the glass. Long fascinated by stickers of birds on home windows, he created this as a kind of ode to the beauty of them – that which is often remarked as being mundane and ugly. “For me, it resembles a seaside view from a cheap hotel, standing in an area that once used to be thriving and luxurious. I didn’t want to make it too obvious by taking an image of a view from a window. This way I hope people will also reflect their own story on the work and build a relationship with it by doing so.”

In the future, Joost plans to expand his portfolio and work on more commissioned projects. He also hopes to apply his peculiar vision and set-building mindset to the commercial landscape, and thinks it all ties in quite nicely with, say, perfumes, food and fashion. We couldn’t agree more, and we’re intrigued to see what type of worlds and ideas he has brewing.


Joost Termeer: altered version of cardboard sculpture and a spider, 2019 (Copyright Joost Termeer, 2019)


Joost Termeer: everything and everything, 2020 (Copyright Joost Termeer, 2020)


Joost Termeer: siblings I (I), 2020 (Copyright Joost Termeer, 2020)


Joost Termeer: siblings II (II)m, 2020 (Copyright Joost Termeer, 2020)


Joost Termeer: siblings I (II), 2020 (Copyright Joost Termeer, 2020)


Joost Termeer: siblings I (II), 2020 (Copyright Joost Termeer, 2020)


Joost Termeer: siblings II (I), 2020 (Copyright Joost Termeer, 2020)


Joost Termeer: still life study (IIII), 2021 (Copyright Joost Termeer, 2021)


Joost Termeer: untitled (the essentials) (II), 2020 (Copyright Joost Termeer, 2020)


Joost Termeer: (the view) is adorable, 2020 (Copyright Joost Termeer, 2020)

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Joost Termeer: my doodles came to life, 2019 (Copyright Joost Termeer, 2019)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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