Rob Hornstra is a name many It’s Nice That readers will recognise as a photographer in his own right, but also as the co-head of Photography at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. Despite the fascinating subjects in Rob’s photography, his work additionally gives a little insight into the man behind the lens, particularly in his latest book, Man Next Door.
Captured sensitively, the focus of Rob’s portraits in Man Next Door is, as the title suggests, his next-door neighbour, Kid. The pair interacted as most neighbours tend to, “he regularly swept our shared porch, put out rubbish and kept an eye on things when I was away,” says Rob. The photographer also returned the polite favour, extending a hand when Kid needed it. “As Kid couldn’t read well, I helped him with his post. He borrowed my phone whenever he didn’t have any credit on his own. Sometimes I wouldn’t see him for a while because he was serving a prison sentence for some minor misdemeanour.”
Through these polite interactions Kid and Rob’s friendship developed as the photographer learned about his turbulent life. “He was banned from seeing his son and struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. In the last year of his life, he spent more and more time with drifters and junkies, begging on the street for change.” In turn, the series documents Kid’s life through personality-filled portraiture, photographs of his home, belongings, their shared surrounding neighbourhood and archived images.
Designed as both a publication and a scrolling timeline on Rob’s website, the photographs categorise his time spent with Kid from 2007 until his unfortunate passing in 2013. While some of Rob’s photographs are difficult to look at upon learning the full story of Kid’s unsettled life, being shocking never appears to be the aim. Instead, the subtle hints at someone unstable make you think about how easily life can spiral downwards from one misunderstanding or mistake.
As a result, Man Next Door not only shares the importance on checking in on your neighbours or those in need of help but also “examines the stigmatisation of the working class while offering a rare insight into the life of a working-class Utrecht boy,” Rob explains. “What emerges is a bewildering picture of Kid’s many personalities, inevitably racing the question: how well do you know the person who lives next door?”
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