Stefan Vanthuyne: A family journey

Remember the White Horses opens with an image of a road
running through woodland on a summerʼs day. A journey begins.
But this is no classic road trip. Instead, the journey is a familiar
one, both in the sense of a family outing and a metaphoric
journey. The images – monochrome, warm-toned, set in the
middle of silky white pages – are highly sensual. We see a
woman and a child, both naked in the sunshine. And a little white
family dog. The woman is swimming in the river, outstretched
beneath the water. Then she is sitting, face tilted upwards
towards the warmth of the sun. The child is lying in the long
grass laughing at a large sky, open to new experiences and
There are also white horses, two of them, in a meadow. In two
consecutive images, we see them move up a hill towards the
viewer. These images seem to set a wider symbolic context,
suggesting ideas of fecundity, vitality and purity as well as
contradictory notions of domesticity and unknown power. They
also provide a bridge between different passages of the book;
the first, the adventure in and around the river, and the second, a
kind of returning home, across fields to a village.
The imagery is idyllic. However, there is also a tangible sense of
the vulnerability and anxiety that comes with familial love and
parenthood. Our first sighting of the child is of him reaching for
his motherʼs hand, tentatively entering the water. There are then
two photographs of the boy being held by his mother, hip high, in
the river. This is the only time that there are photographs placed
facing each other, as if to emphasise this act of parental
This is not the only tension that runs through the book.
Remember the White Horses is a lyrical book, dealing with
themes of love and parenthood in a deeply personal way. Yet, at
the same time, there is a distance and restraint. The book has
an elegant sparseness about it. The images are understated and
quiet, the composition simple and instinctive.
We are left questioning whose view of family and parenthood
this is. Rather than the camera acting as oneʼs own, or some
abstract, set of eyes, there is a strong suggestion that the person
behind the camera is the third member of the family; the partner
and father in the classic family triad. From this perspective, we
are left wondering about authorship. Is this a narrative about
family we can take at face value? With its idealisation and notes
of vulnerability, it seems likely that it reveals much more about
the preoccupations of the unseen partner and father.

Book review by Josephine Dixon
Le Journal de la Photographie, January 2013.