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Historical Archives of the European Union - European University Institute

Bridge over Europe: Paul Gofferjé and Trudy Nijman’s metaphor for united Europe

A new photographic collection at the HAEU provides a captivating visual narrative of European unity. Conceived in the late 1980s by photographers Paul Gofferjé and Trudy Nijman, the ‘Bridge over Europe’ project was remarkable for its scope, ambition, and technological achievements.

22 March 2024


The idea

In late 1980s Amsterdam, photographers Paul Gofferjé and Trudy Nijman, founders of the Kunst Fotografisch Bedrijf (Art Photography Company), had what one could say was a very big idea: to artistically express, through their chosen medium of photography, the idea of European unification. They would create a new image for the European Communities--at the time poised on the brink of the unique endeavour that would become the European Union.

“For that”, explained Paul Gofferjé in a recent interview, “we needed an artistic metaphor that would resonate across all of the cultures involved”. They settled on the idea of bridges because “Bridges link two riverbanks but also different cultures. They are fought over, spies are exchanged on them, their praises are sung in poetry and literature. Indeed, bridges are not only architectural monuments but also important national symbols”.

Pushing boundaries in photographic representation

With a good metaphor in mind, the artists moved on to the ‘how’. Like the newly growing European experiment, the ideators also wanted their photographs to provide a new experience, something that would not simply document reality, but ‘amaze’ its viewers. Having been trained in New York, Paul was always looking for new techniques and the one that caught his eye was the handmade 360 degree panorama camera that the Swiss company Seitz had just released in a special 5-inch version, very high quality indeed!

“We decided to use it for the project,” Paul said. If the images of bridges taken with this camera were projected in the right way and in the right space it would allow the viewers to “walk through” an illusion of connected European landscapes and bridges.

His idea for the image experience entailed ‘stitching’ together panoramic photos of 60 bridges, five from each of the 12 member states of the EEC, into a single gigantic transparency of 75 meters long. The plan pushed the boundaries of panoramic photography and digitalizing technology, which was still in its infancy.

While the immense project presented tremendous logistical, technological and financial challenges, and ultimately relied on financial and technical support from the European Commission, the Dutch government and numerous companies and individuals, Trudy and Paul were well-matched in pulling off such a huge endeavour. “I used to come up with the ideas”, Paul said, “but Trudy, who I really consider to have been my lifetime mentor, was the one I could count on to say ‘Yes. We can do it!’”

“She was also very good at talking people into things. The project wouldn’t have been possible without her.”

The road trip and the Seville expo

With the project taking off, Paul and Trudy hit the road to start photographing. He recalls the journey with a touch of humour: “Well, it was three months travelling with my aunt in a camper van,” he explained, revealing the family connection to his mentor. “We also had our collaborator Bart van den Tooren with us. Cities were less crowded with cars then, and we would often just park and sleep somewhere near the chosen bridge.”

The exhibit catalogue Bridge over Europe, designed by Leander Lammertink, presents photographs of each of the sixty bridges, alongside historical descriptions. “Many people were very important for the Bridge project”, wrote Paul, “and I thank Bart van den Tooren, Leander Lammertink, Maaike Nillessen, Yop Segers and Wim de Natris and many many others”.

Paul and Trudy were eventually invited by the European Commission and supported to install the exhibit in the European Union Pavilion at the 1992 World Expo in Seville, where it garnered widespread media attention and critical acclaim.

The archival collection

The ‘Bridge over Europe’ archival collection is a remarkable compilation, comprising of 60 5-inch transparency slides, 5-inch colour negatives, 60 ‘stitched’ slides, 13 CD-ROMs, 4 positives, 2 posters, 1 ScreenSaver, 1 Book, and 54 pictures in digital format. These artifacts, meticulously curated, offer a captivating visual journey across bridges of the 12 European Union member states of that time, between 1988 and 1992.

For Juan Alonso and Petruioan Pandrea, audio-visual archivists at HAEU, exploring the techniques employed in this project posed a particular challenge. “The fusion of special photographic techniques, materials and developing methodswith digital processing procedures, prompted critical analysis on our perception, understanding and adaptation of conventional audio-visual preservation practices to the unique nature of this photographic collection,” they wrote.

The archivists went on to explain that the technical innovation behind the project was groundbreaking for the late 80’s. A new Swiss 5-inch Seitz 360-degree camera and a Kodak EPP chrome film with a special emulsion were employed for capturing and developing. Digital specialists utilized the Barco Creator system, the first of its kind, for seamless merging(Stitching) of the panoramic images, overcoming technical challenges with the help of specialized equipment lent by Egripment and continues consultation with Capi-Lux Vak. Silicon Graphics workstations and PDI Professional ColorStudio played crucial roles in digital manipulation, while Ilfochrome material from Ilford Anitec and specialized laminate from SallMetall ensured the quality and durability of the final product.

As custodians of this exceptional collection, HAEU is committed to preserving and sharing the legacy of ‘Bridge over Europe’ for generations to come. We invite scholars, researchers, and enthusiasts to explore this extraordinary record and inspired rendering of the spirit of unity across the European continent. A projection of selected elements from the ‘Bridge over Europe’ collection is planned for the Archives’ Open Day on 25 May 2024.

Photo: Paul Gofferjé and Trudy Nijman standing in the middle of a shallow river, photographing an old stone bridge near Konitsa, Greece for ‘Bridge over Europe’, 1991.  Photo by Bart van den Tooren / HAEU-PG-27-27

Last update: 22 March 2024

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