The V stands for 5, Charles the Fifth, the subject of this book project. It’s also the latin name for Europe. An assignment with a personal touch. When the ‘Keizer Karel committee’ (Charles the Vth committee) asked me to work on a project around Charles the 5th, my first thought was : this is a joke. My name in Dutch is exactly that : Charles the Emperor or if you want Keizer Karel - Charles the Vth. It was not a joke and I accepted the assignment. I decided to work with a book I found written by the official biographer of Charles V who documented his every move, day by day. Where the emperor stayed, his entourage and how long. I tried to visit all the places the emperor had according to this book. Respecting also the time spent in certain countries. My trip took 9 months, his life’s journey more than 50 years. I imagined myself walking around in the 16th century instead of 1998-1999. A time of repression, inquisition. A time when cities closed the gates in the evening, fearing the dark and anything associated.

The Fault Lines of History (cover text)

‘Something that is generally well known is in fact not known, precisely because it is so well known.’ These are the words of the German philosopher Hegel, in the foreword to his Phenomenology of Spirit. It is a motto that should be engraved on the cameras of all great photographers. What they show us is the reality we know well but do not see, the things that are well known, but which we do not in fact know. It is through their eyes, their lens, that we learn to look at and discover reality anew.

Carl De Keyzer’s ‘EVROPA’ project is an example of how a photographer can make us rediscover reality. His photos form part of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Charles V. Carl De Keyzer travelled round Europe in Charles’ footsteps, following the emperor’s itinerarium. What he wanted to reveal in his photos was the history. We live in the midst of history: its remains are present all around us. The past lives on in our memory, in habits, in customs and rituals. And yet we barely notice it. De Keyzer makes visible once again the past in whose midst we live.

The text by the historian Immanuel Wallerstein included in this book starts with an analysis of the English, French and Dutch title of the colloquium ‘(Re)constructing the past’ that was organised by the Flemish Charles V 2000 committee. Wallerstein noted how it appeared from this that our modern conception of history is caught between present and past, between construction and reconstruction, between periods which are at once at an end and yet continue. The same issues crop up in the photos in the ‘EVROPA’ project. Carl De Keyzer also brings the past face to face with the present, the present with the past. He reveals what we do to the past. How we distort and trivialise it, how the past is slotted into contemporary life in a bizarre, clashing, kitschy, often unwittingly ironic way. How Europe simultaneously is subject to and misuses history for touristic and nationalist purposes.

There is a significant difference between an historian like Wallerstein and a photographer like De Keyzer. A photographer does not analyse, and does not break the past down into fragments and structures. A photographer does the opposite: he puts together, he combines. In his ‘EVROPA’ photos De Keyzer subtly captures history in images, and rediscovers the 16th century in the present. In these photos the past and present seem like folds in the geological structure of our collective memory. Charles V’s era and the present are like geological strata from very different ages which have suddenly been brought into contact by one or other cataclysm. One might compare De Keyzer’s photography with the scientific work of a geologist or physical geographer: both record the folds of history and the often bizarre twists and juxtapositions of past and present. His photos show the fault lines and collisions whereby past and present end up face to face - often to the amazement of the spectator. It is precisely this confrontation, these fault lines, that make history visible once more.

Writing history - Immanuel Wallerstein. (link book intro)