October 18th, 2008


Jip de Kort, 1971-2008

We're here and then we aren't. The transition to non-being can happen with ridiculous suddenness, and for no good reason. It can happen to young people in good health, people who seem as vividly alive on the web after their physical being has ended as they did before it.

Someone who should be reading this page isn't. Someone who should be updating us with fresh information about his life never will again. Jip de Kort went to sleep on Sunday evening and never woke up. His heart, apparently, just stopped. He was 37 years old. I learned about this when I was in London. His friends tell me he felt no pain.

Jip's Facebook page announced on Saturday "I'm starting a trip to Sprang-Capelle today". At 1.06am on Sunday evening his status feed announced "Jip is returning to Utrecht today". He died a few hours later. I'm not sure whether it happened in Sprang-Capelle or his home town of Utrecht.

Jip -- one of the staunchest Momus fans, and one of the gentlest people I've met -- was a self-mediator. On his Flickr page and on his Kwark page Jip posted photos of his life. We shared something that I recognized when I started looking at his photos in 2003, something to do with the gently obsessive need to record the world in digital form, and record himself too.

Jip was the perfect model of the digital dandy, someone who endlessly recorded not just his travels and his experiences moving through the world with his girlfriend Stef Swaczyna, but also experiments with his appearance. He photographed his ever-changing clothes and hair with something that wasn't as much narcissism as a gentle wonder, amused and bemused.

With Jip's disappearance, this digital archiving -- and Jip was also a master of those digital languages, C and Perl and Shell and PHP and Javascript -- makes sense in a new way. Jip made himself present in digital space almost as if he knew that he wouldn't always be physically present. He really seemed unusually aware of the preciousness of every moment.

I first wrote about Jip in my website essay about photoblogging in 2003. When Phaidon asked me to write a book about photoblogging a couple of years later, I described how Jip had trained my eye:

"Dutchman Jip de Kort likes coloured plastic, art galleries, fire extinguishers, and trains. The plastic bottles in his bathroom are arranged according to colour, like a Tony Cragg installation. Jip clearly lives to photograph. He does it with an eclectic, sensual abandon, and as a result I feel like, first, an initiate and, later, an intimate in his world. I understand his love of plastic, his affection for the future, his gentleness and the harmonious, hedonistic pacifism of his life. Oh, the words are so much uglier than the images – ‘hedonistic pacifism’, indeed! The photos train me to see as Jip sees, to recognize his holy holies, his habits, his fetishes, his wounds."

Jip picked up "hedonistic pacifism" for the Religion slot on his Facebook page. He must have liked the phrase, or been amused-bemused by it. When I think of Jip -- and we met less than ten times in total -- I think of the deep, gentle, calm, benign energy that radiated from him.

One of the last projects Jip was working on -- part of his lifelong efforts to map digitally the more benign parts of lived experience -- was OpenStreetMap Utrecht, an interactive, scalable map which marks pedestrian routes as well as car routes:

That concern for the human application of digital technology goes right to the heart of what Jip was all about: making humane things with technology. Teaching code to help us live.

The last time Jip and I met was in his hometown of Utrecht, this January. Jip had organised a Momus concert in Kikker Theatre, where his girlfriend Stef works. He showed me around Utrecht, a place of zooming bicycles, pretty canals, chiming churches, art museums, cafes. A really lovely town, in fact. Jip, who was always into the most advanced culture and knew my tastes, took me to some great graphic design bookstores and galleries. You can see the kind of things he liked from his photos; digital things, futuristic things, creative things, laptop concerts, art installations, food, travel. Or something as simple as splashing around in puddles in the garden, as he documented in one of his last YouTube videos:

I wasn't able to attend Jip's funeral, which happened on Friday in Utrecht. Asked to choose one of my own songs for the ceremony, I selected Rhetoric from my Timelord album, a song about the endlessness of love. I will return to Utrecht and play a memorial concert for Jip soon, at Kikker Theatre. But I'd encourage you to look at his photos on Flickr and on Qwark. They're not just documents of a life well-lived and well-valued, the sweet and precious and simple and complex and sensual life that Jip lived, they're now a very poignant reminder to all of us that we won't always be here.

Three weeks before he died, Jip bought a new digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix P6000. There are millions of Jip-pleasures and Jip-experiences that should have been recorded to the P6000's CCD array that now never will be.

In Mika Taanila's documentary about tech-utopian artist Erkki Kurenniemi, The Future Is Not What It Used To Be, Erkki explains why he takes so many photos of his life. He believes that an advanced civilisation of the future will collect the digital traces we're leaving now and re-assemble cybernetically the lives and personalities of those of us who documented everything. If Erkki is right, Jip will live again, with all the textural richness he experienced the first time around. In the meantime, Jip will be -- for those of us who knew him and were touched by his work -- not just a much-missed and dear friend, but a principle, an object lesson in how to value and record life.