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Some Recent Developments in Dutch Photography
One of the most striking qualities of contemporary photography is the intermingling of traditions, genres and concepts. This is apparent especially in the Netherlands where the young generation freely mixes fashion assignments with documentary strategies or methods -- as in the case of Viviane Sassen (lot 89) and Martine Stig (lot 97) -- or journalistic codes with theatrical stagings, as seen in the work of Juul Hondius (lot 96). Even among a somewhat older generation, crossovers between genres have underpinned new forms of expression. This is the case with the highly expressive pop photography of Anton Corbijn (lot 84) who, already by the end of the 70s, had created his signature mix of portraiture and narrative documentary.
Formal training and experience in one field often opened possibilities in another. For example, the framework of Wout Berger's long-term landscape projects, begun in the late 80s, was predicated on the craftsmanship and precision necessary in fashion and publicity shoots (lot 77). In the case of Wijnanda Deroo, the almost painterly concern with light and space in both her early black and white and later colour photographs is the result of her visual arts training in the 70s (lot 81).
A strong tendency to formalise the position of the photographer or viewer is a common thread in contemporary Dutch photography. The frontality in the photographs of Erwin Olaf (lots 85-86) and Ruud van Empel (lot 87) wilfully creates an uneasiness that is emphasised by digital manipulation. A disquieting play with viewpoints underscores the architectural images of Edwin Zwakman (lot 78) and Frank van der Salm (lot 79). Zwakman photographs his self-constructed maquettes to create strangely illusionistic spaces, whereas extreme blurring of existing urban landscapes -- the result of selective focusing -- is used in the work of Van der Salm. Questioning the link between reality and photography, these four contemporary artists present carefully chosen, constructed or staged worlds. Their resulting photographs present themselves as colourful, large-sized autonomous works of art.
A turning point in the postwar period was the staged photography of the 80s by such artists as Gerald van der Kaap and Henk Tas who used the photographic medium to create deceitful, personal, theatrical sets. Inspired by postmodern theory and mass culture, they rejected the notion of photographs as trustworthy mirrors and windows. Another stimulus was the conceptual attitude of such artists as Ger van Elk whose work was an often extremely witty reflection on the implicit and explicit codes of photographic genres. This ironic distance is manifested typically in the work of many present day photographers. The questioning of photographic codes finds its convincing contemporary form in the seemingly innocent urban landscapes of Gert Jan Kocken (lot 82). In Dutch photohistory, staged photography marked a radical break with a long photographic tradition that had been anchored in concerned documentary, politically inspired reportage and street photography.
Interestingly, the reaction to staged photography that inevitably followed a decade later led to a reorientation of classic genres like portraits, landscapes, still lifes and interiors, as well as documentary and journalistic photography while continuing to embrace the freedom gained in the 80s. In portraiture, the first photographer to give new meaning to this genre was Rineke Dijkstra who -- in her acclaimed Beach Portraits of the mid-90s -- showed the vulnerability of youth. Her straightforward and precise approach to photography and its emotional impact have influenced many portrait photographers. Céline van Balen's Muazez, taken in 1998, clearly transcends the documentary portrayal of an immigrant girl. The extremely sharp close-up of her veiled face harks back to 16th century paintings of the Virgin Mary. This allusion is underscored by Van Balen's precise use of colour (lot 94).
For the new generation of photographic artists, a wide range of pictorial, sculptural, and, of course, photographic themes function as sources of inspiration. In Cloud, 2000, Marnix Goossens does not offer a more or less straightforward view of a typical man-made Dutch landscape but rather a commentary on the cheap and fast-growing nature of new suburbia. The sculptural forms in this carefully composed picture function almost like theatrical props (lot 76). While Goossens's approach is often painterly, he shares a matter-of-factness and an ironic distance with his mentor Hans Aarsman who, at the end of the 1980s, was the first to acknowledge the 'Dutchness' of Dutch landscapes in large-format documentary photographs. As for the clever arrangement of colourful objects in Still life (milk), 2002, by Elspeth Diederix, it is evident that she refers to a rich painterly tradition, yet at the same time, she points to the banality of everyday life. Through an ironic reversal of the characteristics of a lush publicity shot -- a strategy first employed in Van der Kaap's early work -- Diederix presents a 21st century take on the Dutch still life (lot 83).
Nowadays photographers in the Netherlands generally receive formal training in art academies, in contrast to earlier generations who were either educated as craftsmen or trained by their peers. This does not mean, however, that these formally trained artists make a living exclusively from their personal projects. They instead move easily from commercial or sponsored commissions to independent projects. The photobook, which traditionally has been considered the platform par excellence for presenting a series or a project, remains relevant for most photographers, alongside limited edition prints. This is especially the case for photographers who reoriented their documentary approach such as Bertien van Manen in her strong epic a Hundred Summers, a Hundred Winters, on post USSR Russia (1994) and Ad van Denderen in his 15-year project on immigration in Europe GoNoGo (2003). An even younger generation, slowly appearing 'on stage', seems clearly under their influence.
In the 1980s, other key platforms for photography appeared in the form of specialised magazines -- such as Perspektief and Zien, recently followed by FOAM Magazine -- and photo festivals. Opportunities to exhibit and sell work have grown steadily since the 70s although the number of galleries that handle contemporary photographs remains rather limited. The oldest institutional photography collections date from the 50s: the University of Leiden in 1953 and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1958 were the first to establish photography departments. Since the 90s, museums exclusively devoted to photography have been, founded such as The Netherlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam, Huis Marseille and FOAM in Amsterdam, and The Fotomuseum in The Hague. In the Netherlands, museums, universities and art academies actively promote and foster scholarship, criticism and connoisseurship in photography. A broad thematical approach to Dutch photohistory was published last year in Dutch Eyes: A Critical History of Photography in the Netherlands.
Hripsimé Visser, Curator of Photography
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Looking down, the world without horizon or perspective becomes pattern and color.
Craigie Horsfield, 1997
Gerco de Ruijter, Basalt, 2004, p.41 (fig.1); Gierstberg (ed.), Dutch Dare: Contemporary Photography from the Netherlands, NAi, 2006, front endpapers & p.65 (fig.D); Van den Heuvel & Metz, Nature as Artifice: New Dutch Landscape in Photography and Video Art, NAi, 2008, p.129 (fig.E).