Article by Gemma Padley
From artists working creatively within still life photography to documentarians with a conceptual eye, Holland is home to some of the most talented practitioners working in contemporary photography. Gemma Padley chats to three Dutch innovators to hear their views on who is making waves
It’s an exciting time to be in photography, this much we all know. From collectives and collaborative projects to indie publishing and pop-up exhibitions, the contemporary photography scene (if we can call it that) is bursting with new initiatives. With fewer barriers to getting work out to an audience than ever before – whether this is online, via a photobook or an exhibition – creatives are producing visually engaging work across a wide range of fields, challenging what photography is and can do in the process.
One country that is producing an exceptional number of talented photographers is Holland. This is of course not a new phenomenon as several books on Dutch photography, including Dutch Eyes: A Critical History of Photography in the Netherlands, published by Hatje Cantz attest. But while it would be wrong to claim that Dutch photographers are making work of a higher calibre than anyone else, it’s fair to say that there is a steady stream of exceptional work trickling from the Netherlands.
You only have to look to Amsterdam’s photography fair, Unseen, to see examples of young photographers who are making compelling work, many of whom are from Holland. During the weekend of 18 to 21 September 2014, gallerists from all over the world descended on Westergasfabriek – a former 19th century gasworks site – to showcase ‘unseen’ work by some of their artists for the fair’s third edition. Among them was Dutch gallery Boetzelaer|Nispen, which presented work by Anouk Kruithof and Maurice van Es, who won the inaugural ‘public vote’ in the New Talent Photography Award, a prize that was initiated in 2013 to showcase Dutch photography talent. Part of his award was a commission from sponsors Ing to produce a new body of work, and his photographs will also tour with those of overall winner (and fellow Dutch photographer) Anne Geene, in venues across Holland.
A recent graduate from the prestigious Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, van Es is rapidly making a name for himself as a one-to-watch. Named as a winner of the Düsseldorf Photo Weekend Portfolio Review in early 2014, he has published a number of photobooks including now will not be with us forever, a collection of seven books that was shortlisted for the Unseen Dummy Award 2013, and his work was included in Small Universe, an exhibition of Dutch photography curated by Dutch art director, photography collector and curator Erik Kessels at the 2014 Les Rencontres d’Arles festival . Van Es will meet Kessels again in another group show celebrating Dutch photography, this time at Vivacom Art Hall in Bulgaria with Annegien van Doorn, Ruth van Beek, and Laurence Aëgerter.
Image © Maurice van Es
Falling somewhere between abstract still life and conceptual fine art photography, van Es’s work includes Rooms of Now, , in which the Dutchman produces photobooks of peoples’ houses. For these books he photographs items in each person’s home – from door handles to lampshades, kitchen utensils to fridge magnets – to produce visual records that are unique to each person. He’s even made a book for Kessels. “For me, the question is, ‘what do you do with the photographs that you make’?” says van Es, who explains he has been experimenting with printing and displaying his images in new ways in his studio. “You can print your images easily, and hang them on the walls, but if you want to stand out, it’s important to [think about] the way you present to others your fascination with the world. I love the printed image, but I want to take my time [in what I’m doing,” he adds. “There is often this pressure to always be doing new things, but sometimes it’s possible to be influenced by this way of thinking too much.”
Image © Maurice van Es
For Kim Knoppers, curator at Foam Photography Museum, it’s “difficult to pinpoint Dutch photography in a single way.” Photographers are working in myriad ways, she says, with those “who are working [primarily] in their studios, for example, constructing photographs, exploring still life photography in various forms, such as Liesbeth Abbenes & Maurice Scheltens, and Johannes Schwartz. [But] there is also a documentary trend – what we might call ‘autonomous documentary’ – people combining storytelling with a very strong visual language that can stand on its own; for example, Lana Mesic, and Jan Hoek . There is also a trend of combining photography and sculpture, (Otto Kaan), and others who include Jaap Scheeren, Jan Rosseel, Fleur van Dodewaard , and Ruth van Beek who are producing compelling work. “Characteristics of Dutch photography include humour, construction of the image, combining photography and sculpture, and collectives,” she adds, “but the excitement and energy that’s happening in photography right now isn’t unique to Holland. It’s more widespread than that. I really appreciate all the ‘do-it-yourself’ initiatives, and how young people are connecting with each other. They don’t wait until a museum or publisher approaches them. Instead, they are finding new and creative ways to show their work, by creating their own publishing houses and platforms, and experimenting with new forms of presentation.”
Image © Scheltens & Abbenes
May Putman Cramer who heads up the platform New Dutch Photography Talent, a four-year old initiative profiling emerging talent overseen by GUP magazine, agrees there are a number of exciting photographers emerging from the Netherlands. She names van Es as one, but also name-checks Olya Oleinic, Joris vd Ploeg, Henri Verhoef, and Lonneke van der Palen , all of whom are making what she believes is innovative work. “There are different movements within photography or general trends – for example, the use of colour and still life are popular at the moment – although I’m not sure there is a ‘Dutch style of photography’ as such”, she says. “But what’s interesting is that each Dutch photographer has his or her own style. They dare to do their own thing, and that’s exciting to see.” May credits Holland’s lively publishing scene for helping to cultivate new Dutch talent with distributors such as Amsterdam-based Idea Books, playing a part, and publishers including GUP publisher, xpublishers, which has also published a new magazine profiling up-and-coming Dutch talent – New Dawn. “Great things are happening at the moment, and there is a lot of excitement and interest in Dutch photography,” says Putman Cramer. “We’re heading in the right direction, and it can only get better.”
Image © Henri Verhoef
This article was brought to you by Gemma Padley.
Gemma Padley is a freelance journalist and editor who specialises in writing about photography. From 2012 to 2014, Gemma worked at British Journal of Photography. With seven years’ professional writing experience, Gemma has also written for The Telegraph, Photomonitor, Nowness, 1000Words, Amateur Photographer, Digital Camera, and N-Photo.
Gemma recently founded the blog Too Many TasteMakers, an online platform that showcases new talent and photography news.