This exhibition focuses on ‘premeditated photography’: work of Dutch origin that has arisen in a conditioned situation, with a preconceived plan and an artistic premise as its starting point. ‘Manipulated photography’, you could say, even if the differences between the participants are occasionally enormous with regard to strategy and size. After all, ‘manipulation’ comes in many flavours, in terms of both input and effect: from scrupulously structured staging to advanced photo-technical intervention, from a final result that is reserved and stilled, to one that may be dramatic and theatrical. However, what they all have in common is a digression from a journalistic and documentary style of registration. In addition, the constructed photo is the antipode of a snapshot: in the case of the participating photographers, the situation of ‘simply being in the right place at the right time’ has been eased into the background. The photographers in the Photography Extended exhibition choose their moment, their location, their own reality themselves – partly due to the facilities offered by the digital revolution — even if they are closely connected to a painterly tradition in their visual language, composition, scene-staging and incidence of light.
Scarcely two centuries of photographic history demonstrate how the medium of photography has developed in a relatively short time, in technical terms but also certainly in the way photographers, ‘connoisseurs’ and spectators see the medium. ‘A photo can be a work of art, of course, as long
as it has been made by an artist’, wrote Willem Sandberg about the first presentation of the photographic collection of the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum in 1959. It is also of great significance that the photo collection of the Stedelijk Museum was accommodated in the library in this period. That time has vanished forever. Nowadays photography functions as a mature and autonomous art form. Yet nevertheless, reflections on photography are not always equally unambiguous even fifty years after Sandberg’s statement. The fact that technological developments have enabled the explicit detachment of photography from what is experienced as a reality that can be captured – a freedom of form and content that used to be the prerogative of primarily the painter and sculptor – has led to discussion and discord about the way ‘photography’ can be defined. In this discourse, which is mostly heard in the Netherlands, a major role is played not by the question ‘Is it art?’ but rather by ‘Is it actually photography?’ Does a processed, manipulated photo belong in the trusted domain of photography?
With the Photography Extended exhibition, Museum Het Valkhof presents itself as a passionate advocate of photography in the broadest sense of the term. The expanded notion of photography shows the new range of the medium. Partly due to technical possibilities, a ‘parallel reality’ with a unique form has been able to arise, of which the medium previously had no inkling. Photography Extended demonstrates that new achievements and approaches do not undermine or deny the tried and trusted domain of photography, but rather expand and reinforce it.
Antoon Melissen – Frank van de Schoor
from the shocking to the sublime
“Always the Photograph astonishes me, with an astonishment which endures and renews itself, inexhaustibly” — Roland Barthes
What is art? What is photography? Are they separate or one and the same? More importantly, does it matter? Critic John Berger writes, “The art of the past no longer exists as it once did. Its authority is lost. In its place there is a language of images. What matters now is who uses that language for what purpose.” This language of images is central to redefining what it means to be an artist whose medium is photographically based. Photography as we know it is in a transformative moment – the technologies are undergoing many changes; photography itself is the central subject in contemporary art and contemporary art is at the forefront of the art world today.
Now is the time to explore new directions and that is what the artists here are doing. They are pushing the boundaries of what is possible and helping to redefine and challenge our understanding of a constantly changing medium. This is a time of transition in photography. There is a new future emerging that is about redefining the archive, transmission and interpretation of images, the merging of art and science, and a hybridization of technologies, which is informing the creation of photographs.
The purpose here is not to defend or define photography as art. That is a given and has not been an issue for a very long time even though as writer Philip Gefter reminds us, “In 1862, Ingres was among the important artists who issued a bitter denunciation of photography, signing an official petition to the Court in Paris against industrial techniques being applied to art.” But as we have come to understand, it is not the tools or industrial techniques that define whether something is art or not, but the results, the ability of the artist to create. From the shocking to the sublime, the artists represented here are true explorers of their medium. The tools—computer, camera, digital or analogue – are just the means, which the artist embraces to make their ideas a reality.
What are important to take note of are the strategies they utilize in making their work, including tableau, narrative, portraiture, landscape, and performance. For all of them manipulation, in some form, is fundamental to the work they create. The artists embrace technology, at the same time referencing precedents in the history of art and photography. Great art does not ignore historical practice, but builds upon what has gone before. And their influences range from 17th century painting to more contemporary inspiration from cinema and theatre, all reinterpreted with 21st century subjects and sensibilities.
It is exciting to see how these artists often crossover into multiple strategies. Landscape traditions are redefined in the work of Gerco de Ruijter’s images of tree farms – artificially cultivated land- scapes captured from an aerial perspective – that are turned into modern abstractions. Eelco Brand digitally inserts objects in the landscape, forcing the viewer to experience a new world created from his imagination, one in which nature is recognizable, but the object is uncomfortably alien
and clearly not native to the landscape. Moving even further from the reality of nature, Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky recreates the idea of landscape using ordinary objects, from fruit to broken chairs, to imply hills and lakes. She plays on perception and memory of nature for the interpretations of these constructed illusions. Jaap Scheeren takes a different approach, embracing both the landscape and portraiture by inserting himself into the setting, wanting to be close to nature, but clearly not an integrated part of the environment. Additionally, his Fake Flowers series references the still life
tradition in painting along with the fundamentals of color in light. When cyan, yellow and magenta are combined they form white light—the basis of color photography.
A central approach for a number of the artists is the idea of staging an event for the camera. Roland Barthes wrote, “Yet it is not (it seems to me) by Painting that Photography touches art, but by Theater.” The notion of performance and the theatrical is evidenced in the work of Risk Hazekamp, Erwin Olaf, and Sylvie Zijlmans, although each creates their own unique approach.
The overwhelming disasters in Zijlmans’ work reference the stage settings of cinema. Her chaotic scenarios of a private world out of control are distinct from the elaborate tableaus created by Olaf whose work represents a world so tightly controlled that nothing is out of place. Both his lighting and striking visual scenes reference aspects of early Dutch painting. In contrast, Risk Hazekamp is directly inspired by American cinema and culture. The wide-open spaces of the American West are the background for work that pushes the boundaries of gender specificity.
Hendrik Kerstens and Koen Hauser create works that visually appear to have nothing in common. Yet, both are exploring portraiture and responding to historical imagery. For Kerstens the reference is Flemish Primitive painting. Working with his only model, his daughter Paula, he takes the best elements of portrait painting, the soft lighting along with the direct gaze of the sitter, and reinterprets the genre with a modern touch. Hauser is more directly influenced by images of the recent past. Working from one of the largest press archives in Europe, he repurposes archival photographs, seamlessly inserting himself into the existing image, producing “performances held to invoke the spirit of creation.” Both the digital alteration combined with the artificiality of the original subject matter creates a heightened sense of unreality.
Photography has never been a truthful medium, but its great strength is that is has always been perceived as depicting the truth. Both Ruud van Empel and Willem van den Hoed make use of this in their work. Using digital photography at high resolution they Photoshop hundreds of images to create the final piece. They are “painting with fragments of photographs” constructing the reality that they want. Van Empel creates lush, evocative images that draw the viewer with their beauty, but create a vague unease that something is not quite right. The combined interior and exterior views of hotel rooms by Van den Hoed are also impossible realities fabricated by the artist. Each piece is created on the computer from hundreds of digital photographs made from multipleperspectives over many hours. Perspective is altered, the changing light from day to night is controlled and the nature of perception becomes the real subject of his work.
In spending time with this work the question arises, is there an identifiable Dutch photography? The answer is both yes and no. Photography today is a global medium. The artists here are dealing with the same questions and concerns as photographers everywhere. Issues of scale, technology, striving for acceptance in the international art market, and establishing one’s own unique voice are universal for contemporary art photographers. The idea of “Dutch photography” is only one more layer of information in the understanding and appreciation of the work, but it is not the sole means of engaging with these images. These artists challenge all of the traditional expectations of photography while still using the fundamentals of the medium. Their work transcends physical borders and should be viewed as complex, layered with ideas exploring perception and playing with notions of reality.
Deborah Klochko — Director Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego
In deze tentoonstelling staat ‘fotografie met voorbedachten rade’ centraal; werk van Nederlandse herkomst dat is ontstaan in een geconditioneerde situatie, met een vooropgezet plan en een artistiek concept als uitgangspunt.‘Gemanipuleerde fotografie’ dus, al zijn de verschillen tussen de deelnemers in strategie en werkwijze soms groot. Want ‘manipulatie’ kent verschillende varianten, zowel in inzet alsin effect: van een minutieus opgebouwde enscenering tot een geavanceerd fototechnisch ingrijpen, van een eindresultaat dat ingehouden en verstild is of juist dramatisch en theatraal. Gemeenschappelijk is echter de verwijdering van een documentaire en journalistieke wijze van registreren. De geconstrueerde foto is bovendien de antipode van een snapshot: bij de deelnemende fotografen is het ‘toevallig op het juiste moment op de juiste plaats zijn’ naar de achtergrond gedrongen. De fotografen van Photography Extended kiezen en creëren zélf hun moment, plek én eigen werkelijkheid – mede dankzij de verworvenheden van de digitale revolutie – al zijn zij in hun beeldtaal, compositie, enscenering en lichtval ook nauw verbonden met de schilderkunstige traditie.
Amper twee eeuwen fotogeschiedenis laten zien hoe het medium fotografie zich in relatief korte tijd in technologisch opzicht heeft ontwikkeld, maar zeker ook hoe fotografen,‘kenners’ en kijkers het medium beschouwen. “Natuurlijk kan een foto kunst zijn, mits zij…door een kunstenaar gemaakt is”, schrijft Willem Sandberg over de eerste presentatie van de fotocollectie van het Amsterdamse Stedelijk Museum in 1959. Veelzeggend is ook dat de fotocollectie van het Stedelijk Museum in deze periode nog is ondergebracht in de bibliotheek. Die tijd is voorgoed voorbij: fotografie functioneert inmiddels als een volwaardige en autonome kunstvorm, en toch is de beschouwing ervan ook vijftig jaar na Sandbergs uitspraak nog altijd niet even eenduidig. Fotografie is nu doortechnologische ontwikkelingen ook nadrukkelijk losgekoppeld van wat als een te registreren werkelijkheid wordt ervaren – een vrijheid van vorm en inhoud die voorheen toch vooral was voorbehouden aan schilder- en beeldhouwkunst. Deze omslag leidt tegenwoordig tot discussie en onenigheid over de invulling van de definitie ‘fotografie’. Niet de vraag ‘is het kunst’, maar de vraag ‘is het nog wel fotografie’ speelt in dit, zich vooral in Nederland afspelende discours regelmatig een rol. Hoort een bewerkte, gemanipuleerde foto nog wel thuis binnen het vertrouwde domein van de fotografie? Met de tentoonstelling Photography Extended positioneert Museum Het Valkhof zich nadrukkelijk als pleitbezorger van fotografie in de brede zin van het woord. Het verruimde begrip van fotografie toont de nieuwe reikwijdte van het medium. Mede door technische mogelijkheden is een ‘parallelle werkelijkheid’ ontstaan die het medium voorheen in deze vorm niet kende. Photography Extented laat zien dat nieuwe verworvenheden en benaderingen het vertrouwde werkveld van de fotografie niet ondergraven of ontkennen, maar juist verruimen en bekrachtigen.
Antoon Melissen – Frank van de Schoor