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Indepth Arts News:

"Fotodocs: Photography Between Commission and Autonomy"
2002-09-06 until 2002-11-03
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Rotterdam, , NL Netherlands

'When does photography become art?' That is the question raised by the exhibition 'Fotodocs' in the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. Six separate presentations focus on the relationship between photography and art. The point of departure is the growing interest in photography as an (important) art-form over the past thirty years. Not only because artists have been resorting to photography more and more since the 1960s, but also due to the growing acknowledgement of 'pure' photographers' work as art (often retrospectively). 'Fotodocs' addresses both aspects: the status of photography between documentary and an autonomous art-form.

The presentation is framed by a survey of the heyday of books of Dutch industrial photography from 1945 to 1965 - work with a purely documentary character - and by highlights from the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum's collection of photography, a selection of photographs conveying an impression of how artists use the medium in an autonomous fashion. 'Fotodocs' consists furthermore of solo presentations of work by three generations of Rotterdam photographer/artists (Ine Lamers, Edgar Cleijne and the Wally Elenbaas/Esther Hartog team), and also of the project 'Solutions for Today' by the British designer/photographer Jeremy Edwards.

The heyday of Dutch industrial photography books, 1945 - 1965

Photographer Paul Huf once commented succinctly on his work as follows: 'They get what they ask for, but I deliver damn good work' - the very thing that makes an exhibition of industrial photography books so attractive. The books show work from a period during which photographers could not make a living as artists/photographers and depended on such prestigious commissions. With this highly professional approach, photographers like Violette Cornelius, Cas Oorthuys, Ed van der Elsken, Ad Windig and Paul Huf established their reputations and influenced our present-day impression of workers and entrepreneurs in the postwar Netherlands. Experimental poets and well-known writers also contributed to these books, fifty of which are on show. 'Het bedrijfsfotoboek 1945-1965. Professionalisering van fotografen in het moderne Nederland' appears concurrently with the exhibition.

Wally Elenbaas and Esther Hartog

The very versatile Rotterdam artist Wally Elenbaas (1912) is first and foremost a graphic artist, or as he himself puts it: 'A really good printer!' Photography has played an important part in his work too; in the 1930s he joined the workers/writers collective 'Links Richten' ['eyes left'] as a photographer. He and his late partner Esther Hartog (1905-1998) photographed themes reflecting their personal lives: each other, friends, journeys, still lifes and the nearby surroundings of Katendrecht. Published by Duo Duo Foundation/Publishers, the book 'De honderd gezichten van Esther Hartog' [the 100 faces of Esther Hartog], compiled by Wally Elenbaas himself, accompanies the exhibition.

Edgar Cleijne

After graduating from the Rotterdam Conservatory, Edgar Cleijne (Eindhoven, 1963) embarked on his African travels, living in Cairo, Kinshasa and Lagos. His photography brought him into contact with architect Rem Koolhaas in 1997, with whom he collaborated on the Harvard Project 'the city', set up by Koolhaas at Harvard University and pinpointing Lagos. In 2002, together with Bregtje van der Haak (VPRO TV), Cleijne made the film 'Lagos Live'. The photographs he took in Lagos over the past two years prompt reflections on human intervention. Aerial photos show the effect of such intervention on a macro-level as well as in people's everyday living and working environments, such as an office interior.

Ine Lamers

Ine Lamers (Wychen, 1954) integrates photography and film in a highly individual manner. The pictures she takes with photo and film cameras are ostensibly high-resolution snapshots of the world around us, but they are never unambiguous. The exhibition features a number of photographs from earlier series (1994 - 2002) and a new video and slide projection ' One or two things I know about Chisinau' (work in progress). It is a 'novel in pictures' about the desolate Moldavian capital, and an ode to a disillusioned generation of aimless nocturnal drifters. A book (NAi Publishers) about Ine Lamers' work accompanies the exhibition.

Solutions for Today by Jeremy Edwards

With his Solutions for Today in 'Fotodocs' Jeremy Edwards (Liverpool, 1960) adopts a totally individual stance as a documentary photographer, designer and artist in his search for material. For years he has been taking pictures in big cities of simple, makeshift solutions for practical problems encountered in everyday situations, such as an upturned oil-barrel as a barbecue, a milk carton as a penholder, or an old door as a tabletop. The pictures Edwards took in Rotterdam for this exhibition are an excellent demonstration of Rotterdam ingenuity!

Highlights from the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum's photography collection

For a long time photography was generally regarded as a documentary medium, not as an autonomous one. It was not until the late 1960s (Christo and Pistoletto) and early 1970s (Dennis Oppenheim, Ger Dekkers, Jan van Munster, Man Ray, David Hockney) that the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum embarked on its collection of photographs - chiefly of Land Art projects and performances at first. Subsequently, photography as an autonomous art form (by artists such as Ger van Elk, Jan Dibbets, Gilbert & George, Bas Jan Ader) came to occupy a distinctive position in museums; indeed, it is hard to imagine a museum collection without photography today. The selection includes early examples from the 1970s and traces the development to recent acquisitions which include work by Allan Sekula, Gabriel Orozco and Rineke Dijkstra.

Violette Cornelius, vuur aan zee (1958), pp. 4-5
text: Paul Rodenko
photography: Paul Huf, Ata Kando, Violette Cornelius, Cas Oorthuys and Ed van der Elsken
design: Jurriaan Schrofer
corporate: De Koninklijke Nederlandsche Hoogovens en Staalfabrieken NV, IJmuiden
copyright: Nederlands Fotoarchief (nfa), Rotterdam

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