Photobooks on care environments and matters of life and death in post-war Holland: THEN and NOW
This publication focuses on the meaning and significance of photobooks concerning health care environments. Heart-rending, intimate stories on matters of life, sickness, death and personal loss, are observed and experienced by consecutive generations of photographers working in the documentary tradition. Martien Coppens (1908-1986), Koos Breukel (1962), Carel van Hees (1954), Rince de Jong (1970), Roy Villevoye (1960), and Albert van Westing (1960) unveil various aspects of the everyday lives of their friends and family, as well as people in their professional environment who suffer from a severe illness or find themselves facing grim adversity. The photographers record how these people, some of whom are very dear to them, try to deal with their illness or misfortune with a need to hold on to memories of a happier past, and to understand their slow deterioration and the bewilderment that comes with it. There is often a great sense of urgency: the clock is ticking.
The world of the loved one, the patient, is turned upside down. Suddenly, life is built around medical care and attempts to find a new sense of meaning and purpose. A new dimension is added to the concept of ‘home’: ‘home’ is no longer a safe and protected place, and consequently the patient no longer experiences it as such. ‘Home’ turns into a health care environment. Simultaneously, a different kind of reality suddenly becomes of vital importance close to home: the care facility. That turns into a new ‘home’ of sorts, in the shape of a transitory location of controlled care and attention. The hospital, the nursing home, the mental institution; they are like hotels – a temporary accommodation, often born out of necessity, sometimes unwanted; a place to meet fellow sufferers. The photographer infringes upon that environment; he/she considers the ‘home away from home’ his/her work environment.
The core of this publication is shaped by photobooks published by and on the Dutch public health care. In addition, photobooks on consumer driven health care and loss within one’s domestic circle and circle of friends are discussed, self-published by modern day photographers. Those publications are considered to be an extension of the genre. Within the genre, photobooks since post-war reconstruction constitute a category of their own.
After World War II photographers recorded their fascination of the harsh reality of human suffering in a number of photobooks. Each of the 25 photobooks selected represents a photographer’s strategy regarding the documentation of medical and personal care in public and private space, then and now. Not only do they show the progression of personal tragedy; they also display the development of care environments in The Netherlands, and the birth of a genre in documentary photography. In this publication you will find visual narratives on academic hospitals by the first generation of photographers to work in a tradition of humanist photography and who were members of the Dutch photographer’s guild (GKf). Among them are Eva Besnyö (1910-2003) and Ad Windig (1912-1996). Photobooks that were published after the Second World War are composed around the verb ‘to live’. Moralistic and patronizing in tone they speak of nursing and nurturing in a confined workplace; mental bewilderment and daily care; a ‘day in the life’ of a patient in a care environment that tries to mimic a home life. These publications subsequently make way for self-published and digitally produced book projects. The personal involvement reflected in those projects is domestic and local in nature, focused on the photographer’s own environment and family. Books by contemporary author-photographers like Linda-Maria Birbeck (1974), Annelies Goedhart (1979) and Jaap Scheeren (1979) reveal that approach.
Photobooks are selected that were groundbreaking in their day and in the way they depict the socially, often highly sensitive, themes of health care in text and images. Further, the books stand out for their technical execution, layout and way of photographic storytelling. In sum, this publication is about commissioners, photographers, graphic designers and graphic industry that have played an important role in the history of photography and graphic design.