Monthly Archives: March 2012


THE?   25%

First the title: THE Dutch Photobook. Why being so pretentious? For this kind of birds-eye overview on Dutch photobooks from the postwar years, you would expect a title that leaves room for more interpretations, for other selections. Even Parr and Badger haven chosen a more modest title for their reference work The Photobook: A History Volume I (2004) and Volume II (2007). In terms of concept and format The Dutch Photobook comes close to The Book of 101 books (2001) by Andrew Roth. An appropriate title could have been The Book of 124 Dutch Photobooks – the post war years. Leaving out the word ‘seminal’ in a subtitle. Because most of the books selected in The Dutch Photobook are not to be considered SEMINAL (meaning highly influential in an original way). Well, some of them are. Which ones? Hollandse taferelen (28), Wij zijn 17 (46), Sex a gogo (55), Jazz (52), HE (56), Exactitudes (68), 50 jaar Bruynzeel 1897-1947 (80), De letter op straat (82), Monsters van de Peel (88), PLEM (90), Chili september 1973 (124), zonder titel [Hongaarse vluchtelingen] (117), Sweet Life (120), Empty Bottles (106), The Table of Power (101), vuur aan zee (86), Why Mister Why? (136), A Hundred Summers. A Hundred Winters (131), Paris Mortel (170), Blauwe maandag (175), Sequences (1995), Losing One’s Photos (197), Checked Bagage (210), Oma Toos (214), Bonjour Paris (164), 101 Billionaires (146). That amounts to about 25% of the 124 titles in The Dutch Photobook.

school mates

The Dutch Photobook is edited by Frits Gierstberg (head of exhibitions at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam) and Rik Suermondt (lecturer in art history and theory of photography at HKU, Utrecht and AKV|St. Joost, Breda). Both art-historians, both passionate collectors of Dutch photobooks since the mid 1980s. Rik and I were members of a research group ‘the Dutch Photobook’ (1984-1986) – about 6 students – supervised by Adi Martis, associate professor Art History of the Modern Era at the Utrecht University. Then, we could choose research topics from a list Adi had written on a piece of paper in a Courier typewriter: ‘Contact photopocket’; ‘Drukkerij Meijer-the company photobook’; ‘Sanne Sannes’; ‘photobooks by Cas Oorthuys’ a.o.  During the second edition of the manifestation Amsterdam FOTO in 1986 we, as a group, co-curated a small exhibition in the cold and damp apse of The Nieuwe Kerk, each of the students on his or her topic. We felt on top of the world. It must have been the first thematic exhibition on Dutch photobooks from the postwar period. The photopocket Bonjour Paris by Cas Oorthuys was my gig. That same year I graduated. My thesis title was ‘Drukkerij Meijer NV. The Dutch company photobook: teamwork with text, photography and design’. In 1989 Rik Suermondt edited a first bilingual overview on Dutch documentary photobooks since 1945: Photography between covers. Co-author was the curator of photography at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Mattie Boom. This publication has been the reference work on Dutch photobooks for at least 20 years. A sober reference book, containing reproductions of covers and spreads, all thumbnails in black & white, fit into a somewhat clumsy design. The selection of company photobooks in Photography between covers is straight from my unpublished thesis. The history writing on company photobooks in Photography between Covers is paraphrasing sections from my thesis. Until the present day I feel awkward, cheated, by the fact that the origin of the idea and the source of reference is not explicitly mentioned in the main text. My name is even wrongly spelled in the endnotes. It would have been a courteous gesture, considering we were school mates.

update  45% + 20%

In many ways The Dutch Photobook is an update of Photography between covers. The following titles appearing in Photography between Covers have also been selected for The Dutch Photobook.

 Landbouw (16), De schoonheid van ons land (18), Een staat in wording (114), Impressies 1945 (20), de ramp (21), Op de grens van land en zee (23), Delta (24), Droom in het woud (54), Achter glas (50), Monsters van de Peel (88), Oog om oog (194), 24 uur Amsterdam (163), Rotterdam, dynamische stad (166), Paris mortel (170), De Jordaan (172), Dit hap-hap-happens in Amsterdam (174), Frimangron (126), Neem nou Henny (58), Monsters van de Peel (88), Frimangron (126), De kater van het gelijk (100), Industriële zone (98), Miserere (130), Planned Landscapes (26), Chessmen (198), Reportages in licht en schaduw (192), 46, 48, 116, 120, 118, 127, 160, 55, 128, 117, 124. Plus four company photobooks  Wegen naar morgen (22), 50 jaar Bruynzeel (80), vuur aan zee (86), De draad van het verhaal (93). This amounts to about 45%.

The update The Dutch Photobook shows less cultural historical context, more exposure on a page or a spread, and is definitely in color. External experts were invited to create lemmas of approximately 300 words per book. The design of The Dutch Photobook by Joost Grootens is striking, in particular the indexing in the back of the book. This is new and unusual in publications on the history writing of photobooks. In one blink of an eye you get a visual overview of the alphabetic order of book titles; a timeline showing the heydays of the Dutch photobook over the past 65 years; the quantity of selected books per photographer; for the graphic designers as well; the sizes of 124 books shown to scale and, finally, a schematic display of the total print run, based on all first editions of a book – which means, including all foreign language editions that were published at the same time. Two exceptions were made, for Bonjour Paris and Liefdesgeschiedenis in Saint Germain des Pres. The print run of the first edition from these seminal photobooks was unknown, so a comment is made regarding that figure.

Actually, the selection of Dutch photobooks in The Dutch Photobook is basically a cocktail of the one made in Photography between covers and in the chapter ‘the Photobook after the Second World War’, Rik and I co-authored for Dutch Eyes. A Critical History of Photography in the Netherlands (2007). Well, Rik was the first author, I had a minor role. The chapter in Dutch Eyes was a fresh update of photobooks from the 1950s till 1970s, extended to the present day. The following titles of contemporary Dutch photobooks were selected in the first place for Dutch Eyes.

Snelweg (32), Play (178), Hollandse taferelen (28), Paradiso Stills (60), Hollandse velden (34), The Table of Power (101), The virgin sperm dancer (57), the wretched skin (203), famous (62), in den beginne (122), A hundred Summers, A Hundred Winters (131), Van de tijd en de tropen (133), Giflandschap (30), HYDE (64), Why Mister Why? (136), wherever you are on this planet (205), Exactitudes (68), Why Mister Why? (136), Jeffersonville Indiana (180), Rainchild (207), Heartbeat (204), Second first (202), neem nou Henny (58), De kater van het gelijk (100), Industriele zone (98).

This amounts to about 20% of ALL books selected in The Dutch Photobook. And about A THIRD of the CONTEMPORARY photobooks represented in this overview was already discussed in DUTCH EYES. This explains maybe the emphasis on photobooks published since 2005 in The Dutch Photobook.

Maybe this also explains why there is no upheaval since the launch of The Dutch Photobook. Not to be compared with the clash, both among members of the ‘old’ establishment of the world of photography in the Netherlands – all involved in editing the book – AND, between the establishment and a bunch of critical photographers, researchers and critics during the making of Dutch Eyes (2005-2007). Altogether, it’s a serious, but devout selection, Gierstberg and Suermondt made in The Dutch Photobook.

vice versa

In 2004 about ten book titles listed in Photography between Covers show up in The Photobook: A History Volume IImpressies 1945 (20), Amsterdam tijdens de hongerwinter (160), Sex a gogo (55), Chili september 1973 (124), Wij zijn 17 (46), Een liefdesgeschiedenis in Saint Germain des Pres (48), Jazz (52), Paris Mortel (170), Sweet Life (120). And vice versa, seven photobooks in the new documantary tradition, selected by Parr/Badger for Volume II in 2007, appear now in The Dutch PhotobookHollandse tafelrelen (28), A Hundred Summers A Hundred Winters (131), Snelweg (32), Hollandse velden (34), Why Mister Why? (136), Portrait/landscape Macedonia (138), Checked bagage (210). In Volume II a few company photobooks selected for Het Nederlandse bedrijfsfotoboek 1945-1965 (2002) pop-up as well: 50 jaar Bruynzeel 1887-1947 (80), PLEM (90), The Table of Power (101) and mensenstroom (102).

Twelve historical company photobooks in The Dutch Photobook Wegen naar morgen (22) is not considered as such by the authors – and the two, already mentioned, contemporary derivations of the genre  – The Table of Power (101) and Mensenstroom (102) were included in the reference book Het Nederlandse bedrijfsfotoboek 1945-1965 (The Dutch Company Photobook 1945-1965)  (2002). This is a commercial edition of my dissertation, edited by Adi Martis and Bram Kempers. In fact, most of the spreads are identical.

Furthermore, The Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture  (formerly known as FBKVBK) assigned IPhoR and Prospektor in 2010, to produce a series of 5 web films  in order to introduce the march of the new Dutch documentary photobook to a larger public. We are pleased to annouce that all books presented in the DUTCH DOC films are now part of the canonical overview: Mimicry (72), The Kaddu Wasswa Archive (152), 101 Billionaires (146), en Willem (73) and Libero (216).

Contact sheets and one of three lay-outs of Sanne Sannes' maquette for Diary of an Erotomaniac (1964-1967)

unique material

From all the titles listed in The Dutch Photobook, most surprising and cute is the pocket HE. Visual Information About A Human Being (56) by Louis-Paul Vroom. Although it doesn’t really belong in this listing. The artist book is a reaction against theories by the Canadian scholar in communication science Marshall McLuhan. It contains photographs by Wim Davids of body parts from Louis-Paul Vroom. In fact HE is a counterculture thing, a reaction against the pocket McLuhan himself made, one of his seminal publications regarding the impact of mass media on the human conscience: The medium is the massage (1967). And because of its ground breaking design by Quentin Fiore the cult book just recently has been incorporated in, yet, another overview The Book of Books (2012) edited by Mathieu Lommen.

At the same time, the exhibition accompanying the publication is so much richer; has more surprises to offer. Each showcase displays one or two books, next to historical footage, the work-in-progress, together with text fragments taken from the lemmas written for the book by the invited authors. But why are the names of the authors not mentioned on the captions in the showcases, on the text in the exhibition space? Except for two, the external experts are not institutionalized, not representing the Nederlands Fotomuseum. So here they are: Tamara Berghmans, Flip Bool, Patricia Borger, Martijn van den Broek, Karen Duking, Karin Krijgsman, Claudia Kussel, Pieter van Leeuwen, Pim Milo, Mireille de Putter, Max van Rooy, Bart Sorgedrager, Mirelle Thijsen, Anneke van Veen.

Maquette for Heart Beat (1994) by Machiel Botman

Better look in the showcases. There are meticulous sketches of De snelwegParis Match and De Spiegel published theme issues on De Ramp (‘The Battle of Floods’) . There is a beautiful dummy of Heart Beat. And I was never aware a dummy existed of Chili september 1973. It’s a loan, from the private collection of former prime minister Joop den Uyl, which is being presented to the public for the first time. Contact sheets related to the production of the pocket Bonjour Paris. Next to piles of the popular pocket edition published by Contact. Irma Boom made a miniature dummy for the oversized book Memory Traces. Then, there is the Chinese wrapper for Libero next to an original, bleached, found photograph, showing the interior of a house in Calabria from where the story starts. Sketchbooks of Tokyo/Tokyo showing series of digital jpg scans. Numbered drawings after photographs by Ed van der Elsken, in preparation for the lay-out of Sweet Life. And what about the English edition of Coppens’ Op de grens van land en zee. It has an awkward title: Betwixt land and sea. Why is this unique material – this historical evidence – not included in The Dutch Photobook? Which is showing the-making-of, showing the devotion of the photographer/designer to the long term project and the reception of the book,  It’s all there.

selections and alternatives 

On March 16 I contacted 11 photographers/editors represented in The Dutch Photobook. Asking them two questions:

1. Do you consider the selection of the book (s) in TDPhB representative for your work?

2. Which historical or contemporary photobook, according to you, is superfluous in TDPhB? If you could substitute it, for which title?

Five of them did not reply. Cary Markerink was concerned to be part of a ‘book bashing’ stunt. Both Cary, Erik Kessels, Paul Bogaers, Hans Eijkelboom considered the choise of their book(s) representative. Gerald van der Kaap had, so far, only received a letter of the publisher announcing his book Wherever you are on this planet is included in The Dutch Photobook. Willem van Zoetendaal was not amused about the selection of book titles he designed and/or published. On March 19 I also contacted five photographers who are NOT represented in The Dutch Photobook. Question 2. remained the same. Question 1. was changed into: Which of your book(s) would fit in the overview? Nico Bick and Lidwien van de Ven replied politely, but did not make an effort.

Here are some quotes.

‘Erik Kessels:  The selection of 10 books from the series In almost every picture is representative of the  search I have done for the past ten years in order to find remarkable series of amateur photography. Overall, I consider it a good selection. If I really have to pick out one book, it would be Wherever you are on this planet by Gerald van der Kaap. It does not really fit in. I would replace it with Beaches by Rineke Dijkstra. This iconic title is really missing in The Dutch Photobook.’

Paul Bogaers:

‘People just LOVE ‘lists’, although we all agree on the fact that they are subjective and artificial […], maybe even wicked and out of tune. Because they are just snapshots, while pretending to be a final judgement. [..] Be it ‘the historical canon’, ‘the architectural highlights of modernism’, ‘the main artists of the twentieth century’, ‘the best books of 2011′ – au fond it is all rubbish.’

Cary Markerink:

‘I am still learning a few things, though there are hardly any books that I do not know. A little over 50% I have in my collection. I am disappointed in myself…. In the index I miss the publishers..they should have been there. I consider The Dutch Photobook better then DUTCH EYES. Well designed (with the true Grootens indexes), well printed. Texts are unpretentious: clear and engaged analyses which may also enthuse a wider public.’ 


Why Russia? “First of all, because my family comes from Russia. I started to investigate and meet my family over there. My final destination was to visit my relatives, who live by the Baikal lake. On my way I met these young people who later on became the heroes of the project. My first trip was in 2004. Secondly, my work in Poland is mainly editorial work. I could not work here on my personal projects. Russia was kind of a ‘photo holiday,’ to detach myself from these assignments and guidelines.”

7 Rooms is published by Kehrer Verlag and is selected as the winner of the Best Photography Book by the 69th Pictures of the Year international (POYi).  7 Rooms is a photobook about 7 spaces, around people the Polish documentary photographer Rafal Milach (1978) met in Russia. Six of these ‘rooms’ are shown in a visual story, in pictures, and the seventh room is the space filled with personal stories written by the Belorussian writer Svietlana Alexievich. These are stories about the Soviet mentality: about the people that were born, raised and used to live in the Soviet system. It is  a separate first chapter in which each of the three stories takes you by the hair and pulls you down. Striking personal documents. The other spaces/rooms, chapters if you prefer, deal with the six characters Rafal has met. People who hosted him, showed him around, with whom he hang out. Gala, Sasha and Nastya and Lena he has met the very first year.


Soviet iconography

7 Rooms opens according to the rules of classical narration. So the first chapter starts with the personal stories, extracts from the book Enchanted by Death by Svietlana Alexievich. A multilayered book about Russian utopia. One of a multivolume series of books, Rafal was introduced to by a friend. It was the missing link: this strong social historical context. The essay starts with Margarita (52). She is a doctor, feeling melancholic about ‘The Motherland’. She used to be a Young Pioneer, wearing a red bandana, united in a prison of Soviet belief. “That great strong state in which we no longer live”. Vladimir, a 22 year old driver, is bitter about the history of the USSR, ‘a Russian story.’ He lost his son. He did not have a youth. Nothing has changed. Svetlana (36) is used to belong to a group. Engineer-technician was considered a woman’s profession. The plan that she knew how to live by is gone, broken. They were ‘programmed’ citizens. Now she has to fight for  survival. She swallows a bottle of vinegar essence as soon as her husband opens the front door. “Freedom?…. What is it? I don’t know.”

Rafal: “I needed this Soviet context, all my characters are born in this era.” These personal stories connect with our collective memory and are a prelude to the people Rafal meets and interact with. Each of them tells a story about contemporary Russia, from a very personal point of view. The selection of images – all in color – coming with each character in the book, is related to extracts of interviews with them. Small blocks of text are printed on a left page facing the images.

After reading the essay, the three stories about the soviet years, you have this red page, like an iron curtain. Although, you have the impression you’re still in the Soviet Union. “First you start to breath this Russian landscape. That sometimes has these social marks. So the first four images are linked to that Soviet past: this typical white Russian landscape, the sickle and hammer on a roof, the Lenin statue, the suburban districts. These are the images that come with that Soviet iconography. The pictures of desolate landscapes in the communist era are not rooted in some particular place. It could be Ukraine, Poland…Eastern Europe. I needed these ‘iconic’ images to make the transition from text to images. It is meant to be a slow introduction into modern Russia, approaching contemporary Russia. Like zooming in with Google Earth. Narrowing down the narration to certain people, certain stories, showing pictures that are much more universal.”


certain people, certain stories

The six characters in 7 Rooms ‘are a good pick’; it is a good representation of the differentiation in Russian society. They come from the cities Yekaterinburg, Moscow and Krasnoyarsk. Rafal spent, each visit, between two weeks and three months with them. So there is GALA. “Gala was the first person I met. She speaks languages, is not afraid of change. She is a smart, active and dynamic woman. She immigrated, lives in France right now. There is LENA, who comes from Kazakhstan and has Russian roots. And MIRA who has Khakassian roots, from this Asian locale tribe. So we have this multi-ethnographic Russian society. Then we have the regular Russian family with STAS. And in the lives of SASHA and NASTYA, it’s like time does not exist. While VASYA is split between his life as a transvestite and a regular family life. Quite a broad selection of different kinds of personalities. I did not plan that, but it developed into a wide range of different kinds of people.”

Gala likes Russia and considers life in Russia unpredictable. She went to school during Perestroika. Her parents were sick of communism. She never experienced ‘democracy,’ living in a system that is manipulating people, imperialist in nature. She got pregnant from a Frenchman, studying and working in Shanghai. She works for a local television station. The first picture shows Gala wearing a woolen hat with the letters CCCP [USSR] on her forehead. One picture shows a children’s playground with two tanks surrounded by apartment buildings in a desolate snow covered suburban landscape. Some pictures are related to a shared common experience. During a trip to a small industrial city Rafal photographed a row of chairs in an empty Soviet theatre hall. The same counts for the Neoclassical iceskating ring. “These are spaces she introduced me to”.

LENA likes the tactics of Putin, but doesn’t vote. Her opinion is that life in Russia is so much better then during Yeltsin’s era. “The sense of patriotism is what he has awoken in the Russians”, she says. Lena’s flatmate lives his life scrolling the internet in bed and having sex with his girlfriend. She detests racism and nationalism. Her former boyfriend was shot, her best girlfriend killed in a car crash. Lena is afraid of dying alone.

Rafal: “She is always complaining about Moscow, where everything is so expensive. She is tired of the daily working routine. She read her recent horoscope to me. It was amazing to what extent a majority of points corresponded with her personal statements in the interviews we just had held. So I decided to use this horoscope in the book to describe her personality. Her view on contemporary Russia and politics. Lena speaks about politics but is not interested in it. Stas is the only character in the book interested in Russian politics. Everyone else is disappointed, so they do not get involved. I tried to include as little politics as possible in the book. Another cliché about Russia is that it is all about politics, and that it is everywhere. However I did include this contemporary social context, which is related to political issues, unfortunately. That’s the way it is.”

A first portrait shows Lena on her balcony. She lives in the suburbs. To get to the center of Moscow is one hour and a half by metro. Followed by a picture of people walking in complete darkness along a bill board, showing a snow beauty queen, just next to the red square. “In fact, it already is a historical image because today the Russian hotel is there, built these past years. Totally ugly, bigger then the Kremlin.” Family is important to Lena. Being alone in Moscow, she keeps, old pictures of her family in Kazakhstan, all cartes visites, in a shoebox. And then there is that depressive picture of two telephones on a table in a corridor, at her work in a medical institute of immunology.

VASYA is a transvestite, a drag queen. Married to Jana (“it’s a job, like any other”). They met at a night club. She liked the optimism, the banners, the parades, even the propaganda, in times of the Soviet Union. Jana was 11 when the USSR collapsed. They have a 5 year old daughter. Vasya is trying to cope with the fact that he is gay. His stage nickname he found in an art book ‘Panikhida’: a memorial service for the dead in the Orthodox Church. The word is tattooed on his back, deliberately spelled wrongly. “Vasya is the most colorful person in the book. What interested me most was that he was leading a double life: a night life as a drag queen, and a day life as a family man. He is a totally relaxed, amusing fellow when he is at work as a performer in a night club. Besides he is a visa-gist, a hair dresser. He earns money doing this transvestite show. A first picture shows him with eyes made up, a naked torso and jeans on, resting against a door, at the backstage of the night club. Jana works for a cosmetic company, doing day shifts. Vasya is working night shifts. They hardly spent time together with their daughter because of the different work shifts. This whole story in pictures is constructed around the idea of switching from one kind of work to another: night-day-night-day, also color wise. Cold blue and green for the night life versus warm reddish for the family life. To underline the fact Vasya is jumping between those two worlds, constantly.”


a stiff black notebook — flipping history

“I decided to make this regular notebook, because I ‘collected’ these people. I put them down in my notebook. The form justifies the idea of a personal diary. That’s why my handwriting is on the cover, and in each title of the chapters. And the format relates to the fact that in those days I worked almost exclusively in landscape. 7 Rooms is opening up like a textbook, for reading. The stories of these people end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Followed by the stories of my people — fully conscious,  full of life. They were 6 to 12 years old when the Soviet Union collapsed: kids basically. I like the idea of flipping the book, like flipping history. We had the Soviet Union, and now we have Russia”. Another reason to make these two different sections in the book is, that the text is not even written for this book, it is a different entity. That’s why the essay is on different paper, that’s why the text is vertically. “Like being on the road, you complete the file, put in some images, some text, all collected in a notebook. It is there, all the material as part of the object.” And fitting in the chronology of history.

see also: Conscientious / review