Monday, November 13, 2006

Hendrik Kerstens

Milestones of Monumental Proportions

Photographs by Hendrik Kerstens (1956) bring to mind the paintings of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). Both portray women in everyday settings. Measured, dedicated, serene. These images are intimate genre pieces, with no anecdotal or symbolic elements. Both artists demonstrate their mastery in the control of lighting, with a scrupulous eye for the subtle expressions of materials. This focus on a life-like rendition infuses their work with poetic qualities.

Whereas Vermeer had several different women to pose for him, Kerstens concentrates on a single person: a five year old girl, whom we witness becoming a woman over the years, and whose physical changes can be tracked in detail. What remains is the ever-present examining gaze. The setting in Kerstens' photos has been reduced to the absolute minimum, drawing all the attention to the subject's expressive face and eyes. Her staring, fathomless eyes unblinkingly seek contact with the camera and onlooker.
None of Vermeer's models have ever been identified with certainty, including 'The Girl with a Pearl Earring', whom critics believe to have been Vermeer's eldest daughter Maria, who was twelve or thirteen at the time. With Kerstens, there is no doubt about his muse: his daughter Paula. Since her birth, he has been fascinated by her expressive personality and recorded the major and minor events in her life. A dedicated chronicler and a caring father who sees his child grow into adulthood. A man who wants to stop the passing of time and keep his daughter with him forever. We see her bathing, soaked with rain, with made up face, with braces, crying, or sunburnt. All ordinary, everyday things.

Private Diary
You could call Kerstens a ‘family photographer’. He uses photography as a private diary, to register the ordinary and exceptional events in the life of his daughter. In that sense, his work differs little from what we do with our snapshot camera: while photographing in and around the house we are also writing our own history. But with his controlled lighting and balanced compositions, Kerstens transcends this memorabilia to a masterly level. In this way, the minor and ordinary events in Paula's life are blown up to milestones of monumental proportions.

©Pim Milo, 2006

Saturday, October 07, 2006



In the early nineties a wave of creativity swept over Britain. Those were the years of Britart and Britpop, of Damien Hirst, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Tracey Emin, Sam Taylor-Wood, Blur, Radiohead, Oasis and Alexander McQueen. The initial signs of these cultural movements seemed to be ignored even by progressive magazines such as i-D and The Face. Being dissatisfied with the situation, the journalist Jefferson Hack and the recently graduated photographer Rankin started their own magazine: Dazed & Confused, a title that had been borrowed from a song by Led Zeppelin.

Praised for its innovative photography, style magazine Dazed & Confused became the professional magazine for anyone regarding him- or herself as a trendy and prominent person.

In one fell swoop Rankin (J.R. Waddell, 1966) established his name as a photographer making memorable portraits of celebrities from the world of pop music, fashion and film. His approach is distinctive: provocative, insolent, stirring and often erotic. In his eclectic visual language Rankin seeks the borderlines of decency. During his studies he has already made a series of nudes of a woman of 75. But he also made warm, respectful photographs of ‘real’ women for Dove’s advertising campaign.

Rankin made the subversive socially acceptable. The establishment – the class that he opposed with Dazed & Confused – embraced him and soon he had prominent people in front of his camera. On the occasion of her golden jubilee Rankin made a portrait of Queen Elizabeth that is now part of the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. And he also photographed Tony Blair.

In 1986 Rankin moved from Scotland to London. Those were the years of the emerging visual culture. Thanks to Dazed & Confused Rankin made a flying start in the world of fashion and celebrity photography. He regards himself as a portrait rather than a fashion photographer. “Most fashion photographers are not photographers. They love fashion more than photography, whereas I love photography more than fashion.” His studio in London is situated at Old Street, next to the editorial offices of Dazed & Confused. There, with a child-like curiosity, he plays an insolent, cheeky game with images and reality, with humour and eroticism.

©Pim Milo, 2006

Friday, September 15, 2006

Alec Soth

Running water

Alec Soth (1969, Minneapolis, Minnesota) combines the penetrating gaze of an experienced psychologist with the irresistable persuasive power of the savvy used-car salesman. Without effort he makes contact with complete strangers and manages to win their confidence in an instance. In that brief moment he wakes them from their slumbering existence, as it were, draws their deepest secrets from them, and lets them sink back happily into the anonimity where he found them only moments before. Soth’s photos capture people beneath the skin, the space between the person and himself. “I’m standing here, they’re standing there. In the space in between there is a gulf, a mystery, and for me, an attraction.” It is what Soth wants to capture in his photos: the invisible gap, the distance that joins us, that keeps everything in its proper place.

Chronicler of the ordinary
It is dark, dirty, unmistakably inclined towards the less prosaic sides of society, verging on neglect. It deals with the pursuit of starting and continuing relationships, the painful efforts to live in harmony with other people and the environment. It tells the story of human failings, of unfulfilled dreams and ideals. And all this depicted with a magnificent beauty.
Soth’s photographic eye moves from macro to micro. In richly detailed 8 x 10 colour photos he zooms in from a total shot – starting at the house in rural surroundings – to the resident, the interior, and its smallest details. In this slow camera movement the resident’s soul is exposed. The photography can be dreamy, lyrical, or a little sureal, and revolves around loneliness, desire and unfulfilled ideals.

Soth’s work is related to the work of William Eggleston, Shephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld. And like Robert Frank, Soth combines a documentary style with poetic sensibility.
Soth is a chronicler of ordinary American life in the best tradition of William Faulkner and Mark Twaine, with a camera as his writing tool.

Soth’s photographs capture people beneath the skin, the space between the person and himself

Alec Soth – Associate of the famed Magnum Photos and represented by the Gagosian Gallery - published two major projects in recent years: Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004) and NIAGARA (2006), both presenting running water as metaphor for human shortcomings, narrating of a quest for attachment.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


C’est a light of love

How I’d love to be in Corb!no’s shoes! He has been able to perfect his love for the craft of photography, and in the process create his own inimitable style—a style Wim van Sinderen, in "Photographers in the Netherlands: An Anthology 1852-2002" described as ‘a unique combination of empathy and perspective.’ He has become one of Holland’s most sought-after portrait photographers. He has such a loving bond with his father that he can photograph him nude, in a portrait that says at least as much about the son as the parent. He has made a breathtaking image of the Rosenberg Trio in a mature reinterpretation of Eva Besnyö’s timeless 1931 icon. He has recorded Misha Mengelberg’s deafness for the ages. He can stir my own feelings in the group portrait of N.U.H.R., when I spot my old classmate Eddie. He can make me recall that Céline van Balen was the only photographer who would not let me interview her. And what about that thrilling, enviable image of Dolly Parton, with Corb!no’s shadow falling so sharply over it? Or the poignant, loving, protective image of the feet of ballet dancer Joke Zijlstra?

Corb!no (Cornelis Maarten Corbijn van Willenswaard, 1959) makes photos that shine with love. Love for human beings, love for the métier. That love is summed up in one line on Corb!no’s website. Click on ‘Loves’ and you’ll read, ‘This part is still in progress.’

It’s true. Love really is a verb.

©Pim Milo, 2005

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Bert Teunissen

Dwelling on the threshold

Interiors that fit the residents like a glove. Accommodations that tactily come across as a little worn, a jacket with patches at the elbows that has become one with its wearer and should have been given to the dustman a long time ago, but the fit is so perfect that it is impossible to part with. What you sense, more so than actually seeing it, is peaceful surrender.

This is the merit of Bert Teunissen. In all rooms photographed the same natural light comes in. Regardless of class or status, the portrayed subjects feel at ease in their own trusted environment. The harmony remains undisturbed, even in the presence of the photographer. No attack or invasion, no intrusion or brutal interference. No stack of photo equipment, no huge light set-up that changes the interior's appearance and make the occupants temporarily feel like a cat in a strange warehouse. Only a photographer with an archaic large-format camera and a nostalgic black cloth which he hides under. Long exposures require the portayed subject to sit still for a short while. Long enough to get in touch with theirselves, becoming one with the trusted environment and completely forgetting about the photographer.

Ravages of time
Normally, a photographer stops time for an instance. But here time is standing still already. Time has passed these lives without touching them. Everything in the photo is the way it is, the way it used to be, the way it should stay forever. The photos of Bert Teunissen(1959) remind us of the paintings by Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hoogh. He photographs simple interiors that have resisted the ravages of time. During a ten-year quest, Teunissen found these places in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Japan. Their common denominator is the natural light coming in. Many childhood memories have gone, but daylight coming in through the bay window in the house that he was born in is still engraved in Teunissen's memory. That is what he is trying to capture in his photos. But not only the authentic light, the residents are also an essential part of his images. Teunissen's ‘Domestic Landscapes’ are a monument to the individuals who remained true to themselves, free from fashion trends and the issues of the day.

©Pim Milo, 2006

Antoine d'Agata

Balancing on the Gutter’s Edge

The images of the French photographer Antoine d’Agata (Marseille, 1961) are rough and associative. The deliberate blur puts a haze over the images that make them less accessible. D’Agata does not attempt to represent the world as it is; he tries to explain his own position in that world. Rather than a photo documentary, he reports about his own, intimate experiences.

The work of D’Agata revolves around sex, life and death: basic life on earth with all the finery removed. This is intense, unpolished photography that draws the viewer towards a repressed reality, to the dark sides of our society. An apparently idyllic pond with a couple of swans changes before our eyes into the river Styx, marking the border between life and death. Frightening but appealing, it is an image filled with tender threat. A church (New Mexico, 2000) is not a church but a skull, a house of the dead. Even in colour, D’Agata’s photos are more depressing than encouraging. The result is disquieting, disturbing and sweltering, yet at the same time lyrical, with a poetic beauty.

Junkie among junkies
The work of D’Agata is on a par with that of Nan Goldin, Larry Clark and Anders Petersen. These photographers reveal the raw real world with their penetrating observations. He shares with them an obsession for people at the frayed ends of existence. Alcoholics, junks and hookers engaged in a balancing act on the edge of the gutter. D’Agata identifies with them, but shows no compassion, he intrudes with the cold and relentless observation of a predator. Yet this lack of mercy is not all there is, since he is not only an observer, he also participates. A junkie among junkies, a whore-hopper among whores. He strikes mercilessly, and doesn’t spare himself in the process. In one particular self-portrait he captures himself injecting heroin.

“I am the photo”
D’Agata makes himself a part of the events. His life as a junkie taught him to remain cold, to photograph a girl while they are copulating. And often he hands his camera to the prostitutes, so that they can take his picture. What is it like to make a spectacle of yourself, to leave the lamp on where others make sure to turn it off? D’Agata: “I don’t think about it. I empty my mind and create distance. That makes it abstract. Except when I am photographing, then it is as personal as it can get. I am part of the photo, not an observer. It’s about me. It’s one big self-portrait.”

A restless drifter, D’Agata travels non-stop around the world and on the road he photographs continuously. The exposed films are sent unseen to the Musée Nicéphore Nièpce in Chalon sur Saône, where they are developed and archived. It is there that D’Agata, during short visits, selects the images for expositions and books.

Magnum Photos, 19 rue Hégésippe Moreau, F-75018 Paris, France. T: +33 (0)1 53 42 50 07.

©Pim Milo, 2006

Koos Breukel

Koos Breukel: Cosmetic View

Koos Breukel (The Hague, 1962) mostly creates series, in basic black-and-white. For this special publication, he chose colour due to the delicacy of the subject. All models in Cosmetic View have an eye-prothesis. Most have one healthy eye and one prothesis, others are entirely blind and have two. A prothesis is intended as a form of camouflage, so people can live with a handicap without showing it too much. By allowing Breukel to portray them on this theme, the models bravely sought the confrontation: with themselves, the photographer and us.

In most cases, the subject of a portrait looks at the viewer. But why is this so uncomfortably intimate in Cosmetic View? Breukel has access to places where we cannot go. He crawls inside the model through the healthy pupil and takes us with him to a different, unknown universe. And what happens if the eye is a prothesis? Then a miracle happens, because the glass eye gives access to this same universe. That is Breukel’s talent.

Looking for introversion
A portrait photographer has to be curious. He must also be in love with photography. And he needs a certain quietness, so that the person portrayed forgets the presence of the camera and photographer. These are the ingredients to make Breukel one of the view Dutch photographers that stand a chance of becoming part of the international photography canon. Breukel works with a Deardorff camera, a slow, somewhat archaic machine, which requires exchanging the 8 x 10 inch cassette after each exposure. While the photographer focuses on his technique, the model is left to his or her own devices. When Breukel’s models are completely in themselves, he goes along with them. It’s the introvert moments Breukel is hoping for. Meanwhile, he is also examining his own feelings, the various aspects of himself. The art of portraying revolves around identification and recognition. Every portrait is in part a self-portrait (the photographer captures what he recognises), and in this way the body of work of a portrait photographer reflects his personal development.

The Power of Existence
Through his portraits, Koos Breukel photographs the brittleness of existence. He manages to renew himself within an intimate and personal body of work, long before the work becomes voyeuristic or pathetic. His photos not only deal with underlying pain and sadness, but are also about resilience, the joy of living and the beauty of existence. As a viewer, you may at times register that life can be chafing, although this does not lead to a feeling of uneasiness. It’s a good start of the day, to have a picture of a complete stranger hanging on the wall of your home. To welcome the morning and conclude the evening. To put all things in life in perspective.

Galerie Van Zoetendaal, Keizersgracht 488, 1017 EH Amsterdam, The Netherlands. T: +31 (0)20 624 98 02.

©Pim Milo, 2006

Holger Niehaus

Niehaus’ painterly precision

Proportionally, few photographers specialise in still lifes and are attracted to balancing everything to the slightest detail: carefully selecting and preparing game, poultry, vegetables, fruit and flowers, handling scalpel and tweezers with almost surgical precision, arranging objects with endless patience and accuracy, positioning and moving lamps, reflectors, spot mirrors and foil, while at the same time applying the plant spray and ice to make sure the vulnerable and perishable products do not lose their delicious appearance.

Holger Niehaus (1975, Nordhorn, Germany) is such a photographer. With almost superhuman patience and a formidable technique, he creates still lifes of amazing beauty. They stimulate the senses and have a melancholy touch in the best traditions of old masters such as Willem Claesz. Heda (1594-1680). Images that go perfectly with the Zeitgeist where ‘beauty’ holds sway over unadorned social commitment. Niehaus’ work has a delightful aesthetic which is not void of meaning.

Transient Vanitas
Vanitas themes from Baroque painting are closely related to Dutch Calvinism. These themes remind us of the finitess of our existence, inevitable death and the transience of earthy goods. In their most complex form, these moral allegories are visual riddles that simultaneously question the conventions upon which they are based. In the first instance, the still lifes of Niehaus seem traditional. But take a closer look and you will find that the skin of the fruit on the marble plateau has been meticulously removed. In one picture, there is a withered bouquet in a vas filled with fresh water. In another, two yellow roses are standing dry but are in full bloom. The image of an elaborately composed fruit bowl on a dark wooden table top looks both moving and wild. Here, the fruit is not rotten but has been attacked, torn in pieces with brute force. A fresh fish hanging from white lines is cut open and gutted but still looks full of vitality. The transitoriness of life features in Niehaus’ images in a grotesque manner. Not only does Niehaus question the Vanitas themes, he also gives them an unexpected twist. He refuses to comply with the classical traditions. In the end, we can only be surprised and in awe of such great mastery.

Niehaus lives and works in Berlin. He studied ath the Academy for Visual Arts and Design in Enschede (The Netherlands) from 1988 to 2002. Since then he took part in various exhibitions in Amsterdam, Tecklenburg, ’s-Hertogenbosch and Berlin.

Van Zoetendaal, Keizersgracht 488, 1017 EH Amsterdam, telefoon +3120-6249802.

©Pim Milo, 2005

Charlotte Dumas

Man’s Trusted Friends

Charlotte Dumas (Vlaardingen, 1977) is fascinated by the relationship between people and animals, if it concerns mutual trust. But also the abuse of trust. After graduating from the Rietveld Academy, in 2000, Dumas went to the Rijksacademie. There she made a series of monumental portraits of police dogs. After this, Dumas focused on police horses. Whereas police dogs are trained to give in their instincts, the police horse is trained to suppress its instinct and go against nature. In 2003 Dumas’ work was shown in Huis Marseille at the exhibition ‘First Round’, where Dumas, Marco van Duyvendijk and Gertjan Kocken were presented as promising talents. In September 2004, Paul Andriesse Gallery presented her then latest series, the dark portraits of the horses of the Carabinieri a Cavallo in Rome.

Meanwhile Dumas has shifted attention again, this time to wolves. They represent an entirely other emotion from horses: cautiousness and the impulse to attack. So far she has photographed wolves in the United States, Sweden, Norway, Italy and the Berlin Zoo. Slowly but shurely – making only four to ten photos a year – Dumas is working on a consistent body of work with a strong theme. Tranquil and decorative, but intriguingly multilayered which gives the work content and depth.

Galerie Paul Andriesse, Prinsengracht 116, 1015 EA Amsterdam. Tel +3120-6236237.

©Pim Milo, 2005