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.
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