Every picture tells a story. Why would a person spend his whole life photographing nothing but women’s legs? Who was the mysterious woman known as Taï Aagen-Moro? What’s in Daguerre’s soup? And were Breitner’s photographs really so innovative? This show uses over 250 fascinating photographs from the collection of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag to answer these and many other questions. Photo Stories casts a new and enthralling light on photography from the dawn of the twentieth century right through to the present.
The earliest picture in the show dates from 1895 and was never meant to be seen by the public. George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923) photographed the nude model as reference material for his paintings. Even though he was not a professional photographer, Breitner can definitely be viewed as a forerunner of modern Dutch photography. His tender, blurred images are imbued with an air of mystery and near-eroticism strongly foreshadowing of the sensual photos taken in the 1960s by Wally Elenbaas (1912-2008) and Gerard Fieret (1924-2009). The museum’s most recent acquisition is also in the show. Nelli Palomäki (b.1981) took the photo of a young woman with her dog after she happened to meet them in the street and struck up a spontaneous friendship. Palomäki herself calls photography a sad medium, because – she says – the photographer can show only a shadow of a meeting.
Donna Delle by Thorsten Brinkmann (b.1971) tells a story about traditional portraiture. Brinkmann photographs himself constantly, but in a way that invariably makes him unrecognizable and often alludes to great works in art history. This is true of this photo, where his face is concealed behind a sheet of twisted steel, but his pose, the monochrome background and the purple robe allude to traditional portraits by artists like Titian and Bronzino. The series of Paradise Portraits by Erwin Olaf (b. 1959) tells a tale about coulrophobia (fear of clowns). It shows weirdly grimacing clowns with running grease paint alongside perfectly made-up female models with neutral expressions. The effect is to make the women look as scary as the clowns. The titles of the photographs – in each case the name of the model – emphasize the fact that these are real people and not monsters.
In Photo Stories, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag has chosen to use pictures from its own collection to illustrate genres landscape, portraiture and still life. The collection also contains numerous examples of the New Photography of the 1920s and 30s. It was a time when many photographers were in search of a personal visual idiom and experimenting widely with features like conspicuous cropping of the image and eye-catching diagonal lines. Over the last twelve years, the Gemeentemuseum’s photographic collection has been expanded enormously, partly thanks to many donations. In 2006 it was also hugely enriched by the acquisition of an important photo-collection owned by Amsterdam gallerist and publisher Willem van Zoetendaal. In recognition of the resurgence of interest in conceptual art, the selection in this exhibition will also include works acquired in the 1970s and produced by artists like Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976), Ed Ruscha (1937) and Jan Dibbets (1941). The collection is not encyclopaedic. There is a deliberate focus on certain individual photographers, such as Gerard Fieret, Frans Zwartjes, Anton Heyboer and Helena van der Kraan.