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As temperatures plummet, and the thought of spending time outdoors gets increasingly daunting, I explore the world from the comfort of photography institutions in the Netherlands. Several thought-provoking photo exhibitions are on this winter, and the works of these featured Dutch as well as international image-makers, promises to enlighten. Controversial American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 – 1989) once quipped about his profession of choice. “I went into photography because it seemed like the perfect vehicle for commenting on the madness of today’s existence”. This sentiment is echoed even today by thousands of photographers and photojournalists, aroundthe world.
Photography has emerged as one of the most powerful tools for storytelling, for creating awareness, and for initiating change. Here in the Netherlands, several compelling photo exhibitions held over the course of winter, give us an opportunity us to make sense of the world around us, through the eyes (and lenses) of several master photographers. I start my photo exhibition tour at the National Archives in The Hague. Home to the largest photo collection in the Netherlands – 15 million images from the past 175 years – the National Archives launched ‘Face to Face’ in September 2018. In this extraordinary showcase, ninety portraits of famous as well as ordinary people, selected from the in-house collection, are displayed in a novel manner. Original, vintage prints of seemingly unconnected individuals are juxtaposed against each, to tell stories of their surprising commonalities.
For example, the images of Dutch dancer Mata Hari & White House intern Monica Lewinsky are paired together. Though born nearly 100 years apart and in different parts of the world, the lives of both women were fraught with infamy and notoriety; one executed by the state, the other condemned by the media and public. 44 other such portrait pairs tell intriguing stories of shared history. These stories are further enriched by letters, documents, books, and magazine articles from the National Archives. This exhibition runs till 6th January 2019. Readers of ACCESS will receive free entry for two people to this exhibition, on presenting a copy of the magazine. My next stop is The Hague Museum of Photography, to view the work of American photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield, who has been documenting the concept of ‘wealth’ for over 25 years. Titled ‘Generation Wealth’, this exhibition with shocking images of people’s excesses, is an interesting contrast to the sombre experience at the National Archives. The showing includes over 200 photographs and several short films made by Ms. Greenfield, all of which tell stories of the rich 1% as well as the ‘wannabes’ who go to great lengths, to portray a certain image. Also on display are several ‘riches to rags’ accounts, which serve as cautionary tales.
The exhibition, which runs until 3rd February 2019, pushes us to examine our own attitudes towards wealth and consumption. Seen in its entirety for the first time in Europe, Ms. Greenfield’s work is particularly relevant in our times, as humanity’s insatiable desire for material goods decimates the world’s natural resources. More about this exhibition at https://www. fotomuseumdenhaag. nl/en/exhibitions/lauren-greenfield Another exhibition to watch out for is ‘Recent Histories / Contemporary African Photography and Video Art’ at the Huis Marseille Museum of Photography in Amsterdam. This show, which runs from 8th December 2018 till 3rd March 2019, shares the perspectives of 15 contemporary artists of African descent, as they question the traditional narratives about Africa. Through their work, these lens-based artists explore issues of identity, origins, belonging, migration, and the legacy of colonialism. Featured artists include David Goldblatt, Mimi Cherono Ng’ok, Em’kal Eyongakpa, Pieter Hugo, Délio Jasse, Lebohang Kganye, Sabelo Mlangeni, Santu Mofokeng, Zanele Muholi, Mame-Diarra Niang, Dawit L. Petros, Thabiso Sekgala, Mikhael Subotzky, Guy Tillim and Michael Tsegaye.
The works displayed in this powerful investigation of the African identity, are taken from the Walther Collection as well as the Huis Marseille collection. This exhibition is the third in a series of exhibitions from Huis Marseille’s own collection, being organized in the run-up to the museum’s 20th anniversary milestone in September 2019. Since time immemorial, food has been an important topic in traditional visual arts like painting and sculpture; and more recently, in photojournalism and commercial photography as well. But with the advent of the camera phone, photographing food has become an integral part of the dining experience, making food the most photographed subject of our times. From 21st December 2018 onwards, the Foam Museum in Amsterdam will play host to an exciting exhibition ‘Feast for the Eyes – The Story of Food in Photography’, which will showcase the long history of documenting food. Specific themes like Still Life, Around the Table and Playing with your Food, are used to explore the many layers surrounding the representation of food, and how food can allude to different things – a lifestyle, culture, excess- or lack- of, among other things.
Cookbooks from the sixties are also on display, providing additional context to the photographs. This exhibition which runs till 6th March 2019, includes works by many well-known international photographers like Andy Warhol, Imogen Cunningham, and Martin Parr, among several others. More information here https://www. foam. org/museum/programme/feast-for-the-eyesWith so many gripping photo exhibitions this winter, photography enthusiasts in the Netherlands, are spoilt for choice. Winter may turn out to be quite exciting, after all!
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