February 4: Sampuru

4February 4: Two exhibitions opening today throw out a challenge to photographers…

Tonight, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam presents Ed van der Elsken: Camera in Love which they bill as “the largest overview of the photographic and filmic work of Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken (1925-1990) in twenty five years […] the most important Dutch photographer of the 20th century.”

I have posted about Ed here and if you’re in Amsterdam I recommend you go along before 21 May 2017, when the show closes, but be prepared to have any illusions about Van der Elsken tested; fame comes most readily to those who seize it! Nevertheless, he remains a hero of many, including me, and Nan Goldin who writes, much more eloquently than I, about Ed in The New Yorker in a text drawn from the exhibition catalogue for this show (the catalogue will be published in March by Prestel Publishing).

Few did so much to develop the subjective viewpoint in photography and film.

The survey includes public showings of a program of films by Ed, and one indirectly on him, via Daan, Ed’s son with Gerda van der Veen, whom Ed (as much a filmmaker as photographer) often filmed himself, most famously in Welkom in het leven, lieve kleine (Welcome to Life, Little One) and also in a 1980s sequel.

That Joris Postema’s film Der Erfenis (‘Inheritance’) is subtitled Ik ben men Van der Elsken, ‘I am a Van der Elsken’, foreshadows its revelations about Daan’s life and struggle for independent identity as he grew up the son of a famous artist. As well as borrowing Ed’s own footage, the film shows home movies.

screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-4-00-18-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-04-at-3-57-28-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-04-at-3-58-15-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-04-at-3-56-09-pmJoris employs Ed’s first-person approach to interview Daan from behind the camera and to follow his life, only to find the son is very much like his father in his untameable competitiveness.

Is the son a resampling of the father?


For the next exhibition launch to be held tonight, let’s give the artist the floor. What he has to say about the amalgamation of photography and video is germane to Ed van Der Elsken’s career using both:

We know it well; The relationship between aperture and shutter, between the eye and the sitter. We have been there and understand that desire. We allow ourselves to think of pelvic floor exercises while choosing our f-stop.

If anything, you should know that the Canon Mark II was produced for a 4-year period ending in 2012, and that it was the first camera to unite professional still picture and moving image making capabilities. An unassuming black plastic thing that cancelled a century long debate on the qualities intrinsic to photography on one side and the moving image on the other. Of course, as we all know, film is just a series of photographs arranged chronologically, making the fusing of the two in this machine seem more like a reunification of twin sisters separated at birth than a daring cross boundary merger. This machine is both real applicable progress and an anachronism at heart. It is the technology-commodity equivalent to launching a passionate attack on religion in the company of nothing but declared atheists.

These days we photograph what we eat. It is as if we are preparing to one day have the edited evidence at hand: This is what I fueled my body with. We turn the mechanics of survival into images of mood-lit wellbeing, into images of choice. The Japanese tradition of fake food called Sampuru, a name derived from the English word “sample”, was developed by candle makers to communicate menus to non-Japanese speaking foreigners. Moulds are made of the components of an actual dish, then cast in polyvinyl chloride and hand painted. During the moulding process, the ingredients are chopped up and combined in a manner similar to actual cooking.

We are on a cross Atlantic flight and we are thirsty. And then shortly after the drinks have been served, we eat. And then we all go to the toilet. Imagine how paper and urine and faeces now slides through the tubing of this incredible machine. What a great experimental model this is. This is where weight is constant. This is where dieting won’t save you.

So writes Simon Dybbroe Møller for his show Aperture & Orifice at Galerie Kamm, Berlin in 2014. Don’t expect him to be photographing in the usual way; he mostly commissions them instead of taking them himself, and really, they’re sampuru as far as he is concerned, in which things are not as they seem. Photographs are objects, not mere images, images and not the original objects, they’ll poison you if you take them seriously.

Simon Dybbroe Miller (2013) Shoulder. Labskaus [a culinary specialty from Northern Germany] photographed by Nick Ash. Type C Print, Aluminum frame. Courtesy Galerie Kamm, Berlin
Simon Dybbroe Møller (2013) Rump, Beouf Stroganoff photographed by Enrique Macias C-Print, Aluminum frame Courtesy Galerie Kamm, Berlin

These food photographs are of stews, deliberately selected as subjects by Dybbroe Møller precisely because they’re hard to make attractive in pictures, even for the experienced food photographer (as much food packaging will attest), and just to be more contrary, he titles them with the names used for the cut of meat that corresponds with the same portion in human anatomy.

Elsewhere, food photographs are replaced by wall pieces that replicate food, though replicas are like photographs and photographs are replicas, are they not?

Take as an example this series of netted images Things Thinking Things from Dybbroe Møller’s show HELLO at Fondazione Giuliani, Rome, October 11, 2011 – January 28, 2012;

Get it? They all rhyme! Things Thinking Things are bundles of objects, netted as the artist has his paintings in previous shows, and photographed because their names in English rhyme; as Dybbroe Møller puts it “rhyme is a machine and it spits out objects.” In his exhibition HELLO, he couples these with Produce, brand-new household-printers, hanging on the wall, unplugged in the midst of printing HELLO their very first piece of paper. They are allowed only to spit out one third of the letter O, in a variety of Microsoft Word fonts and colours, so they look like they’re all smiling “Hello”. He installed a temporary floor for this show that can be glimpsed above; timber gym flooring which has been mixed so that the coloured markings constitute random elements of letters from the word ‘hello’.

Oblique, teasing, deceptive, affirming.

There is so much here for the photographer to be insulted by, and then to turn the other cheek, to ponder upon; refreshing!

Simon Dybbroe Møller’s show at Laura Bartlett Gallery is being given a private viewing tonight 6-8 pm and runs till 5 March, but the website gives no inkling of what the exhibition has in store…expect to be as challenged by Dybbroe Møller as much as by Van der Elsken.

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