The premiere of The Geometry of Innocence was at the Noorderlicht Festival, Groiningen, The Netherlands in 1999 as part of the Wonderland exhibition. The catalog, pictured here, contained the work of 30 photographers. Cover image by Ken Schles.

Essays by Wim Melis, curator for Noorderlicht and Machiel Botman, guest curator.

List of participating photographers:

  • Christer Strömholm
  • Michael Ackerman
  • Anton Corbijn
  • Doug And Mike Starn
  • Philip Gostelow
  • Angela Trullinger
  • Tom Fecht
  • Jun Morinaga
  • Morten Andersen
  • Max Pam
  • Antoine D'agata
  • Laura Cohen
  • Arno Nollen
  • Roberto Mancuso Alvarez
  • William Eggleston
  • David Graham
  • Ken Schles
  • Lee Friedlander
  • John Max
  • Robert Mcfarlane
  • Kiyoshi Suzuki
  • Johan Van Der Keuken
  • Philip-Lorca Dicorcia
  • Tracey Moffatt
  • Miguel Rio Branco
  • Jlm Goldberg
  • Adrienne Van Eekelen
  • Tokio Ito
  • Serge Clément
  • Dave Heath

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Wonderland by Wim Melis

Photographs offer an illusion. They are the absolute ruler within their own rectangular world. They may be a lie, but it is a lie rooted in the truth. Tangible surroundings constitute the lifeblood of photography, the raw material, with which the photographer spins his dreams, that justifies the photographic image. This dramatic tension span between reality and fiction forms the heart of Wonderland.

A visual flood enters our safe living room daily via the media: the television sends a million images into our home and a thousand advertising brochures fall through the letter box. Man is flooded with images. Life presented by the media seems to be a play performed for everyone's pleasure. Private lives are also subject to continuous registration: a million snapshots are taken every day. The functional power of the image as carrier of facts and means of seduction, is undisputed in our visual economy. 'I'm in the picture, therefore I exist.'

The market of supply and demand has also been a great driving force in culture, as the outside world often seems to have greater influence than the photographer's personal drive. Artistic motivation is largely determined by trends and movements. Photography, too, has long lost its innocence. Is there still a place for images without a preconceived purpose or for stories with an open ending? The photographers in Wonderland give a resolute affirmative answer. The market's basal demands are of minor importance, the photographers are not swayed by popular themes, accepted expectations or by the craze of the moment. The visual story that these photographers employ is of a raw innocence. They are not looking for an aesthetic image, but are led by what offers itself to their camera. The photo is a reflection of a seemingly coincidental glance cast on a subject. It is an exploration of the world through the camera's eye. The photos therefore harbour a meaning that is hard to catch with words. The photographers in this book and accompanying exhibition present a kind of photography that places introspection above the analysis of the subject: the photographer's inner experience is at least as important as that what he sees and registers. The images provide an opening to another world and invite an exploration to a reality under the skin. The viewer enters the wonderland of the spirit through the window of the photograph. Wonderland provides the viewer with a range of intense impressions and experiences. In this photography, that what has been portrayed disappears into the background while free associations take upper hand. The photo goes further than registering of time and space, it is not only the carrier of information, but it suggests a story. A story that takes place behind the surface of

the photograph and in the mind of the viewer in an imaginary time and place. A dialogue is created between the image and the viewer that stimulates the imagination. In Wonderland the photographers retain their open view, untouched by the demands that the market tries to make on them, and link it to the qualities of a universal, recognisable visual language. This phenomenon transcends the artificial boundaries between genres in photography. In this book, photographers from traditionally separate worlds - the documentary and the conceptual- have been brought together. And still their work easily flows over in one another, as becomes obvious when Doug and Mike Starn's 'conceptual' images are placed next to Jun Morinaga's 'documentary' images. The binding element between the photographers in Wonderland is their fascination for life itself, with all its complex structures and human relationships. The photos of Dave Heath and Philip-Lorca diCorcia are thirty years apart and seem drastically different at first glance. At second glance, however, the street photos from the sixties deal with the same forlornness as the photos from the nineties. And how much do David Graham's extravagant Americans really differ from Kiyoshi Suzuki's circus artists. The photographers in Wonderland choose to create their own world. They are each working on a personal document, like a writer of fiction, a poet of images. They are on a search for the unattainable grip on reality. Another feature of these photographers is 'nearness': they all choose nearby subjects, with which they are greatly personally involved. The photos go there where life leads the photographer. Sometimes the photographs are a reflection of private experiences, sometimes the photographers are carried away in the lives of other people or cultures. In both cases they try to deal with that which presents itself to their lens without prejudice. Wonderland starts in the fifties and ends in the nineties. The visitor will cross forty years of visual tradition in this book. They will see images that transcend the traditional boundaries between genres, between the documentary and the conceptual. They will see raw images that lift the every-day out of oblivion and make them visible in another way. What they will see in particular is photographers who stay close to their hearts.

Wim Melis

Read below, "At Second Sight," by guest curator, Machiel Botman.

The premiere of The Geometry of Innocence was at the Noorderlicht Festival, Groiningen, The Netherlands in 1999 as part of the Wonderland exhibition. The catalog, pictured here, contained the work of 30 photographers. Cover image by Ken Schles.

Essay by Machiel Botman, guest curator for the Wonderland project.

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At Second Sight
by Machiel Botman

When putting together Noorderlicht '99, the discussion between Wim Melis, Ton Broekhuis, the organizers, and myself, guest curator, was mainly about the kind of photography that I hold dear: the "other" photography, often small and personally tinted. Where looking at yourself prevails above looking at others. Where "real" comes before "beautiful" and where photographers are the authors of their own books. Photography that may be "dark" at first sight, dark in meaning and dark in imagery: unclear, moved and sometimes gloomy. It is the kind of photography that seems a reaction to the romantic, warm, humane image of the fifties.

The image no longer had to be beautiful; mood and feeling mattered more than the beauty of the subject. In an issue of Creative Camera about William Klein, Peter Turner mentions in particular Robert Frank, William Klein, Ed van der Elsken and Christer Strömholm. "Angry Young Men," who rather sought after reality or the gloominess of reality than, as was usual at that time, the romantic or funny image. Personal worlds became the guiding principles, and self-initiated projects found shape especially in the form of "photo books." We came across photographers who made their own books (that are extremely sought after at the moment), who wanted to go further than "catalogues" or "portfolios" between covers by creating photo books as an object, a work of art.

An important part of my contribution to Noorderlicht '99 stems from my fascination for certain photo books. Books that contain a certain combination of this beautiful, sometimes gloomy, sometimes very personal and intimate work. Books that became an object themselves, because of the connection between the photos and between the photos and lay-outs. Above all, books that became an object because they were 'alive.'

In the Fifties Frank made his mythical Americans and Klein revolted with New York against almost everything that was known as photography. Both publications can be seen as a starting point in a series of personally tinted projects and photo books. Frank’s book was noticeable because of a combination of involvement and cynicism and his so poignant photography; Klein’s because of the combination of filmic photography and ditto layout. Both books left nothing of the usual, optimistic image of the land and the city and we saw, above all, the photographer and his way of looking. Strömholm made Poste Restante, Dave Heath A Dialogue with Solitude, books that reflect a raw reality and are of

almost meditative quality. On the cover of Strömholm book there is a dead and half–dog, not a very pretty, but indeed an unforgettable sight. Heath writes in A Dialogue with Solitude, perhaps it is about accepting the tragic things in life, not in honor of bitter frustrations, anger or self-pity, but of love and care for human existence. Roy DeCarava came with his small big jewel The Sweet Flypaper of Life, in which he combined, in a subtle and moving way, photos with the Langston Hughes text about a grandmother in Harlem. Van Der Elsken made Liefdesgeschiedenis in St. Germain (Love Story in St. Germain), Van der Keuken Wij zijn 17 (We are 17), Achter Glas (Behind Glass) and Paris Mortel. In these books their own world is the center point, where Van der Keuken lets go of the ‘small’ and ‘personal’ in Paris Mortel and searches for a combination of city, politics and people: Something that returns in his later work.

In the sixties, seventies and eighties many remarkable books followed, that had, in any case, one thing in common: famous or not, they became very influential in the world of photography. The makers of these books cleared the road for photographers who had started to put together their own photo books. They were no longer only responsible for their own photos, but also for the selection, the layout and sometimes even for part of the production. Examples of these books are, among others, Frank’s The Lines of My Hand, Danny Seymour’s A Loud Song, Larry Clark’s Tulsa, Gaylord Herron’s Vagabond, and, more recently, Ken Schles’ Invisible City at the end of the eighties. Ken Schles in particular made a kind of ‘New York Mortel’, a beautiful, small and ‘dark’ book with texts by Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges. The book closely connects with the work by the aforementioned ‘photographic existentialists,’ that Peter Turner wrote about.

Noorderlicht ’99 shows this photography from then and now. It is about photography that does not conform and often comes into being against trends. Photography that involves little money and is above all a reflection of the photographer’s personal world, surroundings and sometimes family and friends. Photography that comes into being in the shelter of life and often remains a well kept secret. Wonderland is about small and usual things, the photos showing an intimate and personal existence that seems, at first sight, to take place in a rather dark world. ‘At second sight’, however, the viewer can discover a meaning or emotion hiding behind a picture. It is up to the viewer to be amazed at the value of the seemingly small, unequivocal and everyday.

Machiel Botman