The second-best way to experience photography
With exhibitions featuring work made by three of our favorite photographers, Foam, Huis Marseille and Rijksmuseum offer the best alternative for the beach. The three contemporary photographers on view in Amsterdam this summer are Deana Lawson, Alex Prager and Erwin Olaf. Here’s why we think you should visit them.
Deana Lawson – Huis Marseille (on view until September 1)
Although Deana Lawson’s work is probably the odd duck in this collection, it might be all the more interesting. Intimate portraits of black people in their homes. That is, simply put, how you could describe it. The unglamorous, unsophisticated, and interior reality of many black homes around the world, but staged in an uncanny way that raises questions. The houses depict a staged reality; dirty laundry, ripped curtains, half painted walls and giant sofas with plastic covers. Still, the people who were photographed in them seem to stand inside of these houses as kings and queens in their castles. It might be weird indeed, for some, but everyone who has ever been welcomed inside the home of an immigrant or diasporic family knows that this is how these castles are treated. It’s meant to be lived in, and you can see that people live here, but the sofa and the television are prize possessions that were meant to last longer than a lifetime. Perhaps this has something to do with the economic position many of these families share, but perhaps this isn’t the platform to discuss that.
Lawson captured the people in these settings by staging them in a particular way. Some stand proud, some are protective, some are naked, and some wear the most spectacular bikinis imaginable. What these images share is a black vernacular that might be hard to read when you don’t speak it. Her photos were made in Detroit, Kingston, Port-au-Prince and Brownsville, but they could’ve been made in one street. It’s that same language, of the African diaspora, that signifies these castles with their kings and queens. It may be weird to some, since these aren’t images most people are used to, but these images exist anywhere in the world.
One of her most famous photos, Binky & Tony Forever (2009), became the cover image for Blood Orange’s 2016 album Freetown Sound. It shows a couple on a bed, with golden bedspread and a Michael Jackson poster on the wall behind them. Although most of Lawson’s work is staged, in this particular photo she used her own bedroom just as it was. It only proves that her staging is not done to ridicule, but to transcend her own tastes through her messages.
Shop Deana Lawson
Exhibitions are the best way to experience photography, next to books of course.
Exhibitions are the best way to experience photography, next to books of course.
Alex Prager – Foam (on view until September 4)
Like Deana Lawson, Alex Prager’s work leans heavily on staging. While Lawson recreates a world that is often overlooked in popular culture, Prager seems to be recreating popular culture itself with the extravagant scenes of Hollywood as her focal point. Working on the cross line between film and photography, her oversaturated work captures the absurdism and extravagance of many movie productions.
David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (2016), and Under the Silver Lake (2018) by David Robert Mitchell could all easily be movie versions of Prager’s images. They show the weird paranoia that can happen when people want to make it in Los Angeles. Prager, born and raised in Los Angeles, captures the absurdity in a similar way these movies do; oversaturated, uncanny, and very Hollywood. It’s the (stereotyped) decor that returns in Prager’s work, hence the title of both her book and expo: Silver Lake Drive.
In contrast to Lawson’s photographs, Prager’s work is very accessible—perhaps due to her use of vibrant colors and references to the ubiquitous Hollywood productions. These are images we’re familiar with, but at the same time they are very strange. There’s always something happening, but you’re never exactly sure what it is. Her photos feel like movie stills, which isn’t surprising since she also makes (short) movies. As we’ve written in our Photographer’s Profile from last year, Prager works with film sets, actors and scripts—even for her photography work—and uses them to create odd and chaotic situations that leave you with as much questions as thrills.
Shop Alex Prager: Silver Lake Drive
Erwin Olaf – Rijksmuseum (on view until September 22)
Thrilling is surely one of the qualities one could allot to the work of Erwin Olaf. For his sixtieth birthday, the Dutch photographer released a retrospect monograph, curated a personal exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum & Fotomuseum Den Haag, and now has a special selection of his work exhibited at Rijksmuseum. Must have been a busy year so far.
Olaf’s entire core collection was gifted to the museum last year. To celebrate that, and his sixtieth birthday, Olaf worked together with the museum’s director Taco Dibbits to couple twelve of his works (eleven photos and one video) to eleven paintings and one print from the Rijksmuseum collection. The works are shown in diptychs, and their combinations form a bridge between old Dutch masters and Olaf’s contemporary work.
These combinations create new interpretations. Olaf’s work may come off as provocative and erotic, but when placed next to a 300 year old painting, it suddenly shows that the two are based on very similar ideas. Olaf’s photograph La Penseuse (1987), depicting a nude woman mimicking the the pose of Rodin’s statue, is placed next to a print of Rembrandt van Rijn, Nude Woman. What both have in common is that they depict two imperfect female bodies in full nudity. When seen together, they form a strong, body-positive message, which may be interpreted differently when seen separately.
Shop Erwin Olaf: I AM Dutch Edition and English Edition
It proves why exhibitions are the best way to experience photography, next to books of course. All three exhibitions feature photos that can be found in their respective books at MENDO. Lawson’s monograph was published by Aperture in 2018, Prager’s Silver Lake Drive also came out in 2018, while Erwin Olaf’s I AM was released in English and Dutch this year.
We encourage you to visit all exhibitions if you haven’t yet, and visit our store in the Berenstraat afterwards to get your hands on their books.
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