dinsdag 22 juli 2008

Landscape canon captures Netherlands now Photography

by Eelco Walraven and Iain Macintyre 15-07-2008

Landscape architect Henk van Blerck is in full agreement that the pictures of Dutch landscapes in the Verkade* albums are wonderful:

"But the canon had to change, to have a completely different look. It not only had to contain the beauty of the old landscapes, but also the more structured landscapes of today."

So the 60 photographs in the Nettenfabriek in Apeldoorn include shots of Schiphol Airport and the Betuwe rail link. The exhibition is part of the International Triennial, a celebration of culture, gardening and landscape. It continues through the summer until 28 September. See for more Nature as Artifice ...

"The idea for a landscape canon only emerged at the last moment, but that turned out not to be an obstacle."

In fact, the plan received support from all quarters. The Dutch provinces were immediately positive and the then State Advisor for Landscape, Dirk Sijmons, lent a hand. Van Blerck says that "He was actually too busy, but he thought it was so important that he agreed to help out straight away."


Together with photographer Michiel Pothoff, Van Blerck got in a van and drove all round the Netherlands.

"It was great fun. You get to see once again how beautiful our country is and how friendly the people are. Once we told them what we were doing, everyone wanted to help. A farmer got out his tractor and dragged a liquid manure tank out of the way so we could get a better picture."

He is enthusiastic not just about taking the photographs and about the canon, but about the Dutch landscape. He defends the Betuwe Line photograph with a fierce passion.

"A lot of people think it's ugly! A ribbon of steel through the beautiful Betuwe region. But how do people in Rotterdam regard it? The rail link is part of the industrial infrastructure there."


For van Blerck, the Betuwe Line and Schiphol Airport are part of our modern landscape. They were conceived by people and stand in stark contrast to the Geul valley in Limburg or the Dommel valley in Brabant - areas which are much more reminiscent of the Verkade books.

But those books lack the very thing that appeals to van Blerck in landscapes: they are not static. See also for the Changing Dutch landscape ...

"Put a fence round it and it becomes trite! A landscape has to remain in motion. We are currently in a pioneering phase in which new areas are being created. A new infrastructure with old rivers and familiar dyke around it. New landscapes we may be proud of in ten years time."

And that is not only thanks to human beings.

"The formation of the landscape through the centuries is the joint effort of man and nature. The Netherlands is a good example of how culture and nature combine to produce something new."

A time-consuming process, Van Blerck acknowledges:

"Harmony has to develop and that takes time."

* In the 1950s the Dutch food company Verkade gave away sets of pictures with its products for children to collect and stick in albums.

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