zondag 2 november 2008

Poisoned Landscape by Wout Berger Online Photobook Photography

Giflandschap (online photobook)
Wout Berger
Periode 1986-1992
Aantal pagina's 67
Vormgever Eric Nuyten en Heijmerink & Noyons, ontwerpers in samenwerking met Wout Berger en Noor Damen
Uitgever Fragment Uitgeverij (Amsterdam)
Formaat 34x27cm
ISBN 90-6579-074-8

The artist Wout Berger has been busy photographing since the 1960s. In 1986, commissioned by the city of Amsterdam, he photographed the transitional area between the city and countryside. In this peripheral region he stumbled across an area severely contaminated by chemical waste. He became fascinated by this landscape, where beautiful orchids bloomed. In this wasteland he recognized the opposition between form and content. This led to his large-scale project, "Giflandschap" (Poisoned landscape).

Between 1988 and 1990 he visited 1200 chemical waste dumps in the Netherlands, recording 170 of them. Most of these photographs look like idyllic landscapes – until you realize that carcinogenic materials are to be found under these innocent looking sites. They are landscapes of extremites.Between 1996 and 1998 Wout Berger photographed a series of landscapes throughout the world for a penitentiary in which a lot of refugees work and live. These refugees come from different parts of the world, most of the time far from The Netherlands, who want to stay in this country but may not. With this idea in mind, Berger explored a number of landscapes of a different kind and very distant from The Netherlands. Landscapes with no single trace of human beings. Photos of mountains, rocks, a volcano, rain forest (Iceland, Costa Rica and Vietnam).
A later commission, Sand Water Peat in 2000, inspired him to look for ‘artificial’ nature which he found in the glasshouse area in the west of the province of South-Holland. Somewhat different then the poisoned land, because here nature is nurtured for the benefits of the export of flowers and plants, which forms one of the most leading factors in Dutch economy. His images are beyond any stereotypes that occur in this theme of flower bulbs and glasshouses. The tulip, one of Holland’s famous icons, is a well-trodden path in advertising and calendars, but becomes in the hands of Wout Berger an emotional, desirable and voluptuous element.

Wout Berger’s most recent series of photos were taken in the neighbourhood of a small authentic village near Amsterdam, Ruigoord. This village has been since long an artistic oasis nearby Amsterdam. But the city of Amsterdam extends itself and swallows ground for harbours and industry in the surrounding areas.

Near Ruigoord they have cleaned a large area of ground, put sand on it as a new base for buildings and then seeded this area with seeds of small-scale and ordinary plants that must hold the sand for blowing away. This sand-area now contains all kinds of flowers like cornflowers, borinage, colourful weed, dandelions etc.

Here again Wout Berger found the tension between form and content, ‘real’ and ‘artificial’ nature. The beauty of so-called common nature is only of interest when photographed close by, he must have thought. Taken with a technical view camera, Berger conjures up something of a beautiful and colourful landscape with this simple focus close by, the photos don’t have a horizon, the weed and flowers are in juxtaposition and in contrast with the underlay, the sand soil culture.

The impressionism in this series of Ruigoord is stunning. They have a painterly concentration and beauty, these photographs. Every photo has its own character, varying from poetic (1) to graphic (2) and baroque (3), ending in a dramatic ground-landscape (5).

The same attitude towards small nature comes back again in his last photographs, like ‘Marram’, ‘de Kerf’ , ‘Ditch’ and ‘Fouille’. This play with dimensions and relations in close up with nature is not always what it looks like.JvK, dec.2003

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