Hague photographer Dirk de Herder died in 2003 at the age of 88. His heirs have recently decided to give the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag 40 of his photographs on permanent loan. This ‘promised gift’ now goes on exhibition at the Hague Museum of Photography together with photographs by contemporaries of De Herder from the museum’s own collection: photographers like Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Lucebert, Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, Eddy Posthuma de Boer and Wally Elenbaas.
Dirk de Herder was sometimes called ‘The last of the northern romantics’. His whole life was a quest for the poetic and aesthetic. In a long series of films, paintings, collages, boxes and books he sought to create his own flawless world. His romanticism influenced all his work – he preferred to have as little as possible to do with the society in which he lived. Inevitably, therefore, his photographs are always in black and white; colour would have been too much like painting and too close to the real world. Dirk de Herder was born in Rotterdam in 1914. His father, Alle de Herder, was a musician and Dirk grew up in artistic circles. Initially he became a painter, but he quickly realised that photography allowed him to combine his twin passions: for observation and composition. His main contacts in the photographic world were with Brassaï, who was based in Paris but with whom he was nevertheless in direct touch, and with Henri Berssenbrugge in the Netherlands. In addition, he often associated with painters; for some time he was the favourite photographer of the COBRA movement and as a result became closely acquainted with Karel Appel and Corneille. His work also brought him into contact with the VARA broadcasting organisation, where he made portraits of hundreds of performers between 1954 and 1964. Among his subjects were not just local household names the Familie Doorsnee, Pipo de Clown and Dorus (Tom Manders), but also international stars like pianist Arthur Rubinstein. Light plays a prominent role in De Herder’s ‘photographic dreams’. His subjects were often found close to home: flowers, people, streets and beaches. They feature in his finest photographs: of an open window with a net curtain, shot against the light, and of nocturnal streets gleaming with rain. It is no surprise that he admired art photographers like Brassaï, André Kertész and Man Ray. Dirk Herder’s book Ga nooit op reis zonder een koffer met dromen, published by Thomas Rap in 1993, will be on sale in the museum during the exhibition (€ 18.50). De Herder’s autobiography, Flashback, published by Walburg in 2001, is likewise still available (€ 16.50).