The Dark Room is an exhibition of work by three contemporary photographers, each of whom is – in his or her own way – engaged in an exploration of the portrait genre. Apart from the contrasts and confrontations revealed by the presentation, one thing will be immediately apparent to visitors: all three photographers work in classic black and white and they cherish the traditional craft of hand-developing and printing. In the case of American Michael Ackerman, the result is extraordinarily dynamic and expressive, while Belgian Dirk Braeckman aims to create images that express detachment and restraint, and Dutchwoman Awoiska van der Molen produces evenly lit photographs that are intentionally understated and serene. All three share an inclination towards simplicity and bleakness, as regards both subjects and presentation. With their pure, monochrome photographs, these photographers seem to be making a stand against the current fashion for hyper-realistic colour photography.
In the late ‘90s, Michael Ackerman (Tel Aviv, 1967) achieved an international reputation for his unpolished images of inner-city squalor in New York, Katowice and Naples. He uses his 35 mm camera casually, as if it were a film camera continuously recording the urban scene. The movement and lack of focus in Ackerman’s photos (often introduced retrospectively in the darkroom) produce a disturbing effect echoing the often depressing character of inner-city life. Ackerman’s contribution to the exhibition in The Hague will consist of a large tableau produced in 2003 and composed of 42 portraits of solitary and desperate men encountered by the photographer in the course of his peregrinations around various cities. Ackerman has photographed his subjects secretly and at close quarters, sitting at the bar and shooting from the hip. The works by Dirk Braeckman (Ghent, 1958) date from the 1980s and were acquired by the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in 2003. Braeckman’s oeuvre displays a constant evolution over time: there is a direct linear relationship between his early portraits of naked figures in vague interiors and his current images of deserted buildings. The harshness of Braeckman’s photographs – all unflattering poses and bouncing flash – is cancelled out by his darkroom technique: he gives his images a velvety softness by printing them with a matt finish in many shades of grey. This gives the pictures a certain delicacy without diminishing their motionless and enigmatic quality. Rotterdam photographer Awoiska van der Molen (Groningen, 1972) graduated in 2003 from the St. Joost Academy in Breda and is rapidly making a name for herself with her tranquil black-and-white portraits of carefully selected anonymous individuals who possess and exude a natural sense of repose. In her subjects, Van der Molen looks for this quality of timeless serenity. Through her choice of models, setting, natural lighting and the achievement of a ‘dry’ tonality in her prints, she has managed to create a series of portraits which suggest a challenging sense of timelessness. The exhibition is being organised by the Museum of Photography The Hague.