“I want to have it all. There are no failed photographs.” - Gerard Fieret
Almost no other body of photography is as strange and idiosyncratic as that of Gerard Fieret (1924-2009). This outstanding photographer was an obsessive recorder of everything that came his way: people, animals, street scenes and himself. Most especially, however, he loved to photograph women – models, students, young mothers, dancers and waitresses – or just parts of their bodies, such as breasts, feet or long legs, in isolation. Although his non-stop photographic activities were concentrated into a period of just ten years (1965-1975), Gerard Fieret generated an enormous oeuvre. In the Netherlands he is seen as a pioneer of photography as a form of autonomous visual art. Over recent years his work has also attracted increasing international interest. Even so, he is less well-known to the general public than contemporaries like Paul Huf and Ed van der Elsken. In collaboration with the Le Bal photographic centre in Paris, the Hague Museum of Photography is now holding the first major monographic exhibition on Gerard Fieret since his death.
In career terms, Gerard Fieret was often his own worst enemy. Wim van Sinderen, curator at the Hague Museum of Photography, recalls countless unheralded visits by Fieret. He would drop in to stealthily add his signature to works already in the collection, call past to donate bin bags stuffed with photographs or come to deliver long, hand-written letters full of paranoid accusations. Fieret was equally capricious concerning the preparation of exhibitions and publications, interfering in such a way as to make life almost impossible for curators and publishers. Nevertheless, the Hague Museum of Photography managed to organise a major exhibition in honour of his eightieth birthday in 2004 and in 2010 the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag acquired his estate. The possessions he left comprised around a thousand different objects, including two jerry cans filled with hundreds of negatives previously believed to be lost. The acquisition expanded the museum’s already large Fieret collection to total approximately 2500 objects and photographs. In addition to images from that collection, the forthcoming exhibition will include photographs on loan from private collectors, the Special Collections of Leiden University Library, Huis Marseille in Amsterdam, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Kahmann Gallery in Amsterdam and Deborah Bell Photographs in New York.
Gerard Petrus Fieret was born in The Hague on 19 January 1924 and had a shaky childhood. After his father abandoned the family in 1926, Fieret was brought up by his mother and two elder sisters, but also spent periods with foster families and in children’s homes. As a young man, he was conscripted to perform forced labour in Nazi Germany. At the end of the war, he returned to The Hague and was enrolled for a year at the Hague Academy of Art (today’s KABK). However, it was not until 1965 that Fieret turned his energies to photography; up to then, his output had consisted mainly of gouaches and portraits in charcoal. Henri van de Waal (1910-1972), Professor of Art History at the University of Leiden, was one of the earliest admirers of Fieret’s photography. It is thanks to him that Leiden University now possesses the world’s largest collection of Fieret’s work and that his photography came to the attention of institutions like the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, which held the first major one-man exhibition of his work in 1971.
Gerard Fieret’s photographs are distinguished by odd choices of subject, apparently casual compositions and an explicit or covert eroticism. He ignored photographic conventions, both when taking his shots and in the darkroom. His work reflects the zeitgeist of the 1960s and ’70s, with its abhorrence of academic rules and glorification of nudity as a symbol of liberty. His photographs do show a degree of similarity to those of Dutch contemporaries like Frans Zwartjes, Sanne Sannes and Anton Heyboer, although Fieret hated being compared to anyone else. As soon as he recognized anything of his own style in other people’s work, he would invariably hurl accusations of plagiarism or even outright theft. Not surprisingly, therefore, a prominent feature of virtually all Fieret’s photos is the rubber stamps and signatures with which he painstakingly attempted to safeguard his copyright. His photographs reveal his tendency to repetition and indefatigable urge to experiment. In search of interesting effects, he played with the rules of the various photographic development and printing processes. He threw nothing away, not even obvious failures. At the same time, he rarely printed a negative more than once and, on the odd occasion when he did so, none of the prints are ever identical. A Gerard Fieret photograph is invariably a one-off.
The Hague Museum of Photography’s main Gerard Petrus Fieret exhibition is accompanied by two other related displays. The first is a presentation of portraits showing Fieret through the eyes of other photographers, such as Koos Breukel, Willem Diepraam, Ferenc Molnar and Roger Cremers. The second takes the form of a wall sculpture commissioned by the museum from Dutch artist Monika Dahlberg (b. 1975). Incorporating Fieret’s photographs and displaying them in a totally new way, the piece is a tribute to Fieret’s oeuvre. Dahlberg trained at the Minerva Art Academy in Groningen and her work includes collages offering a humorous, no-nonsense commentary on the media culture of today. Often intimate, sensual or erotic, her works usually make for uncomfortable viewing.
The exhibition will include a completely restored and digitised version of Jacques Meijer’s 1971 film Gerard Fieret, fotograaf. In addition, the NTR (Dutch Public Service Broadcaster for Information, Education and Culture) plans to rebroadcast Frank van den Engel’s mesmerising 2009 documentary Foto en copyright by G.P. Fieret. To coincide with the exhibition, the film is scheduled to be shown during Het Uur van de Wolf on NPO2 at 22.55 on Thursday 25 May.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a 600-page catalogue entitled Gerard Petrus Fieret, authored by Violette Gillet, Francesco Zanot, Hripsimé Visser and Wim van Sinderen.
The book exists in two language versions: a Dutch/English edition issued by Uitgeverij Hannibal and a French/English one published by Éditions Xavier Barral.
The exhibition is the result of close collaboration with Le Bal in Paris, where it was shown in the summer of 2016. The Hague Museum of Photography is grateful for the support from its main sponsor Pels Rijcken & Droogleever Fortuijn and the support of the Erik Bos Fund.