Following an eventful life, the Dutch photographer Paul Blanca died in October 2021 in Amsterdam, where he was born in 1958 as Paul Vlaswinkel. A photographer who achieved fame in the 1980s for provocative self-portraits and was mentioned in the same breath as Erwin Olaf and Robert Mapplethorpe. A photograph of Mickey Mouse carved into his back (1986) is considered one of the icons of Dutch photography, as is the poignant image of Blanca and his mother embracing naked (1982).
Fotomuseum Den Haag is paying homage to Blanca’s early and most intense body of work from the period 1980-1995. A selection of more than fifty photographs, many from our own collection, can be seen from 30 April to 14 August 2022.
In the 1980s, Blanca caused a furore with a series of staged self-portraits in which he did the most disturbing things to himself, such as stuffing half a dozen eels in his mouth or piercing his cheeks with an arrow. Through the utmost self-control and concentration, he aimed to create the most telling image of an unequivocal photographic moment. The ‘moment’ as a ‘monument’: a perfect convergence of person, place and time in a single tightly framed image.
Teachers and contemporaries
Although Blanca was self-taught, he did not consider himself an autodidact. He found his teachers through his practice. From the choreographer and photographer Hans van Manen (1932), he learned the technical aspects of the craft and how to deal with models, while the famous American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) preceded him in classical and unrestrained images of personal obsessions, ranging from explicit sexuality to a Zen-like stillness.
Like those of his contemporary Erwin Olaf (1959), who had a similar training, Blanca’s black-and-white portraits of fellow artists, actors, writers, dancers and pop musicians were very popular with progressive newspaper and magazine editors. Confrontational in their absolute clarity, they were the much-needed antidote to the languid studio photography of the 1960s and 1970s.
Exhibition and documentary
In consultation with Blanca’s family and close friends, curator Wim van Sinderen selected more than fifty works from the photographer’s most productive and perhaps most interesting period: the years 1980-1995. Many of the works come from the permanent collection of Kunstmuseum Den Haag, supplemented by loans from important private collections.
In addition to the framed historical photographs, the museum is displaying a selection of platinum prints that Blanca made in 2020 together with fellow photographers Koos Breukel and Hans de Kort. This rare printing process sheds a new light on Paul Blanca’s oeuvre. The exhibition also contains a short video based on the new documentary ‘Paul Blanca, This Film Will Save Your Life’ by Amsterdam-based director Ramón Gieling.