Bertien van Manen, itinerant photographer of everyday life, dies at 89

Bertien van Manen, a Dutch photographer who used point-and-shoot cameras to capture intimate images of daily life in the big cities and remote villages of China, the dingy apartments and alleys of post-Soviet Russia, and the coal miners of Kentucky, is died May 26. in Amsterdam. He was 89 years old.

His practice director, Iris Bergman, said the cause of his death, which occurred in a rehabilitation facility, was pneumonia.

Ms. van Manen was working as a fashion photographer in 1975 when a friend gave her a copy of “The Americans,” the groundbreaking collection of photos that photographer Robert Frank took during a trip across the United States in the 1950s.

“He wasn't at all interested in making beautiful photographs, and yet that's who I am,” Ms. van Manen told Aperture Magazine. “The accidental, the involuntary: I thought the photographs of him were magnificent.”

Ms. van Manen eventually traded the high-end cameras she used in fashion studios for a 35mm Olympus mju II, which retails for less than $100 and is used primarily by consumers to capture vacations, birthday parties, graduations and similar.

The size and simplicity of the camera allowed it to disappear in plain sight. “People felt less threatened by them,” she told Aperture. “You stay with a host who also takes photos, rather than a photographer who is your host.”

Cheap cameras produced images that were sometimes grainy and overexposed, imperfections that van Manen did not correct in the darkroom. For her they were stylistic metaphors for the messiness of life.

“There is a kind of effortless intimacy in her work,” said Susan Kismaric, former curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where Ms. van Manen's work has been exhibited. “She cultivated it very deliberately.”

“One Hundred Summers, One Hundred Winters” (1994) captured post-Soviet life in “the most inaccessible places – the homes of ordinary people – to show us how millions of Russians live and sleep, what they eat, what they do appear in their daily lives, in their apartments, at their tables, in their beds”, wrote Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski in the introduction.

In “East Wind West Wind” (2001), van Manen documented life in Chinese nightclubs, all-night theaters, airport restaurants and rural villages, among other places she traveled during several travel in the country. “Let's Set Down Before We Go” (2011) collects photos of her taken from 1991 to 2009 in Russia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Tatarstan and Georgia.

His only major work set in the United States was “Moonshine” (2014). Ms. van Manen, the daughter of a coal mining engineer, rented a pickup truck in 1985 and traveled alone through Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky looking for coal miners.

“I had never visited Appalachia before and was struck by the beautiful mountains,” she wrote in The Guardian. “But I wasn't ready for human chaos. Sometimes the miners had small homes, but more often they were crammed into trailers, mobile homes, or whatever they could build in the woods.”

In Cumberland, Ky., he met a coal miner named Mavis and her husband, Junior. They shared a trailer, Ms. van Manen wrote in The Guardian, “featuring Mavis' son Cris and Junior's collection of 23 rifles.”

She lived with them for four months, then returned several times.

One photo is of a neighbor with a baby on his lap pointing a gun. Others show Junior's niece applying eyeliner, his sister sitting in a rocking chair with her eyes closed and Mavis holding her dog.

“For some reason,” Ms van Manen wrote in the Guardian, “I was quickly welcomed. The locals have a reputation for being aggressive and hard-drinking, but I liked them. The rest of us wear masks and try to be good, but that's just how I am.

Bertien Henket was born on 15 February 1935 in The Hague. His father, Nicolaus Henket, was an electrical engineer who worked in coal mines. His mother, Erica (Bauduin) Henket, ran the household.

While studying French at Leiden University, she worked as a model.

“I lost interest in this and thought, I'm going to change things,” he told Aperture. “I'm going to get behind the camera instead of standing in front of it.”

At a party she met the fashion and advertising photographer Theo Noort, who hired her as his assistant. Later she started taking photos for Dutch women's magazines.

Therefore, among fashion photographers, few were women.

“The models appreciated working with one woman instead of all those guys,” Ms. van Manen told Aperture. “They felt freer and less objects of desire. So I had a surprising amount of work.

However he found the job “empty”.

When a friend gave her Mr. Frank's book, she found it “so dynamic and so personal, I thought: This is the way I want to take photographs,” she told ArtReview in 2005.

She married Willem van Manen in 1961. He died in 2008.

SM. van Manen is survived by his daughter, Willemijn van Manen; his son, Joris van Manen; and a grandson.

Kismaric, a former curator at MoMA, said van Manen's style has been largely abandoned in the world of fine art photography.

“A lot of the work now is very premeditated, quite intellectual and less dependent on the photographic capabilities of the camera,” he said. “Bertien was very interested in making the viewer understand what it felt like to be in that place at that moment.”

Kirsten Noyes contributed to the research.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *