Onno Meerdink


Lagosweg Delft, 2007, c-print 27x34 cm 
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The annual graduation exhibitions of the various art academies in the Netherlands are entertaining excursions that I combine with my search for Dutch photography. It is a simple way to keep up with the latest developments and I usually discover some photographers for my collection. In 2008, the harvest was meager and I encountered only one very special photographer: Onno Meerdink of the art academy in The Hague. I bought his series: In between city and country

In between city and country

An interview with Onno Meerdink
Last year (2008), you graduated from the art academy in The Hague. What are you doing now?

I’m trying to photograph as much as possible and I work in a bookstore to earn money. Sometimes I do small commissions, usually requested by people I know. I find it very difficult to get into the world of commissions and I cannot live from my own projects.

What are those projects?

Right now I am investigating the relationship between photography and coincidence. I find coincidence really interesting and it is a fascinating feature of photography. I try to make the role of chance as large as possible in my pictures by using methods that have nothing to do with photography but all the same determine the outcome of the image, such as throwing dice or arrows. For this, I also use specially written computer programs. With these kind of tactics I determine where, when and how I photograph. My ideal is a sort of evolutionary photography with complete randomness but in which each image does affect the next one. In this way I would like to make a photographic encyclopaedia, one which would be entirely compiled by statistical means.

The work presented here seems rather documentary to me.

Sure, you’re right there, although there is a relationship between documentary photography and coincidence. The documentary photographer can maximize the probability of random elements by searching for chaotic situations or, for example, by the choice of frame or moment of taking the picture. In photos I always look for those kinds of elements and I find photographers who use them the most interesting. Garry Winogrand is a good example.

How did you actually start with photography?

That was a coincidence! We visited the Delta Works in Zeeland on a school trip. When we arrived at the museum, I found a simple camera with a half-full film inside on the roof of a car in the car park. I was curious about the pictures taken with the camera and imagined all sorts of interesting photos, especially nudes of course. They were just the usual tourist photos. Anyway, I enjoyed finishing the film taking pictures of my school mates. I then decided to buy a serious camera, that must have been around 2001, I think. Since then I take pictures.

Your photographs are not staged or manipulated. Is that intentional? Are you principally opposed to those practices?

Oh no, I do not have principles, but I rarely find staged photography exciting. Apart from portraits of course. And as I said earlier, randomness fascinates me in photography and by staging, one reduces the chance of that. Manipulation is in a way the same as staging, you determine the image ─ I would like to let the outside world determine my pictures. I have nothing against manipulation though, I am just not into it at the moment.

Should the photographs shown here be seen as a series?

What connects them is the subject, the types of places on the suburbs of the city. I am attracted to old buildings, the atmosphere that one finds there, the people that live on the edge of the town and its individual character. It is in contrast to the serial character you find in the city centre and especially that of recently constructed sites. It's actually funny that in the Netherlands, it is still possible to find areas that have not been ‘taken care of’ by developers. But perhaps the images form a series, with my own style connecting them. I photographed them as landscapes, but I was always really attracted to the random scenes that one may encounter in such places ─ the area at the outskirts of the city as a stage for small scenes. The photos may be seen as photographic moments in landscapes.

The scenes you are talking about in a sense are placed in between the subject, the area on the edge of the city, and the spectator. As a result, the attention of the spectator is distracted from the place and your photography becomes more personal. You could have also chosen for a more distant and objective approach by using a technical camera to document the areas of your interest. Have you considered that? What do you think about the visibility of the photographer in his work?

Yes, I've certainly given thought to working with a technical camera. For me, in this kind of geographical photography, the more detail, the better. Ideally, I would have used a 10x8 inch camera with great depth of field and ultra short shutter speeds, in order to maximize the information of the image. In situations without movement, this can be done, but for landscapes with scenes, it is impossible. In a way I have chosen the middle line by using a practical, medium format camera, a Mamiya... What else did you ask me?

About the visibility of the photographer in his work...

Oh yes, the familiar problem of the documentary photographer! In that respect, I must say that, intuitively, I would like the photographer to be as invisible as possible, although you might not say that from looking at these images

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