Give me your Image
For three years the photographer Bertien van Manen (b. 1942) travelled through many European countries for her project ‘Give me your image’. She visited scores of people in their homes, asking them to show her their most unusual photograph. Proud, or deeply hesitant, people showed her photographs each and every one of which had an intriguing story to tell out of their private lives. Van Manen photographed each of the pictures shown to her against the background of the interior of its owner’s home. De Hallen Haarlem exhibited a selection of about 70 photographs from this project. The other result of the project, the book Give me your image was also for sale.
‘Give me your image’ showed intimate pictures from the private lives of ordinary people. A sculptor from Budapest showed Van Manen a photo of his great-grandfather, posing as a prisoner in Siberia. On a Greek island she got to see a photo of a mother who had murdered her husband. Immigrants in Paris brought out boxes of portrait photos of their family in Africa. Elsewhere she was shown a photo of a school class under a large mural of Lenin lifting up a beaming child. Starting from a premise as simple as it is poetic, Van Manen was able to reveal small, anonymous family histories, producing an intimate ode to photographic memory. But many of the great themes of European history in the 20th century like World War II and the present wave of immigration are also reflected in the photos chosen. ‘Give me your image’ was previously shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and other venues.
Bertien van Manen (b. 1942, lives in Amsterdam) has acquired an international reputation in recent years for her impressive photo reportage about ‘ordinary’ people in various parts of the world. In the years 1997-2000 she travelled to China a total of fourteen times, to record everyday life and increasing Western influence there; the result was a book and the exhibition ‘East Wind West Wind’. Among her other photo projects are ‘Dienstmaagd des Heren’ (1985), on women in the Roman Catholic church in The Netherlands, and ‘A Hundred Summers, A Hundred Winters’ (1994) on daily life in Russia, in the former Soviet Union. She has received various awards for her work, including the David Roëll Prize and the Maria Austria Prize.
Van Manen works with a simple automatic camera, making shots with it that hardly come across as composed. ‘I have no use for being aesthetic and responsible, I like the spontaneous and casual. That provides a dynamism, and you only get that with a simple camera like that. I don’t have to spend hours messing around with a tripod. Also, I don’t want to bother the people I visit.’ A deep interest in her fellow man is the motor that drives her work, as is obvious from ‘Give me your image’: ‘It remains unbelievable that people admit a stranger to their home, and show them such intimate things. A half hour of looking at family photos and making an arrangement of them is a complex and personal contact.’ (Quote from an interview by Dirk Limburg in the NRC-Handelsblad, January 31, 2003)