Herman van den Boom responds to Brighton Photo Fringe 2010 statement over removed photos

There have been some new developments. Over the weekend, further discussions between the Brighton Photo Fringe festival organisers and van den Boom took place regarding the removal of three of his photos from his Better In Tune series.

It is easy in these situations for things to become conflated and confused so I will reflect on all that has been said regarding this situation and will write a post looking at exactly what the implications are as there are quite a few aspects to separate out and consider. In the meantime, I have requested to see the contracts that have been signed by photographers taking part both in the Fringe and Biennial with the ‘department store’ building where work is being shown.

For now, here’s his reply.

Herman van den Boom replies:

First of all, I want to express my feelings that I am very unhappy with this situation.

A controversy like this is the last thing I expected to happen about some of my pictures and certainly not in the context of a serious photo festival. And not in the least that I have or had the intention of attracting away the attention of other shows or artists nor did I want to discredit the festival and festival curators. I saw all the shows yesterday and today and I was impressed by the quality and innovative choice that is to be seen and experienced. It is a wonderful festival with a very high quality of work, exactly as I expected.

I exhibited at international important festivals like Fotofest Houston, the Biennial of Moscow, the photo festivals of Lodz in Poland, the New York Photo Festival etc and I can assure that Brighton Photo Fringe is one of the major events one should visit.

That’s why I was so “surprised” by the “things” that happened, I never experienced such a confrontation in my life. Thinking about this “event” the last days, I come probably to another conclusion than I did before.

Certainly there was a big misunderstanding from both sides about the other party’s artistic vision and position. One really can say that there was a kind of small clash of civilisations. We do things differently, not necessarily better or worse, and the English do things differently also, not necessarily better or worse. I come to this realisation because I live in Belgium and we have these kind of “confrontations” all the time the clash between the Flemish and the Walons. There, I’m aware and used to it and deal with it, here I didn’t expect it and didn’t see it.

Things, words and meanings can be completely differently read and understood and interpreted.

Realising this and thinking this over, I can say that I made a show which was perfect for a continental audience but inappropriate for a British audience.

I realise that in Britain there is a complete different emotional relationship between the arts, the artists and the public. A building contractor renting out his building to an art show would never, wouldn’t even dare, let an art festival sign a contract about moral issues.

Here they do and nobody takes notice, in Holland Belgium Germany, France the company would be lynched by the media and the artists!! And so for the curatorial staff!

Was this then censorship?

Yes, from my point of view and coming from my artistic upbringing and environment.

No, from the point of view from PhotoFringe because they brought in their skills and know how to bring my work in the best way possible they thought to the British audience. And, as I pointed out before, Gordon McDonald is an excellent curator and editor.

It really was a pity that we didn’t get into a more intellectual discussion but that it all became focused on one aspect, namely the contract, and that therefore things escalated in a way I don’t feel comfortable with.

One thing I learned is that, if I might have in the future another exhibition in Britain I make a special British version.

Herman van den Boom


4 responses to “Herman van den Boom responds to Brighton Photo Fringe 2010 statement over removed photos

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Herman van den Boom responds to Brighton Photo Fringe 2010 statement over removed photos | HotBlog: Fresh Perspectives on Contemporary Photography -- Topsy.com

  2. With all due respect to the artist, I think his view of the UK is totally misconceoved. The U.K. is one of the most promiscuous Countries on the planet, especially when it comes to art. It is fair to say that such promiscuity is perhaps less prominently visible than in some Continental European Countries, but nonetheless, it is without doubt in existence, especially in the arts.

    From the art market perspective, the U.K. is one of the largest markets in the world for erotic art, and has been host to numerous prominent exhibitions over past years (e.g. the Barbican Gallery’s “Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now”, to name but one of very many: http://www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery/event-detail.asp?ID=5625)

    To state “if I might have in the future another exhibition in Britain I make a special British version” is just completely out of context and out of-touch with the U.K. art scene as a whole, seemingly brought about by this artist’s own personal experience at the Brighton Photo Fringe. His experience is categorically not representative of the U.K. art market in general and should not be perceived as such. The incident experienced at Brighton Photo Fringe is simply mindless censorship, and should not be interpreted as representational of the U.K.’s general attitude towards provocative or controversial artworks , as it most certainly is not!

  3. I think van den Boom says some truths about British audiences and as an extension about some curators and editors in the UK, there are a lot of moralisms here, in art photography and in photojournalism, one must not shock. People in the UK take offense quite easily, see meanings and agenda when sometimes there are none and generally dislike explicit content, either violent or sexual. People here like their comfort zone, political correctness is rife. Film ratings are a good exemple of that, on much of the continent only pornographic films are rated 18, in the UK many films are rated 18.
    I personally don’t take any offense at van den Boom photos, I don’t find his work subversive in the least and I wish I could see more subversive work, which by the way does not necessarily mean depiction of nudity or sex.

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