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W.F. Hermans - Pretty Important Photos

Willem Frederik Hermans met een leica
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It is no secret that writer Willem Frederik Hermans (1921–1995) had a great predilection for photography, given literary titles such as The Blind Photographer and The Dark Room of Damokles. On the other hand, it is less well known that he considered retraining as a photographer.
To conclude the Hermans Year, in which the writer's birth is celebrated 100 years ago, the Fotomuseum Den Haag presents an exhibition focusing on Hermans' photography. Hermans' closed archive was opened by the Willem Frederik Hermans Institute especially for this exhibition and accompanying publication. Dozens of vintages and new prints show that his photos are not always technically of the highest level, but are permeated with the writer's world view. The Fairly Important Photos exhibition can be seen from August 20th, 2022 until January 8th, 2023.

The discovery of the camera 
In 1957, when his novel The Dark Room of Damokles did not want to go smoothly, Willem Frederik Hermans picked up the camera. He bought a two-eyed Kalloflex (a Japanese version of the Rolleiflex) and was apprenticed to photographer and friend Nico Jesse (1911-1976). Hermans fanatically started photographing his immediate surroundings in Groningen: cats in the living room, the view of the Ossenmarkt, shop windows, children playing and people on the street. He did the enlarging and printing himself, in his dark room at home. In the period that followed Hermans went further out with his camera, to cities such as Amsterdam and Paris. He spent several times in the French capital, paying particular attention to cemeteries, urinals, advertising columns, markets and statues' feet.

Archive documents show that after his Paris photo expeditions in the late 1950s, Hermans aspired to a career as a professional photographer. At that time, this was not possible without further ado: to carry the title of photographer you had to have a diploma from a photography school. Hermans made several attempts to do this, but was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, in 1958 he registered with the Chamber of Commerce as 'Press photo company WF Hermans' with the main activity being 'making press photos'. 

The photographic oeuvre consists largely of street scenes, in which elements of chaos and decay can always be observed. Even from the most chic Parisian boul

But Hermans didn't just photograph lonely houses, crumbling funerary monuments and torn posters, he also tried to capture people. However, where Nico Jesse approached his models as closely as possible or Ed van der Elsken always started a conversation through his camera, the shy photographer Hermans always kept a safe distance. He photographed passing women unnoticed from a terrace or spied a kissing couple from the bushes. His shyness was a permanent obstacle and made his portraits rarely comparable to those of Jesse or Van der Elsken. This left 'safe' subjects such as small children and cats, and in the first place the safest subject of all: themselves. Hermans has made self-portraits all his life, either with a self-timer or timer, or in a mirror.

Exhibition and publication 
Under very strict conditions, graphic designer Piet Schreuders and literature specialist Bram Oostveen were given access to Hermans' photo archive, which has been in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek since 2001 and made accessible by the Literature Museum The Hague. For the exhibition Fairly important photos, these two Hermans experts have made a selection of dozens of photos from the almost 15,000 photos, the majority of which have not been shown before. Some of the photos were never even seen by Hermans, because they were reproduced from negatives that he did not print himself.

The exhibition shows a mix of vintage prints and new prints. The title of the exhibition refers to Hermans' archive. The Fairly Important Photos folder contained a motley collection of 57 prints: portraits of Hermans himself, his parents and other relatives, friends, plus photos of posters, the Arc de Triomphe and houses in Vienna. 

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication of the same name with a wide selection of photos and with contributions by Wim van Sinderen (curator of the Photo Museum The Hague) and Piet Schreuders. The book is published by Publisher Hannibal Books and will be presented on 1 September during the closing ceremony of the Hermans Year in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. The publication is also for sale from that moment on.

Piet Schreuders is a graphic designer, small publisher (De Poezenkrant, Furore) and co-curator

Herculestoren Spanje

Dates and Times

20 August 8 January 2023
11:00 – 17:00
11:00 – 17:00
11:00 – 17:00
11:00 – 17:00
11:00 – 17:00
11:00 – 17:00
€ 8,00 - € 10,00
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