Ton Broekhuis photographs beauty, bloom and mortality in his immediate surroundings in the Frisian area of Stellingwerven. With his dog as loyal walking companion, he moves through the landscape and crawls deep into his own garden. From blades of grass to woods to the little corpses of birds, time after time there is the surprising richness of a seemingly unsightly nature. Thus, sharing his lyrical gaze with the viewer, the gaze of someone who sees what others do not. In his work intimacy and abstraction alternate, in grand journeys through a world within walking distance.
A long oeuvre precedes this most recent work by the landscape photographer of the North. For 30 years, Broekhuis has cherished the northern landscape’s vastness, the freedom of emptiness. His work deals with the feeling the land evokes, any trueness to nature is subordinate to this. The process of interpretation and experimentation – once in the dark room, now in front of a screen – is where the work really comes to life.
Also on show in the exhibition is a cross-section from his earlier photographs and the many books he has published. At the start of his career he worked for the magazineNieuwe Revu, among others, and photographed socially engaged subjects, later the landscape became central in his work. His aesthetic language is already discernible in the early work about the meat industry and continues in his first projects on landscape and architecture. With ‘Een wijde blik verruimt het denken’(A wide view expands thinking), commissioned by the GADO bus company, he establishes his reputation.
Graduating with distinction from the MTS for Photography in The Hague (which later merged with the Royal Academy of Art), Broekhuis (1951) clearly voiced his disapproval of the course in the media. Believing that commerciality pushed aside the connection with society. It is this critical gaze, without self-censorship, which continues to typify his work. After following a subsequent course at the Sociale Academie in Culemborg, he ends up in Groningen in 1980 as a photography tutor at the Student Culture Centre USVA.
In Groningen, he dedicates himself to the development of socially engaged photography in the Northern Netherlands. It’s not long before USVA gains a photography gallery and the Gronings Fotokollektief is founded; a group of amateur photographers working with photography as an activist tool. This path leads to the Noorderlicht photography festival being established in 1990, which he became director of. The group of volunteers from the early stages enabled Noorderlicht to grow into a professional, dynamic and idiosyncratic institution in the years to come, earning international respect.
While fighting for culture as a ‘Noorderlichter’, his own photography practice is increasingly put on hold. Stepping aside in the autumn of 2016, his photographic existence as a free spirit in the northern landscape is given a renewed impulse.
This exhibition is made possible by:
Mondriaan Fonds, H.S Kammingafonds, Beringer Hazewinkel, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Gemeente Groningen, Provincie Groningen