Vengeful Sister, 1956 - (c) Dave Heath
Yesterday Serge Clement kindly gave me the news. Dave has passed away. I am without words, except I know this is one of those defining moments that make your heart skip a beat.
Thank you Dave. You gave us your dialogue with Solitude.
For many years I have played a silly game with my favorite 3 photo books. They were then and they are now: Masahisa Fukase’s Ravens, Kiyoshi Suzuki’s Mind Games and A Dialogue With Solitude. It is just the order that changes as the years go by.
When we first met in 1999, you signed my copy of A Dialogue With Solitude and I told you about my favorite 3 photo books. You answered: “I am glad someone noticed”.
I was 23 years old when I got A Dialogue With Solitude. It was 1978. Bought it in a small bookstore in Santa Monica, together with Daniel Seymour’s A Loud Song. My reasons for buying these books were woeful: I liked their titles and wanted to have something to look at during the flight to Europe, that same day. A Dialogue With Solitude blew me away. It was like listening to Neil Young’s album Harvest for the first time.
Dave, yes I noticed. You can bring along my belief that by now just about everyone with a heart for photography has noticed. I also think this type of work has no choice but to go slow. Let’s say you turned stones that others simply never touched.
Thank you Dave !
30 June 2016
“Simple yet strange. The work of Dutch photographer Machiel Botman often consists of isolated fragments of reality, distorted in various ways to infuse a sense of beauty, and sometimes menace. Mr. Botman’s black-and-white images reproduce a world in which time appears to stand still, a world of feeling and sadness. Every 10 years he releases a book of photographs that aim to create a visual poem”.
New York Times, International, august 5, 2014
"For decades now, Dutch photographer Machiel Botman (b. 1955) has occupied a unique, somewhat elusive position in the international photography world. Slowly and with extreme precision, he is building a solid body of work, developing a specific ‘photographic language’ consisting of countless isolated fragments and scraps of reality.
Botman’s work portrays a wonderful life: playing children, a snow-covered meadow, a bat taking to the wing, a woman in the bath. Every image seems loaded with meaning, as if the artist photographs simple things that symbolise the big questions in life. His method is anything but everyday. His images always have an almost indefinable beauty, and a certain menace. He reproduces a world that is becoming increasingly rare, a world in which time appears to stand still, a world of feeling and sadness, unhurried and carefree.
Despite the powerful baryta prints, Machiel Botman’s photographs have an air of humility. Shunning trends in photography, he is above all a photographer who has always done his own thing".
Wim van Sinderen, senior curator photography Photomuseum The Hague on the occasion of the retrospective exhibition from May 17 to August 24, 2014. ( full text )
“The Dutch photographer shows black-and-white images from his new book, One Tree, most of which seem to be about things glimpsed in passing—a world more lost than found. Figures are a ghostly blur or a half-seen reflection; landscapes dissolve and shatter. The work is dreamy and disorienting and sometimes results from multiple exposures: a chair floats before a building façade; a white horse is superimposed on the view of a distant house on a hill. But even the most seemingly straightforward pictures can leave you in a world of uncertainty”.
Vince Aletti - in The New Yorker - 6 february 2012
"Botman’s work is neither defined nor limited by genre or technique. Landscape, portraiture, still life — all are given equal weight in his photographs. If there is one constant in the work, it’s that the images always evoke dualities. They are strange yet familiar, inviting yet distant, transparent yet oblique. The surface narrative is often in doubt: a disembodied hand supporting a shard of sharp-edged glass is almost Buñuelian in its implications; freckled skin and clouded sky comprise a gently abstract, Kertész-like visual riddle in “Magda’s Shoulder.”
There is something slightly theatrical about the work, which combines dark drama, a muted playfulness and an indefinable spirituality. Yet there is nothing stagy about the gestures and expressions, the settings and scenarios. Tranquility and lyricism predominate, with a sensed emotional volatility just below the surface".
Dean Brierly - in B&W plus COLOR Magazine, 2012 ( full text )
"One by one his images have a wonderful visual and poetic strength. Rarely it is clear what it is we are looking at: where, when or why a certain photograph was taken. Contrary to the photographer we do not need to know. He offers us something to work with and to take it somewhere. Precisely because of this, Botman's work is so special and has become a body of work with an enormous potential for the future.
Without doubt he belongs to a select group of artists who stay away from being fashionable. Who keep working, against the main stream, from their own convictions and who in fact produce timeless work that will outlive all the trends".
Marcel Feil - Director, Artistic affairs, Foam Museum Amsterdam, 2006
"Machiel Botman's nocturnal 1996 picture of a small child standing alone in a penumbra of artificial light with an impenetrable darkness beyond evokes the beach as a frontier at the edge of an unfathomable mystery".
Ken Johnson on exhibition The Beach in Zabriskie Gallery, New York - The New York Times of 10 july 2006 ( full review )
"Botman has never been very explanatory. With him this is not irritating, but rather pleasant. His projects leave enough space for imagination, for us to travel inside them".
Merel Bem - in De Volkskrant of 11 November 2006
"He photographs with the sensual pleasure of sharing each day with those he loves, knows, or meets. Not shutting himself of, but living at his own quiet rhythm, with the slowness no doubt of someone who lets things happen, hoping they will happen. He is at their disposal, just there, just aware, just capable of wondering that the memory of what he saw should be caught, captured in every detail on the negative. He thinks perhaps, that it is photography rather than life which offers him these gifts. So he shares with us these luminous visions of a world that we long to touch with the same delicacy that guides his own way of looking.
He can spend ten years working on the layout of "Rainchild" to give us one of the most beautiful and authentic books of recent years. He can make twenty times over bookdummies of books that will never see the light of day and we can only be grateful when he lets us see them".
Christian Caujolle, Gallerie VU, Paris. In 2005
"To me Rainchild is a child born of water, wandering, alive everywhere, grey, sad possibly, but with the purity of the water-born in a species of land-born. The liquid version of crystal”
Fred Ritchin, Pixelpress New York, in 2004 ( Pixelpress - "portraits" Machiel Botman )
"Botman’s style and modus operandi have barely changed in the ten years since the publication of Heartbeat. He has shunned the Tarzanesque that has come to dominate photography over the past decade - the flashy colours, the shiny prints, the large formats. Save a few exceptions, his images are in black and white and are modest in size. Modest too is his subject matter: snow on the branches in the garden, grey hairs on a dark forearm, a child’s drawing on a steamed up window. They’re distinctly personal images, intimate and close to the bone. Where and when they were taken, is not mentioned. It isn’t in the least important: Botman’s images do not make statements about the world as such. At most they try to show some of the emotions that brought them about. Within this process finitude and the passing of time of course play a key role.
In his way of working with images, Botman emphasises that every statement about one’s own past is fluent and innately marked by time: the meaning of experience changes with the passing of time
There is no ‘solid’ or chronological story line in Botman’s autobiographical universe. Despite their simplicity and warmth, this also makes his images to a certain extent somewhat inaccessible. He shows the things he remembered and the moments that moved him, yet it remains guessing as to their narrative. On the other hand: this lack of grip is part and parcel of his treatment of ‘time’ - and of photography itself.
Be this as it may, the fact that his re-constructed universe is a vibrant one indicates the visual intelligence that lies at the root of Rainchild".
Eddie Marsman on Rainchild, in NRC Handelsblad of October 16, 2004 - ( full text in Dutch )
Botman, heart to heart - Touching visions of a Dutch artist
"It's a very curious feeling to look at a photograph and simultaneously have the impression that it develops in front of you and it is made for you personally. Like an unexpected gift. There is this gratuitous magic in the world of Machiel Botman, born in 1955 in the Netherlands, who literally opens his heart with Rainchild.
Even when things get serious, he remains light: “ Who cares”, he likes to say, and he meets his friends (Kate, Johan, Constant) that could be yours, and who perhaps are.
It is a journey forward and backward, like a sweater of multicolored knitted wool with unplanned stops, and we don’t know what to do to help. For example, is the house burning or is it just a cloud? These children in shorts in front of the window, where did they come from? We also think of music, piano drops in the rain -- and this funny guy with white facial hair so long that it seems the little birds come to nest in it.
In the book that accompanies the exhibition, Machiel Botman writes sweet words, rather gray, speaking of his grief when his mother died and the portrait of her that he would have wanted so much, as his brother did. “ So we agreed that each of us would have it in turn for five years.”
Brigitte Ollier in Libération, 2004 ( text in French )
"Machiel Botman calls his book Heartbeat. The word is a symbol for life, and when the beat stops, for death. Its acceleration implies emotion, exitement, passion; the word also implies being moved, that feelings are aroused, that the heart has been touched. The photographs in Heartbeat possess all these qualities. They are about eroticism, childhood, youth, parental love and the death of a parent.
There is no literal landscape to be seen in Botman’s photographs. His universe is that of the overwhelmed soul. In his work he attempts to come to terms with his mother’s death and in his thoughts and grief he comes up against the manifold feelings that surface at such times, from looking back on his childhood to fathering a child, and passing on life.
If one takes his images literally, one sees eroticism in the look of desire on a women’s face; in a raised leg and a ridden-up dress, the shadow of the gesture seeming to divulge a secret; in a woman undressing; in a gentle sleeping face. He sees love and dependency in a child holding out a flower. The flowers are in focus, the child indistinct. It could be his child, or himself as a child. The photograph captures the way the roles are reversed in life, the passing on of eternity".
Willem Ellenbroek on Heartbeat, in De Volkskrant of 4 January 1995 ( full text in Dutch )
Kazuhiko Motomura passed away
Many people will be touched by this
Such a beautiful man
Not long after I published my first book Heartbeat in 1994, I received a letter from Japan from Mr. Kazuhiko Motomura. It was a friendly letter telling me he had found my book in Tokyo and he asked if I would send him a dedicated copy. He would be happy to pay my price plus shipping, or he could propose a Japanese photo book in exchange.
I sent him my book and received a Japanese book in return. At that point I had already entered the world of Japanese photography books and I knew who he was: the Japanese publisher who, in the early seventies, asked Robert Frank to do a book, which became The Lines of My Hand. Frank writes warmly about the visit by Motomura in one of the editions of this book. Motomura also published Frank's simply wonderful Flower Is, and he published Jun Morinaga's River, its shadow of shadows, which comes close to the most perfect meditative object.
The first book he sent me was Daido Moriyama's Inu no Toki from 1995, with work made in New York, Okinawa and Tokyo. Motomura had Moriyama dedicate it to me and in his fax he described the exhibition, the differences between the series and what Moriyama had told him about this work.
In 1995 conversations about photography books were still about the content of these books. It was about the photographs and the ideas they proposed and not about their pricing, their condition, their so-called innovative importance. We would go to the antiquarian bookstore, we would first check the section on countries, as it was there you could find La France de Profil by Paul Strand, William Klein's city books, Roman Vishniac's Polish Jews . . .
Motomura and I exchanged many, many books. First we kind of kept an eye on what we each spent, but we dropped that as we went along. I remember finding a copy of Dutch Details by Ed Rusha in a small Dutch town. Not really my thing, but I could see it was a strong and interesting book and told Motomura about it. The fax machine answered in two minutes, with a large YES handwritten on a piece of paper. I sent him all Johan van der Keuken's books, some books by Ed van der Elsken and Sanne Sannes, these being my favorites from my own country. Dave Heath, A Dialogue with Solitude; David Seymour, A Loud Song; Ken Schles Invisible City; Christer Strömholm Poste Restante; Anders Peterson Grona Lund and Ingen har sett allt . . . hardcovers of Vietnam Inc. by Philip Jones Griffith and The Destruction Business by Don McCullin - too many to recall. And in return he sent me known Japanese books, his own publications, and also many (to me) unknown Japanese books. There was one unexpected box with all eight titles by Kiyoshi Suzuki. I sat on my floor unpacking each one, happiness to the top !
We finally met in 1999 when I went to Tokyo to meet photographers who were going to be part of the exhibition Wonderland, for which I was guest co-curator. Noorderlicht in Groningen, produced this exhibition. Motomura had asked me to meet some photographers, like Jun Morinaga and Kiyoshi Suzuki. It was my first time in Japan and I spent three, four days going around, to galleries, museums, second hand bookstores, libraries and meeting photographers. Motomura had hired an interpreter, Gallery Mole was the central place, we spent from early morning to late evening together, I drank more than I ever had and ate little transparent fish, I believe it was to celebrate spring.
We met several times in the following years, in Japan and in Europe. On his request I introduced him to one of my dearest friends, the writer Catherine Duncan. They talked about Kate writing a text for the next book of Jun Morinaga. I had shown Kate Morinaga's River book, which touched her very much. She felt a connection with Paul Strand's photographs on his garden, the work she knew so well.
Motomura helped when Yoko Suzuki and I met to discuss doing a retrospective exhibition with Kiyoshi Suzuki's work, again with Noorderlicht. We had tea way up in one of Shibuya's skyscrapers, Shin Kajimura was helping with the language. Motomura sat there at this table, with smiling eyes and he said almost nothing. It was his presence that made us all feel safe.
How can you describe a man who is nothing but kind? Who is so important to Robert Frank, who at the same time pushed the work of many young photographers in Japan. He was always showing me someone's work - a small exhibition, a set of prints or a book dummy.
(Kazuhiko Motomura, in the library by Gallery Mole, Tokyo 1999)
It is strange we never understood each other's words while we talked. Until translated I could only guess what he said. By then it had mostly become practical. Perhaps we spoke with our eyes. One time in Amsterdam I had dinner with him, Jun Morinaga and Reinier, another close friend. There was nobody to help with the language; the conversation was about photo books, philosophy, the dinner, Kate. Now I realise it was mostly the personality of this one man that made all that possible. His presence alone implicated many layers of kindness and trust.
In recent years we had less and less contact. I wondered about him and his family and hoped everything was ok. I also wondered about his many friends, in Japan and around the world and I was sure everyone was missing him and wondering too.
SIMPLE, YET STRANGE The work of the Dutch Photographer Machiel Botman often consists of isolated fragments of reality, distorted in various ways to infuse a sense of beauty, and sometimes menace. Through Aug. 24, the Hague Museum of Photography is showing the first major retrospective of Mr. Botman's career from 1965 to 2012, including photographs that have never been published.
STILL LIFE Mr. Botman's black-and-white images reproduce a world in which time appears to stand still, a world of feeling and a certain sadness. Every 10 years he releases a book of photographs that aim to create a visual poem. Clockwise from top left: "Homecoming, 1994"; Window Toscana, 2002"; "Horse & Church, 2008"; and "IJke Flowers, 1993."