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Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Bertien van Manen: Beyond Maps and Atlases

Great - this is the last book on my pile of books to review. And it's a good one.

The blog will have a break for a while.

Beyond Maps and Atlases is Bertien van Manen's latest exploration into the existential nature of photography and place. As with all her work, the pictures in the book are conversational in tone, an extension of the van Manen self with snapshot pictures made with serendipitious roughness.

But while in previous books like A Hundred Summers, A Hundred Winters, East Wind and West Wind, van Manen is looking outwards towards worlds and peoples she is getting to know, in Beyond Maps and Atlases, the work is more inward-looking. She's part of it.

In this sense, it shares more with Easter and Oak Trees, van Manen's fabulous and joyful version of the family album. She's in that work in the fullest sense, invested in her husband and her children, invested in a representation of her younger self.

Van Manen is also evident in Beyond Maps and Atlases, but in a far less celebratory sense. Here there is a tiredness and a sadness that link to the mythologies of Ireland, that are projected onto the symbols that van Manen finds in Ireland, symbols that are ultimately left behind in a miasma of otherworldliness. This is a depiction of something out of reach. You feel the touch of grief in the work.

Maybe that's because you're supposed to. The introduction to the work on the Mack website goes like this;‘At first, working in Ireland I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. My husband had died. I dispensed with the people and reflected on the atmosphere. I was guided by a feeling and a search, a longing for some kind of meaning in a place of myths and legends. There was mystery and endlessness at the edge of a land beyond which is nothing but a vast expanse.’

So the images link in to this atmosphere of mortality. Van Manen merges with Ireland and with photography and a the absence becomes apparent. It's an afterlife of a book, of spectral presences, of figures covered in a mist-like haze, of those older Irish women who really 'know'. Her husband isn't there and, in some way, neither is van Manen.

Read an interview with Bertien van Manen here.

Buy the book here.

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