A quest for the ultimate, beautiful, meaningful picture

How dark grey black-and-white can be!

Last Sunday was the last day of a large photo exhibition in Leeuwarden. I took this final opportunity to go and see it. The exhibition was part of ‘Noorderlicht’ which had Central and Eastern Europe as its theme this year. The exhibition ‘Behind Walls’ was indeed large, with hundreds of photos made during the years of communism. Additionally, another exhibition in the same ‘Friese museum’, called ‘Beyond Walls’, showed work from after the fall of the Wall. Of course there were great prints to be seen, but I must admit that the overwhelming feeling with which I came away was a dark grey feeling of oppression, loneliness and hopelessness. It is as if black-and-white photography is only used to document sad situations.

Even the prictures from recent years in ‘Beyond Walls’ were largely in black and white and were largely about the leftovers from the old regime, rahter than giving an impression of new times starting, now possibilties and a bit of joy in the world. While in my travels to that part of Europe (I have worked on projects with colleagues in Central and Eastern Europe since 1991) I found the situation more balanced. True, the transition was a hard time, but people were happy that they were free to speak their minds, to start new things and generally to ‘come back to Europe’. True, too, that the transition left everyone less secure than before, and some groups were sadly left behind (the glue-sniffing boys in Romania I have met myself, not just seen in the pictures this Sunday). But I had hoped for a little less gloom, a lighter shade of grey.

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