A quest for the ultimate, beautiful, meaningful picture

Oscar van Alphen – Dutch photographer

Photo magazine ‘Focus’ in its December 2008 issue has an article on photographer Oscar van Alphen–a bit of an advertorial, since they are publishing a book about him. I did not find his documentary photos that remarkable, but was triggered by the remark that he was a pioneer because of his ‘asking often fundamental questions about the medium that others found to be essential only much later’. How could I–thinking that I too am interested in the question of what does photography do?–be unaware of him?

After all, he is mentioned in the standard anthology ‘Fotografen in Nederland’ (not at Amazon, but sold by Proxis) and there I may find the clue why I was not triggered to his work: one of his major books is praised for being an ‘associative whole’ and that is the type of artistry that puts me off: I want a formal Auseinandersetzung with basic questions, even if I have to admit that photography works more directly through the senses than through formal logic and reasoning. At least you should know why it works the way it works, I’d think. Stil this Van Alphen seems an interesting guy to look into. Some of his photos from Amsterdam (oh, how 1968!) are found at the local council archive, and one of his apparently most famous installations is revived in an exhibition right now in the Rotterdam Fotomuesum.

If I find time [big if!], I’ll check his basic questions (he wrote some books about photography) and then I’ll come back to him in due course.

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