Four hundred years ago, the Dutch arrived in Manhattan. What would those early settlers think if they arrived in our city today? We can’t know, of course. But through Dutch Seen, an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, we can view the city through the lens of contemporary Dutch photographers. And what they chose to focus on—restaurants, dogs, ordinary people, celebrities—tells a great deal about them and about us.
Hendrik Kerstens photographs his muse, his daughter, Paula, channeling Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring. Paula’s creamy complexion and clear blue eyes convey an old world purity and innocence. Her headgear, however, is pure New York. In one photo, she wears a Yankee cap, in another a fashionable furry hat and leather jacket. She also dons a flange, looking like something out of a Rembrandt painting, a napkin, and, for the recyclers among us, a plastic bag.
Misha de Ridder, who once traveled across the U.S. photographing forests, searched for “the quality that made New York an ideal place to visit.” The macro photos of grass and other environmental elements that grace our city caught his fascination and make for attention-grabbing photos. While De Ridder avoided people in his photos, Arno Nollen created a collage of New Yorkers who, to his eye, convey a certain “Dutchness.” See if you agree.
Wijnanda Deroo’s photos reflect the diversity that is New York through the city’s many restaurants. He features Tavern on the Green, Papaya Dog, at 42nd Street and Ninth Avenue, and Milon, at 93 First Avenue. Like De Ridder, Deroo did not include people.
Hellen Van Meene’s photos are all about the people found here, specifically adolescent girls, a group she is famous for capturing on film. These images are disturbing and haunting, conveying how young woman can be “lost in a world of contemplation.” In these photos, they just appear lost. They are shown against city backdrops that seem bleak, even threatening.
If adolescent girls appear fragile, the stray dogs captured by Charlotte Dumas do not. Dumas is known for exploring the relationship between animals and humans. And what could be more New York than dogs? Yet, she doesn’t photograph the pampered dogs of Park Avenue, but the survivors who live on their own. We are told that the stray dogs of New York live longer because they are strong. A great deal to contemplate here.
There were few celebrities in 1609 Manhattan. Now, of course, they live among us. Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, well-regarded fashion photographers, present a gallery of who’s who, including Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, Uma Thurman, Shalom Harlow, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Coming out of this exhibit we certainly understand how the Dutch, represented by this group of photographers, see our city, the infrastructure, environment, and people. Seeing ourselves through their eyes is, indeed, eye opening.
Through September 13
Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue