“Long summer days spent climbing trees, kicking footballs and swimming in pristine lakes – these nostalgic memories belong to Bertien Van Manen and her family, captured between 1970 and 1980 in the Netherlands. Honest and tender, these photographs were actually forgotten by Van Manen and we have her son to thank for reminding her of their existence. The children grow up before our eyes and occasionally imitate their adult role models – sheepishly lighting cigarettes and drinking bottles of beer. There is a Blakean dynamic at play between the domains of innocence and experience – perhaps these family retreats were a chance to break from the norm, to forgo a few inhibitions and to bend a few rules. The book is presented in three sections – opening and closing on rough contact sheet crops, (complete with pen scrawls and stickers). The middle section contains larger, full-bleed images, and it is the interesting combination of the two that completes this very personal black and white family album.” – Hotshoe
I first came across Bertien Van Mahen’s work a few months ago, online in the mindless throes of a late night Pinterest sess, most likely. The images struck a chord. Instantly. But not because of the stark nudity, or the herb filled rolled joints in their tiny hands, but because a few of them reminded me of feelings I still cling to in the dusty visions of my own childhood summers. The simple nature of those long hours of the sun lit days of youth. On a blanket on the front lawn with a sandwich and my sister, watching the trees sway in the breeze. Out in the backyard in cotton rompers tied loosely at the shoulders, fighting boredom with a vengeance, dragging chalk sticks down along our cracked and dusty drive way, pretending to be mothers to our flock of naked baby dolls we tended to in a little wood playhouse near the ivy walled garage behind our house. Using the neighbor’s candy cigarettes to feign smoking while we “cleaned.” Testing out bad words. Making leafy “stews” from sticks and foraged tree droppings. Stacking rocks against the side yard to keep my imaginary horse named Sunny, locked in a narrow wedge between our fence and the neighbors. Magic in those mundane mornings. The hours so long they seemed forever stretching out before us. Light filled. Never ending. Powered by the simple oils of imagination. Defined by our idle back yard freedoms. Skinned knees and roller skates, sunburns, and an innate quest for mischief. So much of what shines through in these photos from the series Easter and Oak Trees. A book I purchased last month as part of an indulgent promise to myself to buy one book, from my long list of long time “wants,” a month. I wasn’t disappointed.
“The sun-lit scenes chosen out of her personal archive of holiday pictures taken in France and the Netherlands between 1970 and 1980.
The black and white snapshots of her children, her husband, and van Manen herself, depict a young beautiful family sharing intimate moments, relaxing together and enjoying the landscape around them. The impromptu images seem effortlessly yet expertly composed, and capture the not-too-distant past with a visual grammar of tranquillity and bliss. While family and friends are shown revelling in the warmth of spring, the images also produce a melancholic yearning for fleeting moments now gone: playing dress-up, swimming naked, exploring and resting, van Manen captures a bohemian freedom – children shown naked or even pretending to drink and smoke – that is discordant with contemporary perceptions of appropriateness. Never intended for commercial use or publication – it was her son who reminded van Manen of the archive’s existence – the images in Easter & Oak Trees ultimately awaken a restlessness for springtime delights, and a desire to enjoy the simple things in life, undisturbed and with loved ones.” – AnOther