SANNE SANNES at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam

I think the most exciting thing I have discovered, artwise, in The Netherlands in the three and a half years that I have been here, is modern Dutch photography. The Erwin Olaf show in The Hague’s Kunstmuseum impressed with its slick shininess and its eroto-surrealist undertones but what mesmerized me most were the shows by Gerard Fieret and Anton Heyboer, also in The Hague. These two photographers, plus Ed van der Elsken, formed what could almost be defined as a modern Dutch school of photography with their rough and ready imagery often depicting the seedier side of life, their disregard for such bourgeois considerations as focus and exposure and a willingness to crudely annotate or deface their prints and contact sheets, some of which looked as though they had been retrieved from a skip.

While the photos of Sanne Sannes are a lot more formal and controlled, there is still a roughness to them, a disregard for convention. Using only hand-held cameras, both 35mm and 6 x 6, and with a similar disregard for sharpness and exposure, his pictures are up close and personal and, to a certain extent, one almost feels like a voyeur intruding on some private relationship.

Even though the nude has dominated art since the first cave paintings, until the late 1960s the photography of naked ladies was deemed unacceptable for general consumption and banned in most countries. Naked lady photos had to be masked, metaphorically, as something respectable like naturism with its euphemistic Health and Efficiency magazine in the UK– small enough to quickly slip into any guilty pocket.

There were a few pre-Second World War photographers whose nude studies were considered art, namely Man Ray, Erwin Blumenfeld, Paul Outerbridge and André Kertész. Andre de Dienes and Edward Weston achieved a certain respectability in the late fifties and early sixties but that was still erotic rather than art – not that the two are mutually exclusive. Nude photography became pseudo-respectable in a coffee table book sort of way in the 60s and 70s with David Hamilton, Helmut Newton and Sam Haskins but, with the possible exception of Newton, the work was not considered art.

There is no doubt about the artistic credentials of Sanne Sannes. His work is of the heart and soul and is not slick and polished like the latter three photographers who came from the world of fashion. However, even though the photos are more technically polished, the work of Haskins has certain echoes of Sannes in the use of grain and framing.

Despite their explicitness and undeniable eroticism, there is no hint of pornography in Sannes’ work. The photos are more concerned with capturing atmosphere and emotion. His pictures went beyond photography and he had ambitions to become a film director – one of his short fuzzy films is showing at the exhibition. And, like Fieret and Heyboer, Sannes was willing and happy to manipulate his prints and negatives to achieve the results he was looking for.

These are not prissy, delicate studies but raw, immediate images which demand attention. Sannes died in a car accident in 1967 after having just turned thirty, so one will never know if his full potential had been achieved. His work received awards during his short lifetime and recognition in the years since his death. You will be able to see why in this exhibition.   Michael Hasted    6th July 2020

The exhibition continues until 30th August