LOEK VAN VLIET at Acme Studios in The Hague

In Germany there is an on-going dispute between Munich and Hamburg as to which is the best and most beautiful city. I once heard a Heimatmusik song claiming “Hamburg is more beautiful because there are no mountains to block the view”, or words to that effect.

Nothing to get in the way of the Dutch landscapes that Loek van Vliet explores in his River Reflections – Dialogue with a River, in this case the mighty river Rhine which is at its widest and most potent in The Netherlands. Horizontal lines of dyke, water and horizon run in perfect parallels in these pictures in which he seeks to marry nature, past and present, here fixing the viewer to share his particular almost static viewpoint.

The body of this exhibition, more of an installation really, presents a series of quasi identical views, subtly manipulated digitally, with only minimal changes of detail. It is an invitation to read the images in succession a bit like the pages of a book. For me it became a little like spot-the-difference. Van Vliet’s intention, it was pointed out, was to gently ease the viewer into his very personal perspective.

For a little light relief from the inescapable barren horizontals of the Rhine landscapes there were a couple more colourful and dramatic photographs taken in the Lake District in England with snow-capped peaks, rocky coastlines and very blue waters.

Almost unnoticed on a side table I discovered a beautiful book of his other landscape photography of forests and more dramatic, giant landscapes, some of which seemed to be photographed through a haze of fog – very poetic.

When it comes to photography nowadays it is becoming more and more difficult to work out whether the image is what the photographer responded to and captured in situ or what has been enhanced/altered digitally, thus manipulating viewers and asking them to respond not to a wonderful place on this earth but to wonderful technical virtuosity – the jury is out.  

Though still young, Van Vliet’s work has found its place in many important Dutch institutions, including the Art Collection of the University of Leiden and the Dutch Senate.  Astrid Burchardt, 7th April 2024