OUT OF FOCUS at the Zerp Galerie, Rotterdam

There are many things that define art. High up on the list of qualifying requirements, a prerequisite in fact, is that it should surprise, that it makes us look and think about things differently, see things through fresh eyes. Most of the pictures in the current exhibition of photographs, Out of Focus at the Zerp Galerie in Rotterdam, do just that. Of the six photographers shown, three do it particularly successfully.

Bart van Damme’s simple but powerful pictures are of tips – giant stock piles of coal and other minerals around the port of Rotterdam. From what, for many, would seem dull and mundane, ugly even, Bart has managed to conjure up magic landscapes that take us to new and foreign countries. SimiIar, in some ways, are Dolph Kessler’s photos of waves, seascapes if you like. There is a strange juxta positioning here – the power, strength and movement of the sea is plain to see but by freezing with the click of a shutter the ocean becomes static, a powerful and unknown landscape. As in Bart van Damme’s pictures, we see mountains and stark desert vistas which we find both inviting and threatening.

Judit Hettema’s aerial photographs turn towns and countryside into abstract expressionist paintings, rich in texture and colour, putting me in mind of Anslem Kiefer’s paintings, while her Nyctalopia picture shows a tree seemingly staring into an empty room. Wouter Le Duc’s photographs also take us into silent rooms with shafts light creating what he calls “landscapes of my mind”. Arjan Post’s landscape photos also have a very painterly quality to them with a slightly more soothing feel to them and their 4:1 aspect ratio gives the subject a new perspective.

For me, the outstanding photographs in the exhibition really did involve seeing things with a new eye – literally. Tineke Schuurmans’ beautiful but deeply disturbing pictures are of pig’s eyes – a single eye, in close up. What strikes you immediately is how different they all are, how full of character each one is and, worst of all, how almost human they appear. Probably not many of us have looked a pig straight in the eye but had we done so, had we any sensitivity and compassion, we would be obliged to reassess our opinion of them. We all know that pigs are intelligent and we all know that most are cruelly forced to live in appalling, unspeakable conditions to satisfy our unquenchable desire for meat. From these photos the intelligence is painfully clear and, though it may only be in my imagination, so is the resignation and despair as well.

I haven’t eaten pork for nearly thirty years but if I still did, seeing these photographs would certainly provide a powerful incentive for stopping. Pigs may not always be thought of as beautiful but these photographs are beautiful and make the pigs look beautiful too.   Michael Hasted  July 2017

Out of Focus continues until 9th July