PARENTS at the The Hague Fotomuseum

Detail from Corbino’s Mijn Vader in Mijn Studio

One of the current exhibitions at the The Hague Fotomuseum is called Parents. It is the farewell exhibition of curator Wim van Sinderen. He will leave at the end of this year, after working at this museum since it opened.

For Parents, van Sinderen selected works by over thirty photographers. The subject is of course, parents and their relationship with the photographer. Some photos include both parents, some even the photographer, while others show just a father or mother, or an absent parent.

All relationships from close and happy to dysfunctional are represented. Emotions range from admiration and love, to sadness and shall we say: dislike. There are series, as well as installations and unique portraits. Of course the works include colour photos, but also black-and-white portraits.

Many photos I found striking – revealing much about the relationship of photographer and subject. Take for instance the two black-and-white portraits of preachers at the start of this exhibition.

One son captures his posing father in a three-piece suit: every bit the inflexible reverend, from sharp crease in trousers up to immaculate moustache. The other son photographed his father – also a reverend – as naked as Adam! Corbino’s father was so proud of this portrait, he showed it to all and sundry. Seems not all of his flock appreciated this reverend’s pride in his son.

Slightly further into this exhibition are two photos of empty rooms with heaps of discarded papers. The wallpaper, the stuccoed ceilings, the doors and windows: I immediately though what an impressive canal-house this must have been. Despite the ravages, these rooms still ooze wealth.

Yet the exhibition text explains, the story is not a happy one. The photos are from Eddo Hartmann’s series Here Lives My Home. The photographer took them the first and last time he returned to his father’s house, after his father had died.

He found it exactly as he had left it, on the day his mother took her kids and fled a life full of domestic violence and a likely life-threatening relationship. There are more photos by other photographers, telling similar moving stories.

In the second exhibition space, there is a wonderful hazy portrait of a naked woman? Take a good look: it shows her stoma. Next it is an equally haunting series, taken by Nancy Borowick. The single portrait as well as the series illustrate parents and photographers coming to terms with cancer, illness, death. Not far from them is a beautiful animation of a vase of tulips by Erwin Olaf. It commemorates his mother.

Not all photos are like this. Surreal, as well as hilarious photos are also included. Towards the end, there is even an installation with a happy end. It includes a vintage car – in the middle of being restored.

The story behind it? Dad’s hobby is restoring vintage cars, but dad suffered a stroke and doctors predicted he would not recover. Loving child takes many, many photos of this last never-to-be-finished project. The series travels to several museums the world over. Against the odds, dad recovers and is now eagerly and very impatiently awaiting the return of his ‘last project’. 

Visit this exhibition for a laugh, a cry, all the love it captures. Visit it to think about your own relations with parents, siblings, family. Visit it to learn more about techniques, or to get inspired. Above all: read the stories and admire the selected photos in this fare-well exhibition by Wim van Sinderen, which is a must-see!  Kate Deni   14th July 2022

Parents at the Fotomuseum Den Haag runs until 13th November 2022.