In 1998, Rik Suermondt interviewed Harry Pennings on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Galerie Pennings. The text gives a good idea of what Harry intended. A beautiful characteristic of time. Hence a ‘reprise’.
The interview appeared in De Fotograaf (no. 4) 1998, pp. 19-21.
Galerie Pennings: a close eye on photography for 20 years (part 2)
(for part 1 see blog #9)
Can you tell me what kind of audience came to the gallery in 1979, and how it is now?
"In the early days it was very unclear to discover a profile in it. The audience mainly consisted of visitors to the design store. People who buy a Le Corbusier chair generally have a broad cultural interest. And that mixed with an audience from the photo clubs and to a more limited extent from the visual arts. Now it is primarily people who are interested in photography from the perspective of the visual arts. In fact, that is a rapid development.
"For example, when I look at the last Documenta in Kassel where curator Catherine David has integrated photography in an autonomous way in architecture, literature, film and visual arts, I even have the idea that the museums are gradually opening their eyes. Even in the Netherlands. There, it was always said that people wanted to show photography, but only from the perspective of visual arts and without looking up the photography circuit. I think that is nonsense. Because if they don't do research in the photography circuit, they will never meet the people who work from the medium itself. And I find it interesting to change that point of view from my gallery, and to show those museums that photography is a discipline with its own history and its own theory.
It is also very necessary because within the Dutch museums people always stick to the same names: Bernd and Hilla Becher, John Baldesarri, Richard Long and Hamish Fulton: all of them people who make photography from the visual arts. Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth and Andreas Gurski - the students of the Bechers - are also shown en masse; from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam to the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven. As if nothing else happens!"
Photo Manifestation Eindhoven
As a board member, Harry Pennings is closely involved in the organization of the Photo Manifestation Eindhoven, which was held for the third time this spring with the theme 'A world imagined'. (See blog #6)
How does Eindhoven distinguish itself from all other festivals in the Netherlands and Europe?
"Our goal is to organize an exhibition every four years, but that period was too long, so that in the intervening period we now hold an interim manifestation, which is a bit smaller. So the rhythm is two years, four years and again two years. But the answer to your question is still quite clear: there are already so many festivals that do the same, they overlap considerably. And of course you have to pay tribute to the 'Rencontres de la Photographie' in Arles, the first photo festival that started 27 years ago. They set out a very clear line, which eventually almost resulted in a down fall. Since three years they have been developing a new identity in Arles, and with success." (See blog #1)
“The biggest change is that a different artistic director is now appointed for each episode, making the choice much more explicit and showing more unity. In 1997 it was the Catalan artist / photographer Juan Foncuberta, who went in search of the limits of photography as a visual medium. His signature was very different from that of Christian Caujolle, former photo editor of the French newspaper 'Libération', who in the previous year mainly showed documentary photography. Despite the fact that I am not so concerned with documentary photography, I have to say that Caujolle has succeeded in bringing so many interesting things to the surface that I think it is one of the most successful events of the past 25 years. ”
“Returning to the question of how you can develop your own identity, that is very difficult. Foto Manifestatie Eindhoven is still in its infancy. I think that our identity could be partly shaped by the fact that amateur photography is so emphatically present in Brabant, and in particular in the Eindhoven region. Nowhere else is such a large density of photo clubs. Yet it is still difficult to combine the amateur event in an appropriate way with professional and autonomous photography. You also need a big name to attract people. At our first manifestation it was the retrospective exhibition by Don McCullin. But I still think that there is a profile in amateur photography that sets Eindhoven apart from other festivals in the Netherlands and Belgium."
You said that in the past you have often been to photo festivals in Arles, Paris and Houston to inform you. Do you have any tips for Dutch photographers who want to distinguish themselves with free work? Which festivals can they visit?
"Last year in Naarden there was a discussion about how to get known abroad. There was quite a bit of dissatisfaction about the observation that - unlike the 'older youngsters', such as Lydia Schouten and Diana Blok - this new generation of boys and girls do far too little for their promotion. I think there is also something missing at the academies, where there is too little attention to learn students how they should sell their photos; communicating not only with their work, but also with their target groups. And that's why they have to go to those festivals. And then you'll have to try and get introduced to them, and that also requires communication skills. But when I meet a photographer at the 'Rencontres' in Arles whose work I appreciate I will certainly try to put him or her in contact with people I think are important to him and her. With an introduction it is always useful when someone else does that for you instead of having to approach the person in question."
“Arles is still the most important festival for autonomous photography. Cahors is also recommended, but I don't know if that will be continued. It is less known, but has many direct relationships with autonomous photography. It is always in June, and is sponsored by Cartier. Furthermore, 'Fotofeis' in Scotland is an interesting festival that takes place simultaneously in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Sheffield, and attracts hundreds of thousands of people. That is a good idea, by the way; that cooperation of three cities in Scotland and Northern England. I myself would like to develop something similar in the future; a supra-national photo festival in which Antwerp, Breda, Hasselt and Maastricht participate with their art academies, together with Eindhoven. There is so much artistic talent in the Southern Netherlands; that is at least equivalent to what happens above the rivers."
Finally, Harry Pennings shows me two beautiful portfolios by Elspeth Diederix and Viviane Sassen, who exhibited in his gallery early this year. The portfolios are bound in folders, and contain some prints of the work shown, supplemented by a short characterization on individual text sheets. 28 portfolios have since been published. The edition varies between 12 and 25, and they cost f 400 per item. (400 guilders. Also see blog #3)
How did you come up with the idea to compile these portfolios?
"I wanted to offer the opportunity to sell photography for an affordable price, because a large part of my audience continued to find it expensive. To be able to lower the price, I had to give it a good marketing concept. And then the idea came up to make a kind of bonbon box: a precious-looking, valuable object containing some photos of the exhibitor and a contemplative text, which gives the buyer a little easier access to the world of thought of the artist and / or photographer. A standard folder works very well, by the way, because some collectors want to have the collection complete."
The easy access concept of the gallery is also reflected in the idea of Harry Pennings to select a young colleague with each exhibitor, who makes his debut in the stairwell at the same time. Incidentally, the same high quality requirements also apply to this debutant.
It may be clear; twenty years of experience is fully used to give Galerie Pennings even more appeal as an important center for artistic photography.