Anthon Beeke, tutor at a distance
Without ever realising it, Anthon Beeke contributed to me becoming the photographer I am now.
While I originally studied journalism as a writer, with photography as a minor, writing did not in the end appeal to me. And I was also only moderately enthusiastic about journalistic photography. In the early 1980s, an era of enormous unemployment among young people, I took photographs as a volunteer for the journal of the ‘Union for Homosexuals’ COC. And while the massive demonstrations at that time ensured quite some photographic excitement, on many of the photos there was always someone with a garish shirt attracting to much attention. This upset me. I yearned for something different, but I didn’t know what.
Until one day I walked aimlessly into Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum and for the first time saw a pointer to what could be something different. At the entrance, there were several posters by Anthon Beeke. As if struck by lightning, my attention was drawn by the design and above all the photographic image he had used to illustrate the play Troilus and Cressida by the Globe Theatre Company. A black & white photograph of a detail of a naked woman leaning forward, saddled like a horse, rubbed with oil and, at the centre of the picture, a full view of her ass and hairy vagina. The chubby thighs were tightly constricted in leather straps. I was stupefied and knew at once: that’s what I want to do. The impressive picture was what put me on the path to staged studio photography.
Ten years after my decision to work in the studio was made, I was asked by Ivo van Hove to photograph the posters for Zuidelijk Toneel, the sequel to Globe. My first photo was an unintended ode to the work of Anthon. I didn’t photograph a woman from behind, but a man from the front, also naked. His member and pubic hair were clearly visible, his body was made black and oiled, he held a cow’s heart in each hand and the legs were not bound up, but a coarse rope was tied around his neck. Anthon’s picture was in black & white, mine was partly purple and red. Looking back, I see his influence unmistakably. Just like him, I was aiming to draw the attention of the chance passerby, who only takes a second to glance at the posters. And just like Anthon, the human body was and is an important source of inspiration.
By chance, throughout those years Anthon Beeke was creating all the images for Gerardjan Rijnders’ theatre company Toneelgroep Amsterdam. This was an enormous challenge for me. I was young and aggressive and I wanted my images to come somewhere close to the eloquence of his designs and photography. About every two months, I cycled wide-eyed around the city (which was then still fairly billboard-free) looking for his images and mine. Filled with the urge to compete, I peered to see whether my image was more prominent or his. I often had to admit reluctantly that I lost the battle, but occasionally I was on target and then I couldn’t suppress my delight.
In this way, Anthon was my tutor at a distance for several years. Through his work on the advertising boarding’s, I learned how to communicate in a few seconds. I thought it was also a relief, this spring, when I cycled through the city, to see that his signature was still unmistakably present; everywhere I saw posters with a face hidden behind an embroidered ring with several embroidered staring eyes. In a fraction of a second I recognised the hand of the master and I was again made aware of the KunstRai. A fox may lose his hair, but never his great talent. I’ll always be grateful to him.
text Erwin Olaf
photo Anthon jumps
1999, photographed by Barbara van Ittersum