From the moment that Courbet (1819 – 1877) decided to show the less aesthetic side of life in his paintings, the word ‘realism’ is associated with the rough side of our daily existence. This realism is not covering up the inadequacies in this world but consciously shows poverty, dirt and human failings. Consequently a positive image of the world became suspect. A beautiful and charming representation would evoke associations with sentimentality and dishonesty. The ‘real’ is presented as the opposite of the ‘ideal’ as well as the ‘unreal’.

However, the first wave of realism in western art has its roots in the representation of the ideal world: the revaluation of the physical as a reflection of the metaphysical, ideal world. In the early renaissance the influential Neo-Platonist Marsilio Ficino describes the world as a work of art, the most radiant creation of God.

For centuries the focus in art is on the ‘ideal’. Modern realism reacts with a reassessment of the ordinary and the reality of the unexceptional person. The ‘Stone Breakers’ by Courbet shocks its viewers: ordinary laborers are shown in non-heroic poses. The artist takes on the task to show the harsh side of life to his public. Starting with Courbet, realistic painters reveal more and more, that life can be sad, heavy, disgusting and filthy. In photography Stephen Shore (American Surfaces) and Boris Mikhailov (sad vagabonds) are good examples.

With the emphasis on the unpleasant side of life, the balance is fully upset. Realism shows the unvarnished darker side of society. Exactly as in renaissance realism, this modern realism shows a distorted view on the world. The world is not only beautiful, but neither only sad and dirty. The world is infinite.
The singularity of the works of Peter Gerritsen is his ability to show the whole spectrum of beauty and misery in his photography. He shows man as a city-dweller with an eye for vulnerability, unexpected moments of poetry, brutal facts and idyll. The abandoned hallways and alleys of Caïro are shown as a mysterious state, the bare doors do not show poverty but stimulate curiosity to find out what’s behind.
With his detached approach Peter Gerritsen gives his images extra connotations that can turn out ironic, enigmatic or lightly surreal. Uncertainty of meaning makes the images ambivalent. The viewer could see it all.
Judith Heeres, 2011

About my work
[nederlandse tekst hier]

In 1993 I finished my studies at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts, in the department of photographic design in The Hague (The Netherlands). In the years following, I was mainly active in the field of (multimedia) art in public spaces, as well as in private domains. Starting in 2009, I began focusing exclusively on photography. Now I travel around the world in search of suitable “staging” in big cities.

In my works I try to visualize or rather evoke the hidden and invisible.

I am greatly intrigued by photographing space and emptiness. The viewer’s eye is often drawn to “figurants” and forms that are present on the “stage”, people that are separated, isolated and doing inexplicable things. However, in my opinion, darkness, absence, and concealment have to play the leading role.

I work in public spaces but I try to detach the images from their geological, historical and (specific) cultural context. Working towards a scene in which a more or less static representation is fashioned, revealing a universal “meaning,” as well as a particular significance. By eliminating compelling elements of the picture and by sometimes omitting people, images tend to have a predominantly intuitive or abstract composition.

The works, all titled “no title”, form an opus, but must be able to stand and “live” alone all the same. I am exploring the possibility of fusing them together to compose an “image poem”; two or more images next to one another. These ‘sequences’, rhyming or contrasting, turn into verses of a larger entity.

Obviously the works are not circumstance, but fantasy. The fact that what I use is visual and real, contributes to the tension that arises within the paradox of what is truth and what is fiction in a photograph.

Over mijn werk

Na mijn afstuderen aan de KABK Den Haag in 1993 heb ik me een tijd bezig gehouden met ruimtelijk werk en installaties, zowel in de openbare ruimte als in het privédomein. Sinds 2009 leg ik me weer uitsluitend toe op fotografie. Ik reis de wereld over en zoek geschikte ‘ensceneringen’ in grote steden.

In mijn foto’s probeer ik het verborgene en onzegbare zichtbaar te maken.

Het fotograferen van ruimte en leegte fascineert me enorm. Daarbij ligt de focus vaak op ‘figuranten’ en gestaltes die daarin aanwezig zijn. Ik merk dat mijn fascinatie zich meestal toespitst op donkerte, afwezigheid en verhulling, op mensen die zich afzonderen, mensen die dingen doen waarvan je je afvraagt: waarom, waarvoor?

Ik fotografeer in de openbare ruimte maar probeer de beelden uit hun geografische context te halen.

Er moet een soort toneel ontstaan waarop zich min of meer statische voorstellingen afspelen die tegelijkertijd iets universeels als iets specifieks tot onderwerp hebben. Door het weglaten van te veel ‘dwingende’ beeldelementen en soms ook door het weglaten van de mensen kunnen er intuïtieve en soms ook bijna abstracte beelden ontstaan.

Van de werken, die een verzameling vormen maar ook op zichzelf moeten kunnen staan, onderzoek ik of ze aan elkaar te smeden zijn tot een beeldgedicht. Twee of meer beelden naast elkaar, die rijmen of met elkaar schuren vormen zo verzen in een groter geheel.

Mijn werk is dus niet documentair maar fictie. Dat ik daarbij de zichtbare werkelijkheid gebruik draagt bij aan de spanning die ontstaat door de paradox van wat echt is en wat niet.

Peter Gerritsen 2018


New Dawn Paper (january 24, 2016)
Pf, magazine for professional photography (interview by Diana Bokje, nr 5 2017)
100 Great Street Photographs (David Gibson, 2017)
Vice (Haroon Ali, 2013)