Bertien van Manen’s blissful images of family holidays in den Eikenhorst (literally meaning Nest of Oak Trees) from the 1970s are the subject of her latest publication, Easter and Oak Trees.
It was her son, one of the primary subjects in the series, who recently reminded van Manen of the archive. Lightness dominates these black and white images, and the obvious pleasure, family warmth and security of her children and family in the less politically correct ‘70s. Children pose, play and run but ultimately the photographs communicate the intimate comfort that comes with family, uninhibited in their expression and exposure to the camera. Easter and Oak Trees offers an enticing invitation to share a small part of this familial idyll.
The images raise the question, could a photographer still do this in 2013? Could she photograph her children naked, footloose and carefree, acting up to the camera with fake cigarettes and a bottle of beer? Or is this spontaneity, this innocence, lost thanks to rancid affairs and small-minded moralism.
Whilst this work is some of the earliest made by van Manen, it has all the qualities found in her mature work. “One recognizes the lyrical looseness, the sensuality and the melancholy but also a striving for balance and composition. Her photographs look like free, insouciant improvisations on themes, that later, in ‘a Hundred Summers a Hundred Winters’ or in ‘East Wind West Wind’ have taken shape in a more outspoken way.” — Hripsimé Visser