My daughter and I go to the Fotomuseum (The Hague Museum of Photography) as often as we can. The expositions change a few times a year and kids until 18 years old can enter for free. This time we went to see the first major retrospective of the Dutch photographer Jan Banning which runs until September 2nd. I absolutely loved this exposition but my daughter did not enjoy it at all. I’ll tell you why.
Jan Banning was born in Almelo on 4 May 1954 to Indo-Dutch parents. Before taking up photography in 1981 he studied social and economic history. The influence of his studies is omnipresent in his work. Banning presents a visual interpretation of social and political circumstances in different countries, as he travels the world attempting to visualise abstract concepts like state power, politics, the impact of war, justice and mostly injustice.
Banning has won numerous prizes for his photographic series, including a World Press Photo Award and eleven prizes in the Silver Camera competition. His photographs regularly appear in newspapers and magazines like The Guardian, Time and GEO.
His Bureaucratics (2003-2007) series is his most famous photoreportage and it is my favorite. Banning photographed public servants at their desks in eight different countries. The differences are impressive. From an empty hut in Liberia to chaotic paper towers in India and hunting trophies in Texas. There are so many details in these photos.
One of the men on the pictures only earns 17 euro a month while the other earns around 4500 euro a month. It’s very interesting to see and read but it is also very confronting and sad.
Between 2007 and 2009 Banning and journalist Hilde Janssen travelled through Indonesia, where he took portraits of women who were forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese army in the Second World War.
The women, now at a very advanced age, gaze into the camera lens with piercing eyes. This is Banning’s way of breaking the taboo in Asia on the story of the thousands of women who were forced to work as sex slaves.
Law & Order
In the Law & Order series (2015) Banning compares the criminal justice systems of four countries: Colombia, France, Uganda and the United States. He focuses on the main institutions in each system: the police, the courts and the prison system.The difference is absurd. Of course we all know there are enormous differences between countries but seeing the images next to each other is extremely powerful.
His work on Red Utopia (2017) also took Banning to several different continents. A hundred years after the Russian Revolution he travelled to India, Italy, Nepal, Portugal and Russia to visit the few places where the spirit of Communism lives on.
The ugly side of the world
Jan Banning’s projects tell a story and the stories are tragic. He shows us a side of things that people should not be proud of. He shows us the ugly side of the world. There is this one series about Vienamese victims of a chemical used by the American armed forces during the Vietnam war which is horrifying. My daughter wanted to leave the exhibition after seeing that particular series. She loves museums and photography but the subjects of this exposition were too heavy on her.
In the late 50s Gemeentemuseum Den Haag was one of the first museums in the Netherlands to start exhibiting photographs. Over the years the photography collection was enriched to such an extent that in 2002 director Wim van Krimpen established a separate museum to house and show it. The Museum of Photography has staged a number of great expositions: Man Ray, Anton Corbijn, Robin de Puy, Sally Mann and many more.
The Museum of Photography lies next to the Gemeentemuseum and shares a building with GEM museum of contemporary art. One can buy a combination ticket and visit all three. There will be a large Erwin Olaf exposition next year in Fotomuseum and Gemeentemuseum.