Until April 7, 2024, Fotomuseum Den Haag (The Hague, Netherlands) is showing photos by Lucebert. We know Lucebert (1924-1994) as a double talent: painter and poet. Less well known is the photographer Lucebert. Yet he also practiced this art seriously for a while and with certain success.
We know from Wim Hazeu’s biography of Lucebert (Hazeu, 2018), that Lucebert finds a job as a retoucher at photographer Henning at the Spui in Amsterdam at a very young age – he is around fifteen by then. This work suits him well, and he continues to do so during the war years, until his controversial registration for the Arbeitseinsatz in Nazi Germany in 1943. In this way, he becomes familiar with the medium of photography from an early age.
Arrested in Berlin
In the early 1950s, Lucebert purchases a camera, initially with the idea of capturing his growing children on camera. However, he is captivated by the medium and broadens his view to the world around him. In addition, the income from his poetry and drawing work is not going well in these years, and photography is therefore an additional means of subsistence for him during this period. He also takes photographs during his stay in communist Berlin in the autumn of 1955, where he stays with his family at the invitation of Bertolt Brecht. Hazeu describes how the naive Lucebert is arrested while taking photographs and is only released after many hours, through the intercession of Bertolt Brecht, his host.
Fair, Bergen (1954-1955) – photo Lucebert
Collection Nederlands Fotomuseum
Lucebert has an exhibition in the spring of 1956, including his Berlin photos, in La Cave International on Amsterdam’s Herengracht. The exhibition receives positive reviews and leads to two reporting assignments. The review in the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant of May 2, 1956 (Bslr, 1956) is too fascinating and informative not to be reproduced in full, so we do so here:
“Lucebert, the poet who also paints and draws, has sometimes been called the Jean Cocteau of the Netherlands in our paper, although his artistic versatility has not yet extended to theatre and film. Yet his visual artistry appears to encompass more than what a brush and drawing pen can achieve. For the past six months he has devoted himself seriously to photography. He himself is of the opinion that photography is closer to poetry than to painting. In a sense, one can sympathize with him, because photography and poetry have in common that their practitioners are instruments par excellence, tools of ‘the moment’, of the inspiration à la minute, while painting – wíth prose writing – is especially subject of corrective considerations, which require a lot of time. It is strange that Lucebert’s photographs, about forty of which are currently on display in the student and artist restaurant La Cave Internationale on the Herengracht, give little indication that they are the work of the experimental (or atonal) poet, whose poetry here and there has caused quite a bit of genteel consternation in this country because of its wanton extravagance. Anyone expecting some ‘wild’ photo montage, will come out pleasantly disappointed. Here there is absolutely no question of a life ‘with the branched crapauds with the wooded doubleyoucees in the keeled smoke screens of deluded photographs.’ It turns out that the more (and more) ‘stilled’ power of Lucebert’s poetry is very visibly expressed in his photographic work. The photographs, which he took in East Berlin, in Bulgaria and in our own country, are of a captivating eloquence, quietly convincing, clear in intent although muted in tone. They are reminiscent of his lines: ‘…I try to express in a poetic way, that is to say simplicity’s enlightened waters, the space of full life.’ There is also another line that may be useful in this exhibition, namely: ‘and everywhere flows, flows my eye: river of photography.’ What characterizes Lucebert’s photographs first and foremost is that they do not so much put people in the foreground as in the foreground of a background. His human figures derive their essence mainly from their (dead and deathly) environment, which strangely enough fulfils the function of a determining element more than themselves; that influences or, better said, completes them.
Most of the photos in this collection express gentle irony; irony about mourning attributes, about ‘the meaningless word’, written on the wall like a mene tekel, or about the decor of an entire city full of emptiness. One gets the strong impression that Lucebert wanted to see these side issues as main issues, which is of course his right; man here is nothing more than his own background.
In his young life, this poet had a ‘real’ profession only once. That was after he had attended an arts and crafts institute, where he had been allowed to study as a lanky youth because he showed so much talent. He then became a retoucher for a (what was called at the time:) ‘art photographer’. In this position he learned to distinguish the small nuances. When one looks closely at his present photos, one sees that in this work that ‘small nuance’ dominates everything; the elusive moment of seeing, the flash of light in the flowing river. Moreover, this brings one closer to the poet, which is certainly no less important, also because of the supposed relationship between poetry and photography!”
Circus Van Bever, Twente (1956) – photo Lucebert
Collection Nederlands Fotomuseum
A sales exhibition of photos and drawings by Lucebert in the Bergen (Noord-Holland) café-restaurant De Rustende Jager (The Resting Hunter) in the summer of 1956, including work by Jaap Mooy and Gerrit Kouwenaar, led to a village riot, as we read in Hazeu’s biography. A journalist from the Alkmaarsche Courant comes out with a fierce rant and a Bergen pastor goes on a crusade. Even the Bergen mayor is against the exhibition, but legal action is not taken. The riot generates a lot of publicity and leads to a new photography assignment for Lucebert in the east of the Netherlands.
Unfettered and intuitive
Fotomuseum Den Haag characterizes Lucebert’s photographic oeuvre as follows: “People are central to his work, from his immediate loved ones to passers-by on the street. Lucebert uses the medium in a completely unfettered and intuitive way. It produces a unique oeuvre, full of poetic and evocative images.”
The period in which Lucebert takes photographs is relatively short and ends in 1966. He experiences – still according to the Fotomuseum – photography as strenuous and exhausting. Ultimately, he sees himself more as a painter and poet.
Fotomuseum Den Haag is located near Kunstmuseum Den Haag, at Stadhouderslaan 43, The Hague (Netherlands), so a visit to both museums can easily be combined.
The exhibition features approximately fifty vintage prints from both the Lucebert family archive and the museum collection. It runs until April 7, 2024, and can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. On December 24 and 31, there are slightly adjusted opening hours: from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. The museum is closed on December 25 and January 1.
The museum can be reached by telephone and email at +31 (0)70 338 11 44 and firstname.lastname@example.org. For the other exhibition offerings, see www.fotomuseumdenhaag.nl.
Bslr [= Herman Besselaar?] (1956). Lucebert als fotograaf, in: Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant d.d. May 2, 1956.
Hazeu, W. (2018). Lucebert, biografie. Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij.