Friday, June 30, 2006

Dutch fields

Hollandse Velden (Dutch Fields), Hans Van Der Meer’s collection of photographs of Dutch football, includes several poignant landscapes. The photographs are discussed in David Winner’s engaging book about the ‘neurotic genius of Dutch football’, Brilliant Orange, in which he links the spatial awareness of Dutch teams to national creativity in land use and landscape. For example, with the birth of Total Football in the late sixties: ‘just as Cornelis Lely in the nineteenth century conceived and executed the idea of creating giant new polders and altering the physical dimensions of Holland by dyke-building and exploiting the new technology of steam, so Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff exploited the new breed of players to change the dimensions of the football field.’

In seeking connections between the spatial awareness of footballers and artists, Winner talks to Rudi Fuchs, then director of the Stedelijk Modern Art Museum in Amsterdam. Fuchs argues that the Dutch have a natural instinct for measuring distance and selecting details – something that can be seen in their landscape painting and football. He says “there is a Dutch way of seeing space, the landscape. Cruyff sees in that Dutch way and he is admired for his innate understanding of the geometry and order of the pitch.”

Of course this may seem rather far-fetched, particularly given the Dutch team’s recent exit from the World Cup in an ill-tempered game that demonstrated little Dutch artistry (in Brilliant Orange Rudi Fuchs likened Marco Van Basten to Jan Vermeer – but that was Van Basten as a player, not a coach). Nevertheless this kind of argument reminds me of the way Michael Baxandall, for example, has sought to explain the art of Piero della Francesco in relation to the relatively sophisticated understanding of volume among the people of fifteenth century Florence.

In his career as director of the Stedelijk Rudi Fuchs was known for making interesting juxtapositions (as this article explains), so was no doubt open to the idea of considering Cruyff alongside other Dutch artists. Fuchs is also, incidentally, the author of a book about Richard Long, an artist whose straight-line approach I am tempted to compare to some of England’s “route one” play when they seem too nervous to pass the ball around and use space creatively.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just do not agree with Hans VD meer's Dutch Fields Photos.It seems he has been caught in that trap that many people find themselves in. That in the past everything old is better. In the book Winner uses ideas that examine a photo taken at an Ajax match. About 1 page of the book is taken up with explaining the photograph. We the view would not be able to recognise anyone in the picture or indeed its purpose. We would not even know the teams or the players. Winner makes stupid comments that are not backed up through Meer's techniques. This is a hyped photograph that does not deserve comment more than a child's attempt.

A photogaph can be said to be worth a thousand words - words of feeling in the heart of the viewer - not the thousand words of the photographer or the writer telling us what it means. Meer is also wrong about past football photography. Little has changed. Just look at and the World Cups way back to 1930 they are all the same types of photographs as today. Many of Meer's pictures do not even contain the ball! Even though the ball may not have to be in the photo it often helps with structure and balance. Wiiner, claims outlandish things regarding 14 players (and no ball or a ball that is not easy to identify!), how they are stationary, or jogging back. They are not they are frozen in time without a ball. Modern photos may have more focus but the modern viewer unlike in the fifities have a technologically developed awareness. I have saw many football photos and very few old football ones that show the passion of the sport - football, that is all about passion.

"point of tension", is an interesting concept but equally important as what might happen - is - what ACTUALLY is about to happen. What does happen. That connection to YOUR team that fills the heart with emotion. Winner, attempts to eplain the speed of play that does not exist in the photograph - they are all still scenes and with no focus on movement they are dead pictures. The advantages of concentrating the space brings the supporter an emotional attachment that Meer does not achieve.

It is interesting to note that Meer's European Fields to some extent recognises the importance of balance, composure, and the actual ball in those later photgraphs. I feel strongly that newspaper photographs have a totally different purpose than those that are sold for magazine publication. It would be astrange football world today, if we have photographs of our football idols no larger than a few pixels on our newspapers - surrounded by wide fields of green backed by high trees. In Meer's football world the sun always shines and it never rains. Just Perfect but not reality.

Imaging Zidane's World Cup final head butt through the lens of Meer. It would show Zidane surrounded by by a mass of green grass bending over and looking to tie his lace! Hardly reporting the event. Some use for someone unable to view the final. That would indeed be a lost 'moment of tension': although would could go somewhere else had look at Meer's players falling over and be pleased artistically though not excited.

Graham Duncan