The sun-lit scenes in Dutch photographer Bertien van Manen’s latest publication, Easter and Oak Trees, were chosen out of her personal archive of holiday pictures taken in France and the Netherlands between 1970 and 1980.
The black and white snapshots of her children, her husband, and van Manen herself, depict a young beautiful family sharing intimate moments, relaxing together and enjoying the landscape around them. The impromptu images seem effortlessly yet expertly composed, and capture the not-too-distant past with a visual grammar of tranquillity and bliss. While family and friends are shown revelling in the warmth of spring, the images also produce a melancholic yearning for fleeting moments now gone: playing dress-up, swimming naked, exploring and resting, van Manen captures a bohemian freedom – children shown naked or even pretending to drink and smoke – that is discordant with contemporary perceptions of appropriateness. Never intended for commercial use or publication – it was her son who reminded van Manen of the archive’s existence – the images in Easter & Oak Trees ultimately awaken a restlessness for springtime delights, and a desire to enjoy the simple things in life, undisturbed and with loved ones.
"While family and friends are shown revelling in the warmth of spring, the images also produce a melancholic yearning for fleeting moments now gone"
Having started out in fashion photography, van Manen’s focus shifted after she discovered Robert Frank’s The Americans – a collection of snapshots of the people he had encountered throughout his travels across the states. Preferring to develop relationships with her subjects and capture this intimacy in her photos, van Manen, who cites Nan Goldin as one of her influences, travelled throughout the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s where she took photos of people and their homes, published in 1994’s A Hundred Summers, a Hundred Winters. She followed this up with a similar project in China, documented in East Wind West Wind, before returning to her archive of post-Soviet photos for Let’s sit down before we go in 2011.
Easter and Oak Trees is published Mack Books and is out on March 2.
Text by Ananda Pellerin
Ananda Pellerin is a London-based writer and regular contributor to AnOthermag.com.