From 4 December 2021, the Nederlands Fotomuseum, together with the Steenbergen Foundation, proudly presents the 24th edition of the Steenbergen Stipendium, the country’s leading award for the best final exam photography exhibitions by Dutch art academy students. Since 1998, the Steenbergen Stipendium has been the leading award in the Netherlands for young, talented photographers, and has been accompanied since its first edition with an exhibition featuring the nominated works in the Nederlands Fotomuseum.
The jury prize and public award
The jury members, Merel Bem, Juul Hondius, and Henk Wildschut, selected five photographic final exam exhibitions for the 2021 Steenbergen Stipendium. The winner of the jury prize receives an incentive prize of €5,000 from the Steenbergen Foundation to support the young photographer in their future development. Visitors to the exhibition may also cast their vote for one of the nominees for the public award. On 16 December 2021, the jury will announce the winner at the Nederlands Fotomuseum. A jury report will also be published containing a critical review on the quality of the graduation exhibitions at each art academy visited.
The five nominees are listed below. The jury provides a brief summary of each work.
Rust Roest © Laura Bouman
Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam
Laura Bouman spent her childhood surrounded by vehicles. Cars, motorbikes – she has never known a time when she, her friends or her family wasn’t driving in, riding on, or tinkering with moving machines, as if they were a technical extension of their own body parts. The stains on the floor and the carpet, the greasy fingerprints on doorknobs, and her father’s damaged hands constantly reminded her that the people around her spent every day working with machines and maintaining them, as she wrote in her thesis.
All that comes together in her final exam presentation, Rust Roest. With a thorough, yet playful and uncomplicated approach, Bouman researches the relationship between the human body and the vehicles that move us, both physically and mentally. Just as tinkering with engines and leaky exhaust systems engenders a curiosity for materials and their qualities, so Bouman experimented with different forms and ways to bring her story to light. The material, the work floor – you can almost smell it. Her work doesn’t only include photographs; she also presents drawings, photocopies, a video, and a motorcycle helmet made of soft plastic that was clearly made with loving care and attention. Her installation is a striking, larger-than-life and in-depth look at her fondness for the motorcycle and the close relationship she has with her father.
Hamsa Hamsa Hamsa | An Upbringing © Julia Gat
Willem de Kooning Academie, Rotterdam
From the moment you are drawn into the world of Julia Gat and her brothers and sisters as a spectator, you’re hooked. Gat presents a family life that – from a distance at least – seems wonderfully free and untroubled, evoking both feelings of tenderness and slight envy. Gat has been documenting her immediate surroundings since she was ten years old; she felt that she wanted to capture and immortalise the happiness she associated with that time. That led to a gold mine of images.
Through beautiful photographs, a book and a film made from a patchwork of home videos, Gat brings an ode to her childhood. Parents, grown-ups – their role is insignificant, except perhaps as the invisible forces that gave the playfulness and experimental behaviour of their children room to flourish. The first image in the book emphatically portrays them as a blurry image. Nonetheless, Gat’s dedication in her publication is explicitly addressed to them, which leads us to suspect that their role may have been greater than we think. Set against a background of sunny, exotic locations, we see a life that is marked by the uncomplicated multicultural identity and the appealing, Bohemian-like lifestyle of the ‘characters’. Together, they form an idyllic miniature society, removed from the big, bad, outside world.
The Day the Birds stopped Singing © Rick van der Klooster
AKV St. Joost, 's-Hertogenbosch
Rick van der Klooster
What do you do when you’re young and you’re worried about the world? You can take to the streets and protest, but you can also make a photobook, as Rick van der Klooster has done. The project The Day the Birds Stopped Singing stems from a disquiet and anger at growing up on a planet that is slowly dying. That results in moody, contrast-rich black and white photographs that can sometimes easily be characterised as disconsolate – dark skies, weeping willows hanging their branches in the water, stuffed birds – and portraits of youths that gaze through binoculars against a backdrop of urban parks or pose next to burning birdhouses. And then there is the boy with numerous bricks hanging from his upper body.
The metaphors are telling. Still, at the end of the day, The Day the Birds Stopped Singing is not a bleak, cheerless project. There are birds, high up in the trees, where freedom beckons. Rays of sunshine peep through the canopy of leaves, there is light in the distance, and you can see the tenderness and a genuine sense of connection between the youths and their natural environment. And that, despite everything, gives hope for the future.
What are you looking for? © Vladimir Vidanovski
Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, Den Haag
Vladimir’s Vidanovski’s installation is entitled What are your looking for? It’s a question that he posed primarily to himself as he, a self-declared ‘screen-based millennial’, sifted through a pile of videos from his youth for this final exam project. All those hours spent behind the computer screen ever since he was a little boy of about four years old, endlessly tweaking digital fantasy worlds, finally had its use. Fragments from those videos appear in his touchingly beautiful film.
With the help of traditional video techniques, Vidanovski recreated his parental home; it appears in view with jerky movements and blocky images. The ‘camera’ turns and comes to rest on a computer in an empty room. The video image of a young boy appears from the blue light coming from the screen. He wants to take his ‘audience’ with him on a journey through his daydreams.
Besides this very young, innocent, comical version of himself, there is another narrator: the artist who he has become today, looking back upon his childhood, knowing now that the war that broke out when Yugoslavia fell apart formed the backdrop to his growing up. The contrast is striking: on the one hand, the sugary sweet world of a young child growing up on American YouTube films (a world portrayed through a network of tiny screens that are part of the installation, showing images of old computer games and children’s television shows), and on the other hand the stifling reality found outside the safety of his home. This is also portrayed in the film in the form of dark, dystopian images. ‘I find myself surrounded by walls of forgotten memories,’ Vidanovski whispers.
Maskenfreiheit © Lili Weinstein
Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, Den Haag
Do you know what it feels like to disappear into a space? To be afraid to talk to strangers, because you know your face will blush and your palms will start to sweat? To be so shy that even everyday life is a challenge? Those are a couple of the questions that Lili Weinstein asks her audience in her project, Maskenfreiheit. Quite literally even: she hid letters in the park near her home, letters that contained these kinds of questions and an invitation for the finder to call her up and make an appointment. She hoped that the letters would be found, but at the same time hoped they wouldn’t. Because that meant that she would have to carry out her devised tasks with that stranger, such as: make intensive eye contact, put on funny voices, study each other’s faces, cry together, and so on. The horror.
Yet that is exactly what Weinstein did. And she documented the entire process. As a spectator, you are a witness to her work: walls were covered in a playful manner with photographs, drawings and notes, an overwhelming amount of evidence documenting the moments she crossed the boundaries of her extreme shyness. The documents hang, organised by task over and across each other, black and white photographs alternated with colour, and everything without bells and whistles – just there, as proof. They remind us of performances from the 1960s and 1970s where the functioning of the human body played a central role. The installation takes you past different moments in the process and portrays the fellow performers that Weinstein has gotten involved. It is thrilling, because it was thrilling; there’s no subtlety here. You suspect that the reality was even more intense, and that feeds our curiosity even more.
The Steenbergen Foundation
The Steenbergen Foundation was established in 1961 by Johan Steenbergen (1886-1967) in memory of his older brother, Hermann Diedrich Steenbergen (1883-1945). Johan Steenbergen moved to Dresden in 1908, where he founded Ihagee Kamerawerk. This factory achieved world fame in 1936 by introducing the first single-lens reflex camera under the name of Exakta. In 1928, Johan became Honorary Consul of the Netherlands. The factory was completely destroyed during the bombing of Dresden in 1945. After the Second World War, the company was appropriated by the East German state and continued as a state-owned company under the former DDR. The Nederlands Fotomuseum has been involved in the Steenbergen Stipendium award since it was first introduced.