The Nederlands Fotomuseum presents a new exhibition, Wout Berger’s Poisoned Landscape Revisited, to run from 4 November 2017 to 22 April 2018. Poisoned Landscape Revisited is a sequel to his Poisoned Landscape photo series, which was published in 1992 and dealt with contaminated soils in the Netherlands. In that series, Berger set out to show how misleading appearances can be: heavily polluted places can often look idyllic. Twenty-five years on, Berger has retraced his footsteps and revisited the same places to photograph them again from approximately the same vantage points. The exhibition will include work from both series.
In the early 1980s, the Netherlands was shaken by a number of environmental scandals. Soils at a number of sites were found to be so heavily contaminated that it was unsafe to use the land for housing, workplaces or recreation. Wout Berger became fascinated by these ‘poisoned landscapes’ and decided to make them the subject of a photo project. He was struck by the strange beauty of the toxic wastelands, where nature was apparently being left to its own devices and was wiping out all trace of human activity. Berger photographed 120 of the 1200 contaminated sites then identified, choosing vantage points that offered a broad view of the landscape. The result was a series of images in which the calm, carefully balanced compositions eschew all visual dramatization. They are sober, factual records which modestly refrain from all reference to art-historical traditions of landscape depiction.
The Poisoned Landscape series of 1992 is now in the collection of the Nederlands Fotomuseum.
Poisoned Landscape Revisited
Twenty-five years on, Berger has returned to fifty of the sites he photographed for his previous series and has photographed them again from approximately the same vantage points. This produces fascinating pairs of images from the two series, revealing how (in many cases) landscapes can change over a quarter of a century. The results of processes of change that often go unnoticed in everyday life can now be seen at a (double) glance. In addition, the project has gained an extra dimension. Because Berger has collaborated with soil experts on this occasion, light is cast on the story behind the pictures and the exhibition provides an insight into the scale and methodology of the soil remediation programme carried out in the Netherlands over the last thirty years.
The Poisoned Landscape Revisited project was made possible by:
engineering and consulting agency Witteveen+Bos and the Implementation Programme for the Covenant on Soil Development Policy and Strategy for Urgent Sites (part of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment)