The biographical blurb about Gerard Fieret on the back of the new monograph bearing his name tells the story of his pictures: "...one of the most wayward oeuvres put forth by 20th-century Dutch photography..." As someone who is not overly familiar with Dutch photography in general, I was unsure of what to expect from the book. After going through the book I initially found the phrase "wayward oeuvre" to be generous.
The informative biographical essay creates an understanding of Fieret's difficult life. He endured a variety of traumas from childhood on. He lived the squalid life of a Bohemian. He died alone. This chaos is reflected in the pictures. The prints are messy, the essay intones that it was intentional, but I am suspect. It is clear that Fieret was a troubled man.
Seen as a whole, the book elevates the work. The printing shows that some of the prints are marginal at best, but it represents the work and the time and manner it was made in. The essay is thorough and annotated, but the bold typeface is a bit too bold and difficult to read.
I find the pictures naive. What broke taboos seems tame today. His gaze does not feel predatory, but more curious and occasionally playful. In one image a clothed Fieret is kissing the knee of a nude woman while holding a cable release. It is this image I return to because it sums up his work for me. The model is looking at him, but he is looking at the floor. Sadness oozes out of the shadows.
Power is what the women have. Some did undress for Fieret, but more, at least presented here, did not. Sometimes they appear to playfully taunt him, but in the end he is left alone, in his self made mess. The more I study the images, the more I feel for Fieret, it is clear his life was rough. It is clear he was an outsider. It is clear that when he photographed women, he felt powerless.
Fieret certainly led a tragic life. His work has its place in the history of Dutch photography. This book explains all of this in great detail. My own conclusions about his work went from initial dismissal, to one of empathy, feeling for the man who made these wayward images.
Tom Leininger is a photographer and educator based in Denton, Texas. He received his MFA in photography from the University of North Texas. Prior to that he was a newspaper photographer in Indiana. His work can be found at http://tomleininger.net.