Collector of the month: Henri van der Tol

by Unseen November 02 2017

© Kolobzreg 1992, Rineke Dijkstra

In this series of interviews, we introduce you to the lives of various collectors. Delving into their collecting processes and practices, we discover the background, goals and passions of a broad range of individuals who have an interest in the photographic medium. This month, we spoke to Henri van der Tol, an Amsterdam-based photography collector with an affinity for images that reveal the inner workings of a photographer’s mind, touching on how they choose to represent the human experience.

You collect photography specifically. Can you tell us a bit about what draws you to this medium in particular?

Photography has had a very strong appeal to me for a very long time. The idea that time can be captured in an image fascinates me. This is very apparent in early 19th century photography, which gives you a glimpse into time that has passed. People who have long passed away look at you in their full glory, and cities and landscapes show an unspoiled and quiet Arcadia. As time passes, photographers get a stronger hold on the image and put their own ideas into their art. Throughout history, photographers perceive the world differently, which is reflected in new styles in the medium. This continuous renewal of looking at reality fascinates me, and the way photographers can put a part of their own personality into their art fascinates me even more because it makes it evident that the photo you are looking at is made by them.

Tell us a bit about the scope of your collection. How many images do you have, and what are the recurring themes you find yourself returning to?

The collection is very broad, as it contains photographs from as early as 1839 until the present. My goal is to assemble work from photographers who contributed to the history of photography. At present, the collection consists of 2000 images by some 350 photographers. The bulk of the photographs are about people, such as portraits, fashion and documentary, together with a lesser number of landscape and still life photographs. Images of people hold the strongest fascination for me as they reflect the world and its conditions.

Tell us a bit about your website, A Private View. What prompted you to create it and share your images?

I made A Private View because I wanted to share the photographs with those who are interested in the medium as a collector, or as someone who just likes photography. I’m passionate about photographs, and I am always looking for information that might enrich my knowledge of photography, so I always hope to find websites that do just that. I hope that A Private View will create an interest in the medium and will incite other collectors of photography to do the same and share their collection.

Do you have any favourite pieces in your collection that you have a soft spot for?

There is so much in the collection that it is difficult to choose favourites, but Rineke Dijkstra’s portrait of the girl in the green bathing suit, titled Kolobzreg, 1992 is special to me, as she has this classic pose of Botticelli’s Venus in her partially wet bathing suit with her sandy feet. The twins by Roger Ballen, titled Dresie and Casey from 1993 is also a very powerful portrait. The portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Virginia Woolf’s mother, Julia Jackson, is a nice example of how the photographer projected her own ideas about how a photograph should look – namely imperfect. I was very happy to find an André Kertesz portrait from 1925 of a drunken man who fell asleep on a bench with his bottle in his hand, and Pieter Hugo’s portrait of Daniel Richards from 2013 is fascinating because of his hypnotic eyes and tattoos in his face.

What draws you to Unseen Amsterdam, and how do you think it’s different from other art fairs?

Unseen is a fair that primarily includes contemporary photography, which shows that photography is an ever-changing medium that has no barriers. Each year, I discover new photographers whose work excites me. I don’t like some new photography, but most of it allows me to immerse myself within the mind of the photographer, seeing how they express their world and feelings. In this way, Unseen is more exciting than Paris Photo or AIPAD in New York, because these fairs tend to follow well-tread paths and focus on what is already known and valued.

Which artist or project at this year’s Unseen Amsterdam left a lasting impression on you? Did you purchase any new works?

This year at Unseen, I liked the work of Miles Aldridge, the new work by Awoiska van der Molen, the mystical underwater photos by Elspeth Diederix, the playful photos by Raymond Meeks and the work of Rinko Kawauchi.

Untitled from the series Halo 2017 Rinko Kawauchi Christophe Guye Galerie.jpg© Rinko Kawauchi