Book Review: I will be Wolf by Bertien van Manen
By Scarlett Davis
Such I was myself;
A deer I used to be.
I shall be a wolf:
That is what troubles me.
The verse shown above is taken from the 1929 poem, “Grief” by Hungarian poet Atilla József. The line “I shall be wolf” inspired Dutch photographer, Bertien Van Manen, in her published photo collection entitled I will be Wolf.
I will be Wolf is a series of black and white images beginning in December 1975, which capture the daily life in metropolitan Hungary---very much a bygone era with impromptu snapshots of grocers, commuters, café workers, and street vendors. In a style typical of the artist, the images were taken with a rather inexpensive, pedestrian kind of camera, which serves the artistic decision to create something that feels spontaneous, as well as candid. Under the editorial direction of British photographer Stephen Gill, these flawless images, some never before made public, are beautifully blended into a kind of cohesive human narrative.
Bertien Van Manen, born in 1942, got her feet wet as a fashion photographer, but soon learned that her tastes were better aligned with documentary style photography, as evinced by the feelings of “closeness” to her photographic subjects. Bertien has expressed that she has to like the subjects she is photographing, which lends itself to the way her photos are said to "embody a kind of warmth without judgment." Bertie's photos are stunningly nostalgic, and observing them brings about a kind of ease, despite the hardships and struggles, which lay dormant in the history of our modern minds. Perhaps, that is part of what makes Bertien’s photos so endearing, besides tapping into a world pre-globalization, she captures a time that feels at once distant and foreign, but one in which we all secretly yearn for.
Smartphones and social media have destroyed our ability to communicate with one another on the most basic level. Bertien’s collection reminds us that people used to genuinely interact with one another. I, like poet Atilla József, am too troubled with, “A deer I used to be.” In the vein of Darwinism, life is a perpetual battle of the fittest. As people grow, they evolve and develop better skills and intelligence in-0rder to survive; cunningness eventually likens us all to wolves. However, what would wolves be without the deer? What is wisdom without first, pure unadulterated joy and curiosity? Moreover, what is art without the simplest creatures and their simplest desires?
I will be Wolf (2017) by Bertien Van Manen published by MACK is available for purchase at http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/1188-I-will-be-Wolf.html