Hans van der Meer

Minor Mysteries

Hans van der Meer (Leimuiden, 1955) belongs to the most distinctive Dutch documentary photographers of his generation; he is a storyteller in image and text. His approach is based on an inquisitive look and a sharp sense of observation, in which empathy, social involvement, and a strong sense of humour and absurdity go hand in hand. They run like a thread through his entire oeuvre. In addition to the series he shot in Budapest in 1985-86, the exhibition Minor Mysteries also includes highlights from later projects that relate and cross-reference Van der Meer’s origins to the period when he worked in Hungary.

The Budapest series provides insight into what fascinated Van der Meer as a young, curious outsider in a country that at first sight seemed alienating and distant, but where he quickly found his way. Without a preconceived plan, he let his intuition guide him, wandering the streets like a director collecting scenes for a script. This is how he stumbled upon wonderous, playful, at times tragicomic situations. He photographed casual scenes on the street, concentrating on people’s body language, the expression of a pose or a look in which he found a greater meaning. With his photographs, he enlarged these situations, sometimes to absurd proportions. Or, on the contrary, kept them small, with a fascination for human behaviour or delicate gestures in which touching details manifest themselves. Like small twists in a larger story. In retrospect, the series is like a monument to an era in transition. An era that was nearing its end, in a city in the heart of Europe, which looked battered, groaning and creaking under the weight of history, but where at last there was hope for something new.

His mature sensitivity is striking for his young age as well as his ability to balance the humour, elegance, and lightness of a painstaking existential reality. This capacity would prove to be an important fundament for his later practice. His engagement with social subjects would always be accompanied by a genuine interest in the other. Whether this concerns the later Dutch public space design series, the critical situation of cattle farming in the Netherlands, or the internationally renowned series on amateur football.

Van der Meer’s strong narrative capacity first manifested itself in still images and later in text and video. It is not without reason that the photographs of Budapest are reminiscent of film stills. He found his inspiration in important icons of comic cinema such as Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati, but also in exceptional filmmakers such as Jiří Menzel and later Béla Tarr. In the realm of literature, he discovered Bohumil Hrabal and other Central European writers in Hungary whose characteristic and atmospheric works seamlessly match the photographs Van der Meer took in this period.

The starting point of the exhibition Minor Mysteries is the series of street photographs that Van der Meer shot in 1985-86 in Budapest, a part of which was exhibited at the Photography Gallery in Váci Street in 1986 and appeared in book form under the title Quirk of Fate (1987). A predominantly new selection from these works is presented alongside a selection of photographs, videos, and texts from later projects, offering a rich and complex picture of Van der Meer’s oeuvre up to today.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication which includes texts by Hans van der Meer on the presented projects and was designed by de_form.

Claudia Küssel

The exhibition was realised with generous support from the Royal Dutch Embassy in Budapest and the Mondriaan Fund.

Budapest, Hungary, 1985 © Hans van der Meer
All installation images © Capa Center