Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf
Creative productivity makes up a major part of Gerard Fieret’s life. As an artist, he has worked with many different kinds of media. Most important are drawing, poetry and photography. Fieret discovered his most characteristic form of expression in photography. He expressed this vital creativity in a stream of thousands of black-and-white photos: the visual outpouring of his intensely personal experiences, emotions and ideas. With photography, Fieret created a highly personal visual idiom, amidst the existing acknowledge photographic movements and styles in the period 1959 to 1983.
Gerrit Petrus (‘Gerard’) Fieret is born on 19 January in The Hague.
Fieret becomes an assistant book antiquarian at the publishing company Uitgeverij Nijhoff in The Hague. During this period, he writes his first poems. He attends evening classes at the KABK (Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, ‘Royal Academy of Art’) in The Hague (drawing, painting, typography, illustrative reproduction techniques, art theory, and art history).
For one year, Fieret works as an apprentice for Liefkes, a stained-glass painter on the Da Costastraat in The Hague.
Fieret’s boarding school hands him over to the Germans. He is transported against his will to Germany, where he is forced to do compulsory work under the German ‘Arbeitseinsatz’ (forced labour deployment). After one-and-a-half years, he finds a way to escape and goes into hiding on a farm in Pintersfeld (Schnee-Eifel, Germany) until being liberated by the Americans.
After the war, Fieret initially works briefly as a stained-glass artist. He then takes on a variety of jobs in order to sustain himself financially. In 1947, he resumes his study at the KABK in The Hague. He attends day classes for one year.
In the early 1950s, Fieret works as an assistant to Livinus van de Bundt at the Vrije Academie (‘Free Academy’) in The Hague and teaches life drawing under his guidance. Fieret starts dealing in exotic art from Africa, Oceania, South America, and the Far East. He also works as a portrait illustrator.
A second-hand Praktiflex camera bought from an acquaintance inspires Fieret to start photographing. He soon becomes passionate about taking photos. His business in selling ethnographic objects falls increasingly to the wayside in favour of an immense creative productivity brought about by photography.
Fieret’s photography is discovered by Professor Hans van de Waal, director of the Leiden University Print Room. Van de Waal stimulates and defends Fieret’s photographic work, which is not always fully appreciated, and tries to inspire a greater understanding in others. This eventually leads to publications and exhibitions. During this period and in later years, Fieret donates thousands of photos to the Print Room.
Fieret’s photography receives general recognition, partly evident from a number of one-man exhibitions held in prominent museums. During the same period, he also resumes writing (many) poems, which are published in various collections of poetry. Fieret experiments with colour photography on an incidental basis.
Besides poetry and photography, Fieret is also involved in music: he builds and plays pan flutes.
Fieret dies on 22 January in The Hague.
‘I’m not a photographer, but rather a structuralising prophet in bromide black and white.’ – G.P. Fieret, artist with the formula ‘kaleidoscopic trend [‘diverente’ ?] photography’, 1985
Gerard Fieret’s photos are images of an individual’s perception, fragments of his own reality, visual notes in a diary. When taking photos, Fieret is no outsider. He is always present, whether it be in front of his camera or behind it. It is this which determines the thematic content of his photography: his own being. Fieret’s immense productivity has resulted in streams of images, collectively forming a personal visual narrative.
By the time Fieret began photographing on a permanent basis in the late 1950s, he was already completely formed as an artist. At the KABK (Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, ‘Royal Academy of Art’) in The Hague, he was taught based on a practical, but mainly theoretical approach, particularly in the classes given by Bernard de Heij, who gave instruction in illustrative reproduction techniques. Through these lessons and his intensive contact with Livinus van de Bundt, Fieret became thoroughly familiar with the graphic arts. His skills and vision were further polished by a long period of intensive drawing. His way of ‘seeing’ was that of a mature artist, and this was something that could be seen in his photography right from the very start.
As an autodidact, Fieret learned to master photographic processes, techniques, and aspects of design through experimentation. These experiments were never aims in themselves, just as with his choice of subject matter or the cameras and techniques he applied. In fact, they were part of what was essential to Fieret’s art: the all-encompassing phenomenon of ‘seeing’—seeing anew, over and over again.
A graphic vision and a major desire to introduce variations, always with new structures, lie at the foundation of Fieret’s entire oeuvre. Sometimes his photos are hard and rich in contrast, sometimes velvety black with highlighted details, but on occasion, so light that they appear to be sketches, low grain structures with a delicate interplay of lines. Fieret sees a photo negative as an endless source of new experiments and alternatives, sometimes years after a shot has been taken. He gives his photos an entirely different expression by printing them in various ways, by making crops of negatives or by intentionally applying the power of the film developer.
The technical possibilities are virtually unlimited for Fieret. He allows no limitations regarding what is acceptable ‘according to the rules of art’. Rather, he determines his own laws within a ceaselessly varying array of forms and techniques. It is precisely his mastery of a multitude of techniques and his strong desire to shape his visual experiences that enable him to break out of such doctrines and transgress unknown boundaries. This quite commonly leads to surprising results. As such, even damage to prints and negatives arising over time can sometimes become a part of the photographic impressions he creates.
Fieret is also experimental in his approach to photographic design. Greatly varying camera angles continually lead to other unexpected possibilities in perspective. The design process never ends, however, at the individual photographic print. Fieret prefers to present large quantities of photos in a layout designed himself.
One’s own existence in a ‘kaleidoscopic totality’, as Fieret describes it himself, is the primary theme in his photography. Several topics appear regularly in his work, which accordingly deserve additional attention: his studio, self-portraits, women, street views and theatrical photography.
An important part of Fieret’s life takes place in his studio: a living and work space, as well as a decor emphatically present in many of his photos. His portrait drawings are mounted on the walls, sometimes as pendants of women photographed in the very same surroundings: images within images, creating a tension between reality and illusion. The mood in Fieret’s studio is determined by objects from the East—the last remnants of Fieret’s business in ethnographic objects—and by the jewellery and rugs with which he occasionally adorns himself and his models. Against this amazing background, the artist and his models serve as the main subject.
When he has no access to models, Fieret acts as his own—and certainly not his worst—model. Self-mockery and humour are far from lacking on these ‘islands in the ocean of his photography’, as his images were once described in a French photography magazine.
Fieret’s self portraits are also essentially a form of self-investigation. They are images of the ever-changing incarnations of a single individual. His own past plays a role in this: photos of himself in his early years and family portraits are so fascinating to him that he photographs them once again, enlarged and sometimes copying them many times over. In these self-portraits, Fieret’s interest in other cultures is also highly evident. Through clothing, attributes, and mimicry, he shrouds himself in an exotic atmosphere.
The atmosphere of Fieret’s studio also has a special radiance to be observed in the women’s portraits that were shot within its confines. The presence of the artist manifests itself almost always in the models’ poses. Again and again, in everything he photographs, it is very clearly Fieret’s world that we see. His models respond to him, and there arises a form of communication. In this communicative atmosphere, feminine sensuality seems to receive a great deal of attention. Free of embarrassment and without being forced, daring erotic positions are assumed. Provocative and intimate images are registered on the retina of the camera’s eye, but always without aggression or perversity. In some of the photos, female forms become part of the graphic, almost abstract compositions. Velvety soft portraits of expressive women, such as Riekje—a much-loved model from Fieret’s early years of photographing—alternate with intense portraits that are high in contrast and which derive their mysterious character from the brightly luminescent mouths and eyes appearing in dark prints, or from the blur of sudden movement.
People are the most important figures in the city, where Fieret’s life outside the studio—and likewise his photography—takes place. Children, teenagers, the elderly, but especially young women, capture his interest and inspire him to create visual compositions. Objects and details can also spark a desire to make photographic annotations. The liveliness of a city, the social contacts made there, but also the boredom and alienation, are all to be found in the visual totality of Fieret’s photos.
It therefore comes as no surprise that theatrical photography would draw someone whose spirit holds as much fantasy as Fieret’s: another opportunity to capture the world in its many manifestations. In Fieret’s photos, theatrical actions are translated into highly contrasting, graphic-like images, in which form, rhythm, light, and movement are elements more essential than the story itself. Here too, personal expression is the actual goal.
Fieret’s photography is very closely connected to his poetry. He refers to his photos preferably as ‘photographic poems’: ‘You might say that poetry, in my context, is a powerful river, from it emerged two strong arms: drawing and photography. Eventually, the three mediums became equal. As such, they take turns being one another’s mother in metaphorical terms. (…) Ultimately, the three media coalesced into one, photo became poetry, poetry became photo (metaphysical), and drawing became a writing method, the drawing—the poetry-writing—became a seeing, and photo became an enjambment in the halls of the labyrinth’ (quote from a letter Fieret sent to the Leiden University Print Room).
As well in his poetry, Fieret expresses himself in an immense stream of words and verses. When assembling a collection of Fieret’s poetry, Jaap Goedegebuure, a specialist in the Dutch language, once characterised his poetic art as follows: ‘Out of the manuscripts from which the selection of poetry has been made, the first thing that becomes apparent is a tremendous productivity; within several weeks, Fieret sometimes writes dozens of poems, which flow from his pen effortlessly. In accordance with this, spontaneity, which is also expressed in the loose and highly associative metaphorical language, is admittedly a trait found in the poetry of most of the ‘Vijftigers’ [a literary movement of the 1950s]. Besides the metaphorical language, there is also the highly personal use of language, which is unaffected by any convention, an important element.’ Goedegebuure’s description could also be applied to Fieret’s photos, though one must acknowledge that what he calls ‘effortless’ is in fact the consequence of a tremendous productivity and a lengthy process of reworking and refining.
Stemming from the same source as his associative visual idiom and his nuanced use of language, Fieret’s photography has achieved the form the artist expressly wished to give it. In Fieret’s view, a photo is not simply an aesthetic product that stands of its own accord, but part of a kaleidoscopic total image. Whenever he presents his photos—whether in a book, at an exhibition or simply when meeting with someone—he always wants to emphasise that these photos depict moments in life that belong together, i.e. streams of visual impressions. Fieret repeatedly expresses this vision in the layout: large quantities of photos mounted on the wall in a certain order, affixed to pieces of cardboard, grouped together on the layout field, or simply laid out across tables and floors.
The inextricable tangles of the intense philosophy of life upheld by this gifted artist and his compelling desire for productivity are a rare and intriguing phenomenon. Especially at the pinnacle of his photographic career during the second half of the 1960s, Fieret photographed everything around him with a passion and vitality that can easily be compared with the intense, extrovert forms of pop culture from the 1960s.
Cat.tent. Gerard Fieret foto’s, Eindhoven (Van Abbemuseum) 12 nov. t/m 12 dec. 1976.
Jerven Ober (samenst.), Le Monde Entier, album met originele foto’s, Apeldoorn (Van Reekumeditie) 1979.
Nieuwe griffels schone leien, Bloemlezing uit de poëzie der avant-garde, 1954 (2 gedichten van G.P.F.).
Almanak van een verlate vijftiger, Den Haag (in eigen beheer) 1970.
Gedichten, bundel samengesteld door Jaap Goedegebuure, Joep Monnikendam en Menno Schenke, Leiden 1972.
Een nieuw lint, Den Haag 1972.
Als een kayak mijn woorden, Den Haag 1972.
Gekscherend en fluisterlopend, Eemnes 1973.
De trommel van de vrijbuiter en de begeerte van vijf, Den Haag (Bert Bakker) 1973.
Van Ronsdaele en het onaards wit, Den Haag 1974.
De stem van Phylologos, Den Haag 1974.
10 gedichten in handschrift, Apeldoorn (Van Reekumeditie) 1979.
De lasso van de minnaar, Den Haag 1980.
Schaljapin of Stachanov, Den Haag (in eigen beheer) 1980.
Labyrinth, Den Haag (in eigen beheer) 1981.
Nirwana van glas, Den Haag (in eigen beheer) 1981.
PJ. de Vink, Gerard Fieret in Du Midi, in Het Vaderland, 10 januari 1966.
P. v.d. Eyck, Gerard Fieret, in Fototribune 29 (1967) 7.
Auteur onbekend, Gerard Fieret autoportraits, in Phototribune (1968) 11, p. 36-41.
Willem K. Coumans, in Foto 26 (1971) 11, p. 76 – 80.
J.J.Th. Sillevis, Opmerkelijke portretfoto’s Fieret, in NRC 16 oktober 1971.
D. Welling, Het derde oog van Gerard Fieret gaat gewoon eigen gang, in Haagsche Courant, 18 september 1971.
Will Ferwerda, interview in Axi bulletin, z.j., p. 2 – 11.
Auteur onbekend, Foto’s van Fieret in Leidse Academie, in Het Vaderland 8 maart 1972.
Bram Pols, Het houdt nooit op: Gerard Fieret, in Haagsche Courant, 26 november 1977.
M. Beks, Interessante fotografie in het Van Abbemuseum, in Nieuwsblad van het Zuiden, 27 november 1976.
Ralph Prins, Gerard Fieret, in Foto 10 (1977), p. 76-80 (met redactioneel commentaar van Wim Broekman).
Els Barents (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1940-1975, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p. 33, 68, 69 en supplement biografieën.
Bas Roodnat, Dichter toont wereldbeeld in fotografisch dagboek, in NRC, 2 juli 1979.
Auteur onbekend, Gerard Fieret, in cat. tent. Geen Commentaar, Amsterdam (Ned. Kunst Stichting) 1982.
Joost van den Hooff, Gerard Fieret, een hedendaagse Franciscus, in Het Vrije Volk, 24 mei 1983.
N. Mokveld, Gerard Fieret’s ode aan het leven, in Het Binnenhof, 14 april 1983.
Movies about Fieret:
Gerard Fieret, fotograaf, film van Jacques Meyer, 1971. (getoond op de tent. in het Haags Gemeentemuseum in 1971).
Televisiefilm voor Showroom, programma van Jan Fillikers e.a., uitgezonden op 14 april 1983.
1965-’66 (e) Den Haag, Bioscoop Du Midi.
1970 (g) Den Haag, Gemeentemuseum, Fotoportret.
1970 (g) Den Haag, Gemeentemuseum, Kontrasten, 22 fotografen van nu.
1971 (e) Den Haag, Gemeentemuseum.
1972 (e) Leiden, Academiegebouw Rijksuniversiteit.
1972 (e) Scheveningen, Theater Seinpost.
1973 (g) Den Haag, Haagse Kunstkring.
1973 (e) Alkmaar, Stedelijk Museum.
1974 (g) Den Haag, Haagse Kunstkring.
1976 (g) Den Haag, Pulchri Studio.
1976 (e) Eindhoven, Van Abbemuseum.
1979 (g) Noordwijk aan Zee, N.H.Kapel, Op de foto.
1979 (e) Apeldoorn, Gemeentelijke Van Reekumgalerij.
1981-’84 (g) Ned. Kunst Stichting, rondreizend,Andere Fotografie.
1981 (e) Bergen (NH), KCB Kunstenaarscentrum.
1982 (g) Den Haag, Haagse Kunstkring, Over fotografie.
1982 (e) Den Haag, fotogalerie Kiek.
Haagse Kunstkring, 1978-1982.
G.P. Fieret, documentatie en mondelinge informatie.
Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum.
Apeldoorn, Van Reekummuseum.
Den Haag, Gemeentemuseum.
Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit.
Parijs, Bibliothèque Nationale.