Hans van der Meer creates a photographic record of the border area between Belgium and the Netherlands

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Hans van der Meer creates a photographic record of the border area between Belgium and the Netherlands
Document Nederland, 2014.

AMSTERDAM.- Two hundred years ago, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed when Belgium and the Netherlands became one state under King William I. For Document Nederland, Hans van der Meer created a photographic record of striking differences in the border area between the Netherlands and Belgium, two countries that have developed in completely different directions since their separation in 1830. An exhibition about Dutch planning, individual Belgian housing and the relationship between citizens and government in their battle to shape their communities.

Dutch terraced housing opposite Belgian ‘palaces’, ‘starter homes’ opposite ‘shoddy extensions’, building inspectors opposite own initiative. The Netherlands and Belgium are very different in terms of building and living. Nowhere is this more evident than in the border area between the two kingdoms. Photographer Hans van der Meer travelled from Cadzand to Vaals. The result is 40 beautiful panorama photos of mansions & houses, yards & gardens, streets & pavements, roads & pastures, in, on and between which the Belgians and the Dutch have lived since the 60s. Although the Dutch are of the opinion that “everything is possible” when living in Belgium, the general belief is that in their own country a building inspector is required for “every dormer window”.

However, for the past two decades the countries have also been growing towards one another. In Belgium, construction is becoming more systematic with stricter rules, while in the Netherlands building one's dream house is gaining ground. Even though this is still based on architect's plans and not, as is popular south of the border, together with the family on scaffolds at the weekend. This year, the exhibition Document Nederland raises questions about the literal and figurative boundaries of the use of space, of freedom and of living together.

Hans van der Meer (Leimuiden, 1955) is a documentary photographer with an eye for coincidence and absurdity who has published multiple photography books and films. With his observations of life in the streets of Budapest (1985), he won a World Press Photo award. His books Dutch Fields. (De Verbeelding, 1998) and European Fields (SteidlMack, 2006) with landscape photos about amateur football brought him international fame. He has had solo exhibitions in museums such as Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (Rotterdam, the Netherlands), the National Media Museum (Bradford, UK, 2004), the Ludwig Museum (Budapest, Hungary, 2007) and at the Rencontres d'Arles festival in 2004. In 2012, the exhibition and the book of the same name, The Netherlands - Off the shelf (Ydocfoundation, 2012), were presented at the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam. For the Dutch newspapers NRC and Volkskrant, he wrote columns based on his photos, and he is also a co-founder of the magazine Useful Photography.

Photographer Hans van der Meer: 'This exhibition is about the differences between the Netherlands and Belgium in terms of housing, living and construction. Of course there are more differences with our southern neighbours, but when you cross the border into Belgium, you immediately notice that it is another world. I am a photographer who asks questions, and with this exhibition I want to look not only at the differences between either side of the border, but also at the similarities. Because few people know that the Netherlands and Belgium resemble one another more and more. If this continues, the border will really disappear!'

Document Nederland
The Rijksmuseum has organised the annual exhibition Document Nederland since 1975. Every year, a Dutch photographer is asked to focus on a topical societal phenomenon. This year the exhibition, which is organised in conjunction with Vrij Nederland, takes place in the renovated Philips Wing of the Rijksmuseum. The Philips Wing will reopen for the public on 1 November.

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