The Dutch portrait photographer Koos Breukel, whose oeuvre is held in high regard both in the Netherlands and abroad, has been photographing his eldest son Casper since he was born, in 2000. This has yielded a series of intimate and moving portraits which not only depict Casper in various phases of his life but which also reflect the bond between father and son. This year Casper turns eighteen: an adult, making his own choices. For Breukel this is the perfect moment to present this unique project to a wider public.
No ordinary bond
“See me as a bad father but a good friend,” Koos Breukel once said to his 14-year-old son. Casper was fine with it: “It’s what I already thought.” The bond between this father and son had never been an ordinary one. Casper was born on 28 March 2000, in the Alkmaar general hospital. “I wasn’t the type to join in his mother’s rhythmic panting or hold her hand,” says Breukel in an interview that Joris van Casteren made for this exhibition. During the birth he was safely behind his Hasselblad, pressing the shutter. The newborn baby has a penetrating gaze in all his portraits. “Casper has a really piercing gaze,’ says Breukel. “Like a predator keeping his eye on you.”
Casper’s parents’ attempts to live together failed, and in 2004 the break became definitive: Breukel stayed in Amsterdam while Casper grew up in Bergen with his mother. Breukel continued to photograph Casper through the years, seeking that predatory gaze. At set times he would collect Casper from his mother’s house and they would go out. Casper was never troubled by the idea that he was functioning as a subject for the camera: “I didn’t know any better,” he shrugs. And the exhibition? “It’s no problem.”
The exhibition shows how Casper has grown, but it also provides an indirect view of the technical and artistic development that Koos Breukel went through in this period as a photographer. As Casper grows we see how Breukel’s preference for the authentic, the unembellished, and the raw gradually undergoes a visual shift. When Casper is a small boy Breukel photographs him mainly in black and white and in a direct, almost documentary style. When Breukel starts working in colour, and makes the change from analogue to digital, his gaze becomes more circumspect and tranquil. He embraces the new artistic possibilities offered by digital technology, which enable him to develop a more painterly approach to the photographic portrait.
The exhibition Son was designed by Studio Verschueren; its texts were provided by the writer, poet and journalist Joris van Casteren.
Koos Breukel (1962) studied at the School for Photography and Photonics in his birthplace The Hague before devoting himself to portrait photography. He began to exhibit his work at the end of the 1980s, and worked for magazines like Oor, Quote and Blvd. In the 1990s Breukel took on fewer journalistic jobs in order to concentrate on free work, inspired by his great examples, Richard Avedon and Robert Frank. He published a number of photobooks, including Hyde (1996), an intimate photo reportage of the theatre-maker Michael Matthews, who was dying of AIDS, Faire Face (2010), a catalogue which accompanied a retrospective in Paris, and Me We (2013), an autobiographical photo book about the circle of life, which was awarded the Kees Scherer Prize.
The exhibition is accompanied by a new photobook, Zoon, with photographs by Koos Breukel and texts by Joris van Casteren. It is designed by Studio Verschueren and published by Bas Lubberhuizen.