Van Leo

Curated by Akram Zaatari
Townhouse Gallery, Cairo, Egypt
2000/12/01  -  2001/01/31

Van Leo’s work displays poses re-enacted for the sake of the camera. In a way it is an extension of a tradition, for every studio photograph is a staged photograph, which involves acting. But Van Leo’s work takes photography a step further into what seems to be part of a larger spectacle. Working with shades, light and minimal accessories, he had all the tools to create a scene that looks as if part of a film.

Van Leo’s practice remains in between photography and cinema. He used a view camera to shoot what could have been scenes from films, fragments of films that continue somewhere else or maybe never took place. His self-portraits disguised in more than a hundred different ways represent a perfect testimony. Van Leo’s collection, which covers more than fifty years of practice, mostly in the same location, represents a unique document of how a local photographer imagined/dreamed of the society around him. Despite the political and demographic changes that occurred in Egypt between the late 40s up until the 90s, Van Leo’s photographs seem an illustration of the same society. If the names might have changed, the moods, the poses and their significance haven’t.

The exhibited photographs are part of a donation made by Van Leo to the Arab Image Foundation in 1998. The exhibited photographs belong to the archives of the Arab Image Foundation, which has been active since 1997, collecting and promoting the photographic heritage (19th century - 1960s) of the Middle East and North Africa. Through its diverse set of activities (videos, publications and exhibitions), it aims to encourage critical approaches to reading and interpreting photographs.

Part of the Arab Image Foundation’s funding is provided by the Audi Bank, the Prince Claus Fund, the Getty Grant Program and the Ford Foundation. Additional support is provided by Ilford and the AIF Lebanese partners: the Beiteddine Festival, Cyberia, The Repro House and Mind the gap.

The Prince Claus Fund annually presents the Prince Claus Awards to artists and intellectuals, and to organisations engaged in culture. The awards recognize exceptional achievements in the field of culture and development. Both the quality of work and its positive effects in the cultural or wider social field are of crucial importance in the selection of recipients. The Fund admires a certain degree of audacity, tenacity and recalcitrance.

Exhibition produced by the Prince Claus Fund for the Culture and Development, and the Netherlands Embassy in Cairo.

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