Few Loving Voices
Tirelessly Peter Martens captured world’s injustice and bad luck millions of people suffer from, fixed in confrontational, grainy images. In his photographs from the seventies and early eighties, Bogotá, Calcutta, Hong Kong and Ouagadougou were the worst places on earth. Closer to home, he showed the blind faith of believers seeking redemption and forgiveness. The central figure in Martens’ universe is that of the human being lying prostrated among his fellow man, praying, crippled, deformed, begging, ecstatic, morally broken or even murdered. This central figure is flanked by those standing up, the uniformed guards of the police, the military or the church; ambiguous figures of strength, power and authority, representing both guidance and oppression, dominance and support. The public space, the squares, the streets, the police stations, the hotel rooms build the stage on which the interaction between these poles is played out, in view of the passers-by, who look on in compassion, indifference, disgust, hardly concealed lust or admiration.
Dutch photographer Peter Martens was a versatile street photographer. His way of working was inspired by the long American tradition of engaged and personal documentary photography, but he went one step further and developed into a radical photographer who took a stand for the disadvantaged and outcast.
Peter Martens’ work occupies a unique place in Dutch photography. In 1969 he was the first photographer in the Netherlands admitted to the Visual Arts Programme. This was not just a recognition of his own work but also of photography as a medium for visual arts. Martens was one of the few Dutch photographers who was a Magnum nominee for several years and in 1977 and 1979 he won different World Press Photo prizes.
Until shortly before his death, Martens worked on the composition of two books featuring the best of his complete oeuvre. The dummies he assembled and over 400 prints he selected layered ever since in the archive of the Nederlands Fotomuseum.
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