In 2002 photographer Martin Roemers (1962) shot a series of portrait photographs of Dutch soldiers stationed in Afghanistan who came from the Johan Willem Friso Barracks in Assen. The portraits acquired an extra dimension because they were taken with an antique camera that he borrowed from a street photographer in Kabul. With his Kabul Portraits, Roemers has created a timeless series of photographs of soldiers devoid of all frills. The Drents Museum is presenting fourteen of these penetrating large-format portraits in the exhibition Martin Roemers - Kabul Portraits, Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan, on view through 17 June 2018.
The photographer Martin Roemers had worked on numerous projects about the long-term effects of wars and conflicts. In 2002 the Dutch Army Museum in Delft gave him carte blanche to document the Dutch troops in Afghanistan at his own discretion. The soldiers were part of ISAF, the international military force charged with maintaining security in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban.
Developed on the spot
Roemers made the photographs in a singular way. He happened to run into photographers in a square in Kabul who worked with antique box cameras and produced passport photographs in a highly unusual manner. Roemers adopted this procedure for his own series. He borrowed a camera from a local street photographer, created a makeshift open-air studio on the NATO base, and selected soldiers for their faces and personality.
He then had the sitters pose motionless for ten seconds – the exposure time for each photograph – after which the portraits were developed on the spot by the Afghan photographer. The result is a gritty series full of imperfections, spots and scratches, but also full of gravity.
The consequences of wars and conflicts
Martin Roemers (1962) grew up in Assen and studied at the AKI Academy of Fine Arts in Enschede. He has an extensive international oeuvre to his name and exhibits all over the world. He has produced eight photography books, including Kabul. Dutch troops in Afghanistan. His work is found in the collections of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Huis Marseille - Museum for Photography in Amsterdam, the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, National Geographic Magazine and many other periodicals have reviewed him and his work. Roemers is represented by galleries in Amsterdam, Dubai, Paris, and New York.