Frisian villagers modelling as naked Amazon Indians

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Amazonian Indians and the inhabitants of the Frisian village of Beetsterzwaag – there is absolutely no connection. But artists Laurence Aëgerter and Ronald van Tienhoven are about to change this.

They are following in the footsteps of the famous French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. In the 1930s he took photographs of native tribes hidden away in the Amazon rainforest, which he published in this book Tristes Tropiques.

In 2011, Aëgerter and Van Tienhoven recreated these photos, but this time using people from the village of Beetsterzwaag as models. The Frisian villagers posed, often naked, in the same positions as the Indians. “By doing this, we wanted to return anthropological photography to Europe,” says Ronald van Tienhoven.

“Anthropology is ‘me and the other person’, about how we look at each other. The way the Indians – who are not used to media – and the people of Beetsterzwaag look at the photographer is different. The photographer also has his own way of looking at the people. Anthropology is influenced by the photography with which we want to capture the other person.”

Winning over the people
The two artists ended up in Beetsterzwaag for their project because they were given the opportunity to use the facilities of local arts centre Kunsthuis Syb, on condition the artists would link their project to the village and its people.

“It wasn’t that hard to find people prepared to pose. We made sure the villagers were well-informed and used local networks. Like Lévi-Strauss back then, we had to win over the villagers to be able to take the photos.”

The photographs first showed in the Beesterzwager Kunsthuis and are next on display from 10 to 13 November 2011 at the Grand Palais in Paris. They will also be shown in January at the Salon für Kunstbuch in Vienna.

A book with the photos is to be published by the French publisher Éditions Filigranes.