A Body of Work
by Els Barents

Martin Roemers understands like no other the art of translating global themes into human dimensions. During more than twenty years of photography, his successive subjects have clearly shown the extent to which he seeks visual concepts that justify his work’s increasing complexity.

Roemers preferred the black-and-white portrait for his photo projects on the long-term effects of warfare. This resulted in books and exhibitions such as Kabul(2003), The Never-Ending War (2005) and The Eyes of War (2012). By opting for a simple and individual portrait, he and his lens effectively entered the mind’s eye of a soldier or war victim. In this way, he saw (and heard) the issues that they had been confronted with. Thus, he created a perfect match between the visual portrait and the spoken testimony: the simplest and most honest approach that a photographer can choose for his subject.

In his book Relics of the Cold War (2009) Roemers remained true to his theme of war. He now assumed the position of an archaeologist tracing the remains of the Cold War in former Eastern and Western Europe and then photographing them in situ. This generated a bizarre collection of images of underground tunnels, rusting tanks and abandoned nuclear missile launchers: the discarded baggage of a longstanding policy of mutual deterrence. These many years later, Roemers not only shows that it all still exists - albeit relentlessly battered by erosion, destruction and neglect - in his book he also demonstrates how the active memory of this near-war persists to this day.

The concept for Metropolis
his recent and largest project to date, is based on a long-time fascination with megacities like Mumbai and New York. When he was in Mumbai in 2003, Martin Roemers literally asked himself how he could encapsulate in a single image the boundless, almost tangible energy, chaos and tumult of a city of more than ten million people. And here again his analysis was both simple and effective: He focused on centres of business such as market places and main roads, while working with a slightly elevated position and a slow shutter speed. In this way, the endless stream of people, trains, cars, rickshaws and cyclists is transformed into an image of a single, vast and indefinable source of energy that hurtles between static elements including houses, stalls and merchandise. The eighty photos, which Roemers has since made of megacities worldwide, have something overwhelming in their simplicity. In Metropolis, he shows you what really lurks behind those neutral, metropolitan statistics. However, his powerfully concentrated accumulation of human activity can be viewed in different ways. Does it constitute the dire consequences of global urbanisation? Or simply the basics of a metropolitan economy? The abstraction concealed in every good photo becomes palpable in the improbable balance between static and dynamic forces. And no matter how extreme, in Roemers’ photos that balance remains intact.

Along with a good many international awards and nominations, Martin Roemers won a second prize in the 2006 World Press Photo contest for his Never-Ending War portraits; he subsequently received a first prize for Metropolis in 2011.

After graduating from the AKI Academy of Fine Arts in Enschede, Roemers has lived and worked in Delft, the Netherlands. His work has been included in exhibitions and collections throughout the world including Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas; it is represented by galleries in Paris, Dubai and New York.

Els Barents
was Huis Marseille’s Founding Director and the first Photography Curator of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

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