by J. Streker
In this week’s readings, we explored two seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum for women in the Netherlands, the prostitutes of Amsterdam and the traditionally dressed women of Marken. Both subsets of a larger population of females, they have become symbolic of the places they reside, the red light district is now almost more of a tourist attraction than anything else, and the “quaint” traditional costumes have become Marken’s greatest commodity. The two discussions of these women could not be more different though.
Karsken’s photographic essay is centered around the images of the prostitutes. They are portraits of a new class of women. Historically, portraits were only afforded by the upper class, but now even the working girls (under any connotation and denotation of that word) can be the subjects of art. The sitters are clearly staged, but the situations still feel authentic, and the black and white photos reflect the liminal grey space these women live in. Karsken does annotate his images with the women’s stories, mostly in their own words which gives them a sense of agency an d power they may lack outside of these images.
On the other hand, in Roodenburg’s entire essay there are two images, and no discussion of what the (in)famous dresses actually look like. His approach is much more about the culture of dracht wearing than the dracht itself. What this does, is it makes it less about the individual women. While he dies bring up specific women, it’s the culture in general and the fall of said culture that is in discussion.
This difference in approach reflects the author’s intentions. Karsken intends to shed light on the prostitutes of Amsterdam, by humanizing them (while I hesitate to make this comparison it is similar to what the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem does to the victims of the Holocaust). Roodenburg’s intention isn’t about shedding light on women that already feel too much like has been thrown their way, it’s about looking at why the culture surrounding these women has changed and where it initially came from.
In both cases, the women at the center are trying to maintain their individual identities and not be lumped into one big fetishized group. And there is something Dutch about this idea. Instead of blending into the woodwork, and being pulled into the marshes the Dutch enforced their national identity onto the land and created something no one had done before. Similarly the prostitutes, and the women who continue to wear dracht are not going to be washed away without a fight and without trying to create polders on which to build their own identities.
Arnold Karskens. Henny. From “One Way to Live” pg 71.
Twee meisjes in streekdracht Marken. Nederlands Openluchtmuseum. 1943. http://www.geheugenvannederland.nl/nl/geheugen/view?coll=ngvn&identifier=NOMA01%3AAA291