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Paul Blanca: The Amsterdam photographer of disgust and aesthetics

"The work of an art dealer is not a 9-to-5 office job. It is more a way of living. You never know what the day will bring, and that's precisely what makes this profession exciting. So, on a Saturday afternoon in 2020, I found myself sitting on the couch. I had just finished exercising, was eating yogurt, and casually scrolling through my phone. That's when a friend tipped me off about a collection of photographs by Paul Blanca that was up for sale. It was a golden opportunity!

Paul Blanca, zelfportret met ijzerdraad
Paul Blanca, Self-portrait wit iron-wire, 1982.

The Photographer of Disgust and Aesthetics

Paul Blanca (1958-2021), born as Paul Vlaswinkel, was a Dutch photographer who gained recognition in the 1980s for his controversial and violent photographs. In New York, he was mentored by Robert Mapplethorpe, who called him his only real competitor. Blanca fearlessly confronts viewers by mutilating himself with razors and arrows, or by capturing heroin addicts in their moments of surrender. In Par La Pluie Des Femmes, he asks women about their most traumatic memories while photographing them naked and usually in tears. In Deformation, he distorts human bodies, challenging viewers to contemplate the relative boundaries of the human physique by manipulating his models with threads. Despite the repulsive subjects, Blanca manages to capture the moment in an aesthetic manner. His photographs prompt spectators to ponder the concept of beauty and continue to intrigue. A stark contrast can be found in his more recent works, such as Rechtbankportretten, displayed at the Museum de Fundatie in Zwolle, or the photo series Rondje Nederland, where he explored nature and Scheveningen.

Paul Blanca, Rondje Nederland
Paul Blanca, Rondje Nederland, 2010.

Time is of the essence when reaching an agreement. A collection of this magnitude, consisting of 200 signed photographs, could slip through your fingers in an instant. The seller assured me that the photographs were in excellent condition. Without having seen the photos or knowing exactly what I was buying, I secured an option on them. Usually, I would jump on a train the same day to finalize the deal. However, transporting 200 photos is not a simple task. So, I scheduled a meeting for Sunday evening, half-past nine.

It was a drizzly Sunday, and I quickly found a friend willing to drive me up north. Upon arrival, I saw two boxes on the table. I asked if I could take a look at the photos. I randomly picked out five to analyze the photo paper and signatures. Among them was an array of familiar works, such as Self-portrait with Mickey Mouse, etched into his skin with a razor blade. That made me very happy. There were also several artworks that I had not seen before - quite intriguing! The prints were professionally made C-prints, in A3 size. And there it was: the title with the year on the left, and Blanca's signature on the right, using his distinctive silver pen. After finalizing the deal, I drove back to Haarlem with a sense of satisfaction. That's where the inventorying and documenting process began. During the search, photos came up that had not been exhibited before, as well as portraits of his friends and acquaintances.

Paul Blanca, Zelfportret met Mickey Mouse
Paul Blanca, Self-portrait with Mickey Mouse, 1986.

Fotomuseum Den Haag Hommage to Paul Blanca 2021

It's already three years ago. Paul Blanca has passed away. As a tribute to the Amsterdam-based photographer, the Fotomuseum Den Haag organized the exhibition "Hommage to Paul Blanca" in the summer of 2022. It offered a comprehensive overview of Blanca's early photographs and self-portraits. To my surprise, there hung Self-portrait with Mickey Mouse, the same photo I had sold to a client a year prior. Although I still regret selling that photo, I couldn't imagine a better destination for it than this museum."


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