Nederlands Fotomuseum: Chas Gerretsen: With Chas Gerretsen


the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam presents a magnificent exhibition which unfortunately ends on May 8th. “With Chas Gerretsen” is the first retrospective of the Dutch photographer Chas Gerretsen. (Robert Capa Gold Medal in 1973).
Now forgotten, he was in turn a photojournalist and still photographer.
Thanks to Monika Pfandzelter for providing us with all this material.

Dutch photographer Chas Gerretsen is rediscovered, 30 years after giving up photography

Does objective journalism exist? Do photographers have the right to take a position on a subject? Can a photograph be guilty of something? These important themes are reflected in the work of the exceptionally versatile photographer Chas Gerretsen. According to Chas, “most photojournalists unconsciously censor themselves; since they have no influence, in which the photos are published. It is difficult for them to display a contrary opinion, or to deviate from current popular opinion, if they want to continue to be published. As a freelance photojournalist I was not controlled, but already at the end of the sixties my images were.

Until May 8and, the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam presents a selection of more than 200 photographs in the retrospective exhibition “Starring Chas Gerretsen”. Guest curator Iris Sikking says, “This exhibition takes audiences and readers to the battlefields of Southeast Asia, Vietnam and Cambodia, to the streets of Santiago de Chile, to the set of” Apocalypse Now” and on Hollywood film sets and homes. stars of the 70s and 80s. These four distinct chapters of Chas’s work and life seem at first glance to have little connection to one another. But together, they form the extraordinary foundations of Chas’ photographic work and life.

travel and work

Gerretsen grew up in Holland, but has lived outside Europe for most of his life. Driven by an insatiable curiosity, he left Europe immediately after his 18th birthday.and birthday, and went in 1961 to Australia; he has been traveling ever since. Chas started photographing to show his family how he was doing: the people he met, the places and the situations he was in.

He became a professional photographer during the Tet offensive in early 1968, after entering Vietnam: with 75 cents and a Minox-B miniature camera in his pocket. Chas started out as a combat cameraman for UPI-TN. Not liking being told where and what to film, he left UPI-TN and became a freelance cameraman. Shortly after, he obtained his first camera: he exchanged a Nikon F camera, with a 105 mm lens, with his friend, the American war photographer Dana Stone. Gerretsen sold his first images to UPI for $5 per negative – no photo credit. (In 2013, this camera with ‘Dana Stone’ engraved on the body was sold at auction at WestLicht in Vienna for a hammer price of 14,400 euros. Dana Stone had been captured in Cambodia with Sean Flynn in May 1970. )

Not only did Gerretsen cover the war in Vietnam and Cambodia, but also a few years later the military coup in Chile on September 11, 1973. For his coverage of the latter, Gerretsen received the award “The Medal of Gold Robert Capa” for “Best Photographic Reportage Published Abroad Requiring Exceptional Courage and Enterprise”. In a short time, from 1967 to 1975, Chas Gerretsen changed his photographic career from cameraman to combat photographer, photojournalist and storyteller. Chas showed the lives of ordinary people: school children, merchants, rebel soldiers, farmers or politicians in a time of poverty, unrest and conflict.

From photojournalist to show biz

In 1975, Chas Gerretsen turned his back on the real battlefields; he went to work in Hollywood.

In Los Angeles, Gerretsen expanded his photography palette into another career focused on portraiture and publicity photography. In less than two months, Chas had photo shoots with celebrities like Barbara Streisand, Margot Kidder, Sally Kellerman, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas, Talia Shire, David Carradine and Alfred Hitchcock.

Only a year later, Francis Ford Coppola asked Gerretsen to work on the now epic Vietnam War film ‘Apocalypse Now’. Hollywood style, Coppola wanted a fight photographer for a fight movie: Gerretsen’s photography career had come full circle, from “Real to Reel.” Images taken during the six months of filming Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece demonstrate that the line between real wars and fake ones is sometimes difficult to discern.

Over the next 12 years, Chas founded his own photo agency, Mega Production Inc., launched a successful photo studio, and also became a filmmaker. Chas had more than 500 celebrities in front of his lens, musicians, actors, producers and sportsmen.

In 2019, KINO-Rotterdam and the NFM produced a 32-minute video documentary: ‘Dutch Angle: Chas Gerretsen & Apocalypse Now’. The mini-doc was a big hit in Bologna, at the “Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019” film festival and Francis Ford Coppola included the documentary in his “Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut” Blu-Ray box set.

Why was this photo exhibition called “Starring Chas Gerretsen”?

The NFM invited independent curator Iris Sikking, who intertwined Chas’ life with her photographic work. In the past, only the images of the coup d’etat in Chile were presented in exhibitions around the world. During his career, Gerretsen was best known for this coverage of the military coup in Chile; Recently, fans of Francis Ford Coppola’s war film “Apocalypse Now” discovered Chas for the footage he took on set of this epic Vietnam War film in 1976.

The retrospective at the Rotterdam Museum is Gerretsen’s first solo exhibition, highlighting his development as a photographer and artist. Visitors have the chance to experience the full breadth of Gerretsen’s photography. The exhibition and accompanying publication reflect an astonishing and unpredictable career, both of which provide a compelling image of Gerretsen. Iris Sikking explains: “Gerretsen’s episodic career is perhaps best summed up as a life lived as a series of separate scenes. The link between them is Chas himself, which is why I gave him the lead role in the show and the associated book. Not to put him on a pedestal, but to give him the recognition his photography so richly deserves.

Visitors to the Fotomuseum Rotterdam can follow the photojournalist from the war zones of Southeast Asia to South America. Much of the exhibit deals with the social unrest and unrest of this continent. From the beginning of 1973, Gerretsen covered the protests, riots and problems in Chile, led by President Salvador Allende. On September 11, 1973, Chas covered the coup with his friend Sylvain Julienne. Julienne and Gerretsen had just started a lifelong friendship. Chas was working at the time with the French photo agency Gamma and Sylvain was with the competing agency Sygma.

Chas says of himself: “I was driven by curiosity. Was life really as depicted in Hollywood films, was war as glamorous as in the films of my youth? I wanted to show what I saw; simply, what was happening in the world. Real photojournalism, which has now become a real art.

The NFM extended the Chas retrospective for two weeks due to its great success; it will now end, after seven months, on May 8, 2022.

Nederlands Fotomuseum
United States 1
3072 MD Rotterdam

October 16, 2021 until May 08, 2022
Tuesday to Sunday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Coinciding with the exhibition, three books were published in 2021:

“With Chas Gerretsen”
Paperback catalog of 256 pages accompanying the exhibition at the Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam. By Iris Sikking, Chas Gerretsen and the Nederlands Fotomuseum.
Published in 2021 by Lecturis and designed by Kummer&Herrman. ISBN: 9789462264069

“Apocalypse Now, The Lost Photo Archive, by Chas Gerretsen”
256 pages, hardcover, photo book. This book is filled to the brim with iconic photos from filming in the Philippines, 1976. Published in 2021 by Prestel Verlag, Munich/ Penguin/ Random House, NY, and designed by Sybren Kuiper (-SYB-). ISBN: 978-3-7913-8808-3

The photographers edition of “The Lost Photo Archive”
is limited to 30 copies in a linen-lined clamshell case; it contains three signed prints from the set of “Apocalypse Now”, taken in 1976 in the Philippines.
Available at the Nederlands Fotomuseum for the duration of the exhibition at: €495.

“Het wonderbaarlijke en vreemde leven van Chas Gerretsen”
Paperback of 352 pages with 82 photos. Chas Gerretsen’s autobiography, his life until 1990.
Published in Dutch, (Originally written in English: “The Weird and Wonderful Life of Chas Gerretsen”) Published 2021 by Uitgeverij: Boom-Geschiedenis. ISBN: 9789024434473


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