Let's Sit Down Before We Go

Legendary Dutch photographer in the other Europe

Text by Imogen van Zaane

Photography by Bertien van Manen


"I have to like the people I photograph.
I need to feel an attraction, a fascination."
- Bertien van Manen

Let's Sit Down Before We Go tells you just as much about Bertien van Manen as the people she has so lovingly chosen to portray. Her work shows fleeting moments captured with a genuine interest in her subjects and their lives as she stays in their homes, learns the local dialect and becomes a friend of the family.

The title of her new book represents an old Russian tradition, to take a minute and reflect before embarking on a new journey. From 1991 to 2009, Bertien travelled to Eastern Europe and Asia seeking the familiarities in the "otherness" of people, and documenting private moments with great respect for the privilege she had earned. Working with a simple analogue camera was unobtrusive and allowed her to capture the inherent beauty of the setting and the spontaneity of each moment. She photographed in colour to avoid adding drama and instead infused sincerity with her light-hearted interpretation of reality in 20th century Eastern European culture.

The book is a collection of portraits that were never published, often because they were just too raw or overexposed. They represent a series of authentic moments and fond memories that are embraced in their true form. As such, the evocative imagery has become even more powerful in the passing of time.

Let's Sit Down Before We Go is edited by Stephen Gill and published by MACK. The exhibition is at Foam Photography Museum, Amsterdam, from March 19-June 24 bertienvanmanen.nl, mackbooks.co.uk

All images courtesy Bertien van Manen

  • Let's Sit down before We Go - Bertien Van Manen #1
  • Let's Sit down before We Go - Bertien Van Manen #2
  • Let's Sit down before We Go - Bertien Van Manen #3