Jan Banning is a Dutch independent photographic artist, based in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
He was born in Almelo (Netherlands) on May 4, 1954, from Dutch East Indies parents, and he studied social and economic history at the Radboud University of Nijmegen. Both of these facts have had a strong influence on his photographic works.
His roots are reflected in several of his subjects, such as in ‘Comfort Women’: Indonesian women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese military during the Second World War; also in ‘Traces of War: Survivors of the Burma and Sumatra Railways’, about former forced labourers in South East Asia during that same period; the repatriation of elderly Moluccans from the Netherlands to the Indonesian Moluccas in ‘Pulang’.
Study of history
His academic study is expressed in the historical components of his subject matter and in his determination to achieve sound intellectual foundations for his projects through thorough research. De Volkskrant reviewer Merel Bem wrote: ‘Each subject that Banning approaches (…), the photographer dives right in with the passion of a academic’; and ‘This investigative approach might be an explanation for the fact that the form is a direct, concentrated and controlled result from the content’ (in De Volkskrant 8-5-2010, review of ‘Comfort Women’).
His academic background also shows in his often conceptual approach and his regular use of the typological method (visual research in which he looks for variations within a tightly repeated form). Jean Dykstra wrote (in Art on Paper, Sept/Oct. 2008): ‘Borrowed from the methodology of science, it allows for differences to emerge within a category of similar things.’
Power, justice and (in)equality are central to Banning’s work. The social political environment is put at the fore and it often concerns subjects that have been neglected within the arts and are difficult to visualise: political systems; criminal justice; colonialism’s heritage; long-term consequences of war. Sometimes the work is the result of a sociological or anthropological classifying approach, such as ‘Bureaucratics’, a comparative study of the world of government officials in eight countries worldwide; or Law&Order, which compares criminal justice systems in Colombia, France, Uganda and the USA. Other times he focuses more on psychological impact that major social or individual events have had on individuals (‘Comfort Women’, ‘Traces of War’, ‘Down and Out in the South’, The Verdict).
His portraits are always respectful and warmhearted. But irony is also one of his weapons: e.g. in ‘Bureaucratics’; or in ‘The Sweating Subject’, a mocking take on colonial photography as well as on its heir, present-day western journalism. Or, in a more subtle way, in Red Utopia, about the remnants of communist parties in five countries.
His projects often have a personal point of departure, but are never ‘private’: he places the subjects that stem from his private life in a larger social context. To give an example: the history of Banning’s father and grandfather during WWII is not only limited to something biographical about two family members, but is broadened into a visual and textual research into the long-term influence of WWII experiences on European and Asian former forced labourers (in ‘Traces of War’).
Over time, his activist tendencies have grown ever stronger: he no longer does he content himself with documenting abuses and injustices, but he aims at using his artwork to try and bring about concrete changes, as in the case of the book (and exhibition) ‘The Verdict: The Christina Boyer Case’ (Het oordeel: De zaak Christina Boyer’), which he describes as a work of artivism.
Museums, exhibitions, print media
Banning’s art work has been acquired by museums such as the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, NL; the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, NL; and Museum De Fundatie, Zwolle, NL.
His photo series have been published in print media such as Newsweek (US and Japan), Time, The New Yorker, The Guardian, GEO (France, Germany, and International), l’Espresso, Sunday Times Magazine, Vrij Nederland, Days Japan and many others.
Banning is fluent in Dutch, English, German and Spanish, and speaks French reasonably well. He is living in the Dutch city of Utrecht.
Among the many publications written about Banning and his work are those in the magazines Whitewall Magazine (Spring 2009), Photonews (December 2008), Art on Paper (September/October 2008), and Photo District News (February 2007). Kennis is geluk (book by Joost Zwagerman, 2012), Atlanta Celebrates Photography Festival Guide 2012 (Felicia Feaster). Meekijken over de schouder van Jan Banning, Fotodok online publication by Eefje Blankevoort.
lectures, workshops & and presentations
This documentary will focus on the manner in which Jan works and lives and on his social focus. As Jan says himself: “Every photograph I make is the result of personal contact.” This film shows Jan’s method of working, his motives and his struggles and pain.