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Taking off. Henry my Neighbor

by Mariken Wessels

“Taking Off” is a real picture story of a failed marriage, of sexual frustration and voyeurism. The exhibition introduces us to Henry’s photographic obsessions. His wife, Martha, has lived under his yoke for years, heedlessly posing for his extravagant nude studies. Mariken Wessels acquired the complete private collection through acquaintances in the United States.

Wessels set about reconstructing Henry’s marriage, work and life. “Taking Off” depicts the various stages in his obsession. She takes as her point of departure some 5,500 black-and- white nudes, dozens of collages and several clay gurines. “Taking Off” takes us on a journey into the secretive, private world of Henry and his muse. Wessels becomes their condant. She presents their story as an artistic plea for the recognition of Martha’s courage in exposing her husband’s creative madness.

Henry left behind a legacy of amateur art totaling approximately 5,500 nude photos of his wife and muse Martha, 50 collages and 17 clay gurines.

After Martha overcame feelings of shame, she discovered Henry’s dazzling world, in which she saw herself endlessly multiplied. She threw thousands of photographs out the window before disappear- ing out of his life.
Henry began living a hermit’s life. He cut up the retrieved and remaining photographs and turned them into collages, which he subsequently used as models for clay gurines. Eventually, Henry retreated from photography altogether and disappeared into the woods of Northwestern New Jersey.

After she left Henry, Martha led a sequestered life.