Photo project Objective Netherlands exposes misconceptions about the Dutch landscape

Photo project Objective Netherlands exposes misconceptions about the Dutch landscape

How did the Dutch landscape change over the past 50 years? Objective Netherlands - Changing Landscape 1974-2017, a fascinating photo book and exhibition by Reinjan Mulder and Cleo Wächter, gives some remarkable answers.

In 1974, artist Reinjan Mulder (°1949) wanted to capture the objective reality of the Netherlands, uncolored by traditions, accessibility and beauty ideals. He placed a coarsely-woven grid on top of a country map and set off to photograph the 52 resulting intersections. At each spot he took a picture in every wind direction. In 2016, his photos were exhibited at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

The 52 intersections on Reinjan Mulder's map of the Netherlands

Berno Strootman, Government Advisor for the Physical Living Environment, was one the visitors in the Rijksmuseum. He wondered what happened with the landscape more than forty years later. To find out he commissioned photographer Cleo Wächter to repeat Mulder’s project as accurately as possible.

Reinjan Mulder and Cleo Wächter

Armed with the pictures from 1974 and Google Maps the young photographer registered the landscape. She succeeded in contributing her own artistic perspective and completed the re-photography project Objective Netherlands 1974-2017 in 2017.


Wanrooy 1974 & 2017

The project of Objective Netherlands highlights how much land and water there used to be in the Netherlands and how much there is now. It demonstrates how much the forestry has changed in those 43 years as well as how much space is being taken up by roads and buildings.

In reality (‘objectively’), there are, for example, less houses than many Dutch people would think that there are. The landscape is probably also emptier and even flatter than we would expect. Also, many think that there is hardly any nature in the country or that the Netherlands is ‘full’; looking at the photographs, these misconceptions can now be addressed.

At the same time, compared to 43 years ago, there are very few people in the photographs. But everywhere, whether it’s north, south, east or west, visible traces of human presence can be seen: ploughed fields, sheds, trees neatly lined up, trenches and fencing. Sometimes, there is clearly a house, a maintained farm or a solid piece of dike. Or we see how, here and there, a dike has been raised and how a brand-new housing estate has sometimes been established at the site of a former pasture.


Nieuwerschans 1974 & 2017

Objective Netherlands 1974-2017 is a historical document that not only innovatively maps the many changes the Dutch landscape went through over the past 50 years. It simultaneously raises questions about photography as an art form and scientific source. Can photography ever be truly objective? Can something that started out as an art project also lend itself to scientific purposes?

From 18 to 28 October the photos from Reinjan Mulder and Cleo Wächter are on display at Foto Festival Schiedam.

The 416 photos from 1974 and 2017 and lots of cartographic material can also be found at, an interactive website with background information and further reading material.

The two photo series are combined in the publication Objectief Nederland. Veranderend Landschap 1974-2018/ Objective Netherlands. Changing Landscape 1974-2018 (nai010 publishers) with textual contributions by Henk Baas, Merel Bem, Peter Delpeut, Ludo van Halem, Berno Strootman, Reinjan Mulder en Cleo Wächter.


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