Fotograaf Vincent Mentzel woont en werkt te Rotterdam
Since the early 1970s, Vincent Mentzel has been a staff photographer for the major Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad and is now one of the best-known Dutch photojournalists. As staff photographer he has played a crucial role in shaping the paper’s image. He first distinguished himself as photographer of important Dutch political personalities and then took on important foreign assignments. He also served as photo editor of M Magazine, NRC's monthly glossy Sunday magazine .
Mentzel studied at the Rotterdam Art Academy (Rotterdam kunstacademie), now called the Willem de Kooning Academy of Fine Arts. Afterward he worked in the late 1960s as an assistant to the distinguished Amsterdam theatre photographer Maria Austria. From her he learned darkroom processing and printing techniques.
Mentzel then worked as a freelance photojournalist for national newspapers and magazines. His early photographs are characterized by their narrow perspective, created by heavily printed skies and surroundings. His later work is lighter and more balanced..His use of a wide-angle lens gave his photos an unusual and striking perspective.
NRC Handelsblad, the leading Dutch daily, quickly hired him. He became widely known for his photographs of politicians and statesmen. Mentzel established personal relationships with eminent politicians in the Dutch parliament and photographed them candidly in their private moments. His approach attracted attention and changed the character of political photography in the Netherlands.
By the 1970s Mentzel had become known as the photographer of the powerful. His photos captured ministers, heads of state, and the Dutch royal family at home and abroad, as well as dictators. His photo of the Dutch prime minister Joop Den Uyl won the 1973 “Best Dutch Press Photo” award from the Amsterdam-based World Press Photo Foundation.
However, Mentzel curtailed his work as a political photographer because he felt his friendships with politicians interfered with his journalistic independence.
Even as he expanded his professional horizons, NRC Handelsblad gave Mentzel assignments of wider scope, dispatching him to cover not only extraordinary events and famous names but also ordinary people and places around the world. His first trip to China was during the Cultural Revolution in 1973. He proved skilled at capturing peasant life in China and Tibet, where he was one of the first to be allowed to enter. He also photographed street scenes in Tokyo, ordinary people in the southern United States, and kings and prime ministers.
Among the stories he covered were the Nieuwmarkt riots in Amsterdam over the building of the new metro system, the sectarian troubles in Northern Ireland, the Tiananmen Square student uprising, and the war in Lebanon. These assignments firmly established his stature as a broadly talented photojournalist.
And that is how Mentzel views himself and his calling: "I'm not an artist," he insists, despite the fact that many view his work as representative of true photographic art. "A newspaper is not an art magazine, or a picture book to be kept and treasured. It's something people look at, read, and then throw away. They shouldn't have to puzzle over what a newspaper photo is about. It's fine for a newspaper photo to be striking or beautiful, but its basic job, its reason for being, is to convey information. That's what photojournalism is about."
Vincent Mentzel has consistently shared his knowledge, skills, and support through professional and educational organizations in the field. He serves as a jury member on many international photo contests. He has been a member of the executive board of the World Press Photo Foundation for more than two decades, and a board member of the Rotterdam Art Foundation (Rotterdamse Kunststichting) for a number of years. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Eugene Smith Foundation (New York) and was a board member of the Anna Cornelis foundation, which makes grant to aid photographers on important projects from 1996 to 2006. Since 2000 he has been a board member of the Amsterdam Photography Museum (Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam FOAM), which he helped to found.
Mentzel's photographs have been published in international newspapers and magazines such as Newsweek, Time, Life, and The New York Times. His photographs are included in many museum and private collections around the world. Mentzel's pictures also illustrate many textbooks.
For his work he has been honored many times with the Silver Camera award (Zilveren Camera) of the Dutch Photojournalists Association (Nederlandse Vereniging of Fotojournalisten (NVF)) and by the World Press Photo Foundation.