Cern’s series Comfort Zone is a humorous and tender portrayal of the humans at the beach, each photographed unawares as they rest in their own comfort zone.
Henry Willem Mesdag is perhaps best known for his painting, Panorama Mesdag, which is housed in a museum of the same title. A visit to the museum is probably worth it simply to see Mesdag’s panorama, but right now that’s not our focus. If you want to know more about the panorama, you can read all about the biggest painting in the Netherlands here.
While the Panorama Mesdag museum houses a small permanent collection of Mesdag’s and his wife Sientje van Houten’s paintings, it also frequently hosts temporary exhibitions and is currently featuring Tadao Cern’s Comfort Zone.
Comfort Zone is a photograph series that captures seaside visitors as they are sleeping with their faces covered, unaware of the photographer hovering over them. While on the surface it is simply a set of humorous photos portraying slumbering beach-goers in bathing suits, Comfort Zone immortalizes people in their comfort zones (as the title would imply).
The beach somehow presents a different set of societal rules, where people feel more freedom to present themselves with all their flaws and vulnerability. Cern recognizes this and by photographing these short moments of beach slumber, he is able to create a comfort zone for the audience as well, who can gaze and stare freely at all the details without fear of embarrassment.
What ultimately results from his experiment, though, is a series filled both with humor and vulnerability. Cern simultaneously protects the subjects’ identity by taking pictures only when their faces are covered (in protection from the sun), and thus also doesn’t disturb the comfort zone of the sleeping people.
The Lithuanian Tadao Cern began his career as an architect, but after deciding he wanted to pursue a new direction, he took up photography. A year later, he suddenly blasted into the international scene with his series Blow Job, where he photographed people as he blasted them with fierce gusts of wind.
After a holiday beach visit in his home country, Cern suddenly had the idea that would eventually become Comfort Zone. He then proceeded to spend every day for the next few weeks at the beach, waiting for people to cover their faces and fall asleep. Hundreds of photos were then eventually narrowed down to the 24 that are presented in Comfort Zone.
Cern has since moved on to create contemporary art as well, creating a variety of installations from Adobe Acrobat to Black Balloons to Hanging Paintings. All of those can be checked out on his website.
The Juxtaposition with Mesdag’s Paintings
Mesdag was known for his marine landscapes, particularly those of Scheveningen, which consequently was also the subject of his panorama. Placed alongside the photographs in Comfort Zone, however, the stark contrast between the works becomes even clearer.
While both focus on the beach, their differing intentions make for a fascinating comparison. Mesdag’s paintings are darker, heavier, and show Scheveningen as the fishing village it once was, seemingly ignoring entirely the possibility that people from all over the Netherlands would one day go there to find their own comfort zones.
On the other hand, Comfort Zone presents only the humans on the beach and none of their surroundings. They are framed and presented in such a way that it seems they could even have been taken in a studio and not, as they, in fact, are on a public beach.
Want to visit?
Interested in taking a look to see Cern’s photos and Mesdag’s paintings? Then make sure to check out Panorama Mesdag in The Hague. It’s open from Mon-Sat from 10:00-17:00 and on Sundays from 11:00-17:00. Check out the full list of ticket prices and visiting times here.
Comfort Zone is on display now and will stay until October 22nd, 2017.
Address: Zeestraat 65, 2518 AA, Den Haag