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New York Dutch-born photographer features Orange City in new book

American scenes embolden unique heritage

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

NEW YORK - A 2004 assignment in Northwest Iowa has put New York City's Dutch immigrant photographer René Clement on the road to another project he is now wrapping up: Promising Land, a 5 year photography project about the 1870s Dutch immigrants-founded settlement of Orange City, Iowa, and the way it has preserved and nurtured its roots and heritage.

An award-winning professional photographer with several books to his name, Limburg-born René Clement has lived and worked in New York City since 1998.

He discovered Orange City when his hosts who lived 30 miles down the road told him about it. Curious about this relatively unknown community, his hosts took him sightseeing through the town where he noticed the orange water tower, the tulips, and the Dutch-theme building fronts. To his great surprise, even the local Pizza Hut had the look of a gabled Amsterdam merchant building. Inside the place, washroom doors identified themselves as being reserved for ‘Dames’ and ‘Heren’.

Flag incident

Since his original visit in 2004, Clement has been back to Orange City regularly and was always warmly received in the community. He has found Orange City highly approachable, so vastly different from New York City, with its layers of press secretaries and PR agencies. As an example, he cited the day he wanted to take a photograph of a girl in a Dutch costume, carrying an American flag. Since he did not have such a flag, he approached City Hall to see if he could borrow one. Instead, they took down their flag and gave it to him to keep, since they were replacing it anyway.

The sense of bonding with Orange City, and the mutual enthusiasm made his project special. Clement thinks it shows in the pictures in Promising Land.


René's project began with a a series of portraits in the tradition of Dutch master painters, drawing upon their use of soft light and stark, black backgrounds. This was followed by a series of landscapes in which René took his subjects out of the studio environment and put them, still dressed in their Dutch costumes, but placed into every day, modern life situations very much representing the mainstream American culture of Orange City. The photography is remarkable, and for those of non-Dutch heritage, likely very funny.

The multi-year project is coming to a climax now that Clement's online campaign to help fund the book’s publication is drawing to a close. He hopes to have the 96-page book out in time for sale at the 2011 Orange City Tulip Festival.

Clement, who should not be confused with the French film director of the same name, has been a free-lance photographer since 1991 and has published a number of pictorial books in the Netherlands and the U.S.A.