Kunsthal Rotterdam is presenting ‘A Bear in the Lowlands’ by photographer Loek Buter (the Netherlands, 1982). This photo series, for which he received the Silver Camera Award, tells the story of the former circus performer Maxy Niedermeyer (Germany, 1941) and her brown bear Natascha. After the 2014 European ban on performing with wild animals, Maxy was forced to part with most of her circus animals and decided to move to the Netherlands. She was only allowed to keep her bear Natascha because of the close relationship they had with each other. In the photo series, Buter managed to capture this intimate bond and reflects on the changing relationships between humans and animals in today’s world. 

Intrigued by the surreal image of a bear in the Dutch polder landscape, Buter decided to follow these seemingly misplaced characters in the northernmost part of the province of North Holland. He captured Maxy’s daily activities, which mainly consisted of taking care of her bear: preparing food, grooming her fur, and walking her through the polder landscape. Buter also added various archival photos to his photo series that offer us a glimpse into the old circus profession. He shows Maxy decked out in her old costumes while looking back on her sixty-year career during which she travelled around the world with her circus animals. In doing so, Buter exposes the great contrast between Maxy’s glamorous circus past and her current simple life in the Netherlands, where she and her bear Natascha are spending their retirement. Loek Buter

Loek Buter (1982, The Netherlands) graduated from the Fotoacademie Amsterdam. As a documentary photographer, Buter is interested in telling stories about the influence landscapes have on individuals and their communities. His projects are social landscape narratives with a strong focus on the relationship between humans and nature, the Dutch landscape, agriculture, sustainability and outdoor life. Buter has already won several awards for his work, including the Silver Camera (2021 and 2022) and Lens Culture’s Critics Choice Award. 
Maxy walking Natascha.
12-11-2014 Maxy wears her old circus costume during a walk with her brown bear Natascha through the North Holland polder land. After the sudden retirement of both, sufficient exercise is important.
Portrait of Natasha.
16-11-2018 Natascha’s nails hardly wear out in captivity. Maxy trims her nails regularly.
Bear food, 2014 © Loek Buter