vrijdag 28 augustus 2015

Views & Reviews The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits HELLEN VAN MEENE Photography


For the last 20 years, Hellen van Meene (b. 1972) has ranked among the world’s top photographers. Her highly distinctive style and timeless, intimate images of young girls on the brink of adulthood have attracted international acclaim. Solo shows and group exhibitions have won her admirers in places as far away as Japan, Korea and the US. The Hague Museum of Photography now presents the first ever major retrospective of her entire oeuvre.

Hellen van Meene career took off in a big way immediately after her graduation from the Rietveld Academie (Amsterdam) in 1996. Following various group exhibitions and a solo show at the Paul Andriesse gallery in Amsterdam, her international breakthrough came with a solo exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery in London. Since then, her work has been acquired by major museums in the Netherlands and around the world. Collections in which it can now be found include those of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Victoria & Albert Museum (London) and MoMA (New York).

Although Van Meene has continued to develop and her choice of subject has widened over the past twenty years, her work has always displayed the same consistent and distinctive personal style. Whatever the nature of her photographs - whether autonomous art works, images commissioned by the New York Times or Tank Magazine, portraits of young girls in Tokyo or Los Angeles, or portraits of dogs – each of them is always and unmistakeably ‘a Hellen van Meene’.

Van Meene’s unique style is characterized by the timeless and mysterious atmosphere in her images and by her consistent use of natural light. Due to the crucial importance of lighting in her photographs, but also because of the particular way she stages her pictures of adolescent girls, her work is sometimes compared with that of major painters of the past, from Botticelli and Velázquez through to the Pre-Raphaelites of the nineteenth century.

Van Meene draws her models – often young girls – from her immediate social circle or spots them in the street. She doesn’t care who the girl is or where she comes from. For that reason, she deliberately refrains from titling her photographs; the identity of the subject is irrelevant. The photographic image represents a mere moment in time, carefully staged by the photographer; the subject may look quite different the next day – especially if she is a girl in an ‘in-between phase’, hovering on the brink of adulthood. Time flies by: The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits. What remains is a timeless image that frequently offers no clue as to whether it was produced at the start of Van Meene’s career or just this year.

To underline the intimacy of her photographs, Van Meene presents them in the form of small-format prints, forcing the viewer to come close to see them. The retrospective at the Hague Museum of Photography, consisting of over ninety photographs, is accommodated in six vivid, enclosed spaces. It extends from Van Meene’s earliest photographic works, produced in 1994, right through to her most recent images, never previously seen in the Netherlands.

The exhibition is accompanied by a book of the same name, containing an essay by Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The publication is available in Dutch (Ludion, ISBN 978-94-9181-932-2), English (Aperture, ISBN 978-1-59711-317-5) and German (Schirmer/Mosel, ISBN 978-3-8296-0717-9).

hellen van meene has photographed awkward adolescents for 20 years And somehow makes them look timelessly elegant.
PHOTOGRAPHY Rory Satran 21 July, 2015

"Rabbits can make babies so fast that we can't even count," muses Dutch photographer Hellen Van Meene. That speed is the essence of the title of her new collection of photographs, The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits. Taken from 1994-2015, the vast majority of the images are square portraits of young women. By turns awkward, gorgeous, opaque, and inviting, the photos are beautifully composed in a way that is often compared to Dutch master paintings. But Van Meene sees them as more ephemeral, "It's about the speed of life. Also, when you are not so happy with a photograph taken, don't worry, the next day it's different."
Hellen is based in the north of Holland, but she finds her unlikely Lolitas all over the world, often by just walking around city centers and shopping malls. How does she know when an adolescent will be right for one of her delicately composed pieces? "It has nothing to do with being beautiful or not; it's more about chemistry," she says. "And this can be based on the mood they have, or the hair, or the skin, or if they are fat, brown, freckled. It's just there is something inside them that I feel. It's more like I am looking with my belly rather than my eyes."
It's with her belly that she has found subjects like the tentative redhead in her orthodontic headgear, the wanton Korean girl blowing a pink bubble, and the identical twins - loads of identical twins. The common thread, for the most part, is their youth and their in-betweenness. As Hellen says, "The faces are so open and you can have different interpretations. I prefer younger faces because it's like an open book."
Once she's done the casting, it's time to create the precise mise-en-scene. Because Hellen likes her images to have a timeless quality, she shoots them at abandoned, unrenovated Granny houses in the countryside and often styles them herself using thrift shop nighties and dresses. "In my work I like it that you don't have a clue when it's been taken. Is it this year? Or is it 20 years ago? or 40 years ago?" she says.
The forgotten homes she likes to shoot in are a dying breed. She speaks of them with a hint of nostalgia: "Those houses are getting very rare in the Netherlands. Everyone, even the grandmothers, are getting very hip now. I almost feel responsible to document these kinds of houses. Sometimes things go quicker than I wish they would." The image on the cover of the book features the pea green geometric wallpaper of a house that Hellen had cycled by for years before finally getting access to. It's a little slice of Dutch design memory.
But for all her careful planning, Hellen is still ruled by her intuition. And after twenty years of making pictures, she's confident in her approach. "I'm not a researcher," she says. "It's not like, 'Did someone already did this or that?' I don't care. It's my invention. Children have been done, dogs, houses, you name it, it's been done. Everything has been done. But, not by me."
With their perfect square shape, you would think that her photographs would find a welcome home on Instagram. But while there's definitely a healthy #hellenvanmeene hashtag, you won't find the photographer on the platform any time soon; she's quite anti. "I don't like to share photographs with the rest of the world in that way," says Hellen. "When I take a new photograph, I will never share it with anyone [right away]. I keep it with myself as if it is a new baby that's been born. I don't want to share it with the rest of the world unless I know that it has been settled and grown up."
The 183 photos in Hellen's new book are all grown up works, and together they tell a compelling and open-ended story.
Hellen Van Meene's work will be on view at the Foto Museum in the Hague from August 29-November 29, 2015.
The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits is now available from Aperture

The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits

Photographs by Hellen van Meene

Introduction by Martin Barnes Text by Joost Zwagerman

"The 183 photos in Hellen's new book are all grown up works, and together they tell a compelling and open-ended story." —i-D, July 21, 2015

Over the last twenty years, Hellen van Meene has produced a complex body of work, offering a contemporary take on photographic portraiture. Characterized by her exquisite use of light, formal elegance, and palpable psychological tension, her depictions of girls and boys on the cusp of adulthood demonstrate a clear aesthetic lineage to seventeenth-century Dutch painting. Van Meene captures the intimacy in the photographer/subject relationship, bringing out a sense of honesty and vulnerability from within her models and highlighting the beauty of imperfection. She carefully poses her subjects in their environments to emphasize their fragility, adding a palpable tension to the photographs. At the same time, she captures them at deeper, more introspective moments—masterfully moving between the staged nature of the portraits and the real experiences of her subjects. The combination of van Meene’s instinctive understanding of the universality of adolescent experience and the highly intimate collaboration between photographer and model makes for powerful portraits that resonate long after viewing. This book brings together more than 250 images, for the most comprehensive presentation of the artist’s work to date.

Hellen van Meene (born in Alkmaar, the Netherlands, 1972) studied photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam. Her work has been exhibited internationally and is in the collections of major museums around the world, including the Guggenheim Museum, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Art Institute of Chicago; Brooklyn Museum; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. This will be her fifth monograph. The others include Hellen van Meene: Portraits (Aperture, 2004); Hellen van Meene: Japan Series; Hellen van Meene: New Work; and Hellen van Meene: Tout va disparaître.

Martin Barnes (introduction) is the senior curator of photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. In addition to curating numerous touring exhibitions in the UK, his curated exhibitions at the museum include Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography (2010). Barnes writes on contemporary photographers for such publications as Aperture and Portfolio, as well as for exhibition catalogues.
Joost Zwagerman (text), Dutch writer, poet, and essayist, was awarded the Gouden Ganzenveer prize in 2008 for his contributions to Dutch literary culture.

Hou op met die foto's van gekwelde meisjes

DOOR JHIM LAMOREE 28 augustus 2015

Een overzichtstentoonstelling in Den Haag van Hellen van Meene, fotografe van Ophelia’s met slecht zittend ondergoed. Helaas, empathie voor de aandoenlijke ongemakkelijkheid van pubers heeft zij niet.

In een groen groen knollenknollenland staat een mollig meisje heel parmant. Ze neemt een uitdagende pose aan langs een sloot op het platteland. Enigszins wijdbeens en met opgetrokken armen achter haar hoofd in een voor haar jonge leeftijd ouwelijke jurk. De uitdrukking op haar gezicht vertelt een ander verhaal dan haar verleidelijke houding. Haar toegeknepen ogen en mond verraden onbegrip. Je ziet haar denken: hoe lang moet ik zo nog blijven staan?

Deze puber is seksueel nog niet ontwaakt. Ze wordt gedwongen haar onschuld op te geven, maar heeft geen idee hoe dat te doen. Kijken we hier naar een artistieke verbeelding of naar een kwelling?

Welkom in de fotografische natte droom van Hellen van Meene (Alkmaar, 1972). Het Fotomuseum Den Haag opent dit culturele seizoen met een retrospectief van haar oeuvre, dat na haar afstuderen aan de Rietveld Academie in 1996 meteen door galeries, fotografische instituten en jury’s van prijzen werd opgepikt. De fotografe wordt op handen gedragen. Eerder dit jaar verscheen een kloek boek met een overzicht van haar oeuvre – kennelijk rolde zo het retrospectief in het Fotomuseum door de deur. Dat overzicht maakt zonneklaar dat van ontwikkeling in haar oeuvre nauwelijks sprake is. Wel zie je heel veel varianten op hetzelfde thema van gekwelde meisjes die nog geen bakvis zijn. Je struikelt over de Ophelia’s met slecht zittend ondergoed.

De puber is niet weg te slaan in de fotografie sinds de jaren negentig. Rineke Dijkstra, Arno Nollen, Lisa Sarfati en vele anderen ontfermden zich over het onderwerp. Net als Hellen van Meene. Met het grote verschil dat Van Meene helemaal niet is geïnteresseerd in de ander, maar louter in zichzelf. Empathie voor de aandoenlijke ongemakkelijkheid van pubers heeft zij niet. Ze kneedt ze als klei tot de herinnering die ze van zichzelf heeft. Ze zijn ledenpoppen voor haar. ‘Ik arrangeer alles tot in het kleinste detail,’ zegt Van Meene zelf.

Als ik naar zulke foto’s kijk voel ik me plaatsvervangend ongemakkelijk. Na een paar gezien te hebben weet ik het ook wel.

 Fotomuseum Den Haag: Hellen van Meene, ‘The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits’. Van 29 augustus tot en met 29 november.

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