Dutch Week: Vivian Keulards
For the fourth feature in a row, I’m introducing a woman. Spoiler alert, I will tomorrow as well, on the last day of this “Dutch week”. It wasn’t by design, and for most of the work, I chose imagery first, then saw the names – and gender – of the artists. Obviously, Dutch photography isn’t all Female. But then again, I never meant to showcase a comprehensive or statistically representative sample portraying “the state of Dutch photography today”. Five days wouldn’t have been enough for world famous highlights (I would have started with a woman again though – Rineke Dijkstra)! Instead I chose to present images in different genres that either moved me, jarred me, or made me think, and work that you might not have seen before simply because of Geography.
I met Vivian Keulards through Aline, almost two years ago. Vivian used to live in Colorado and returned to the Netherlands just before my own move. Having both been immersed in the North American art world, we each had to find our bearings (again) once back in Holland. Regardless of which side of the pond you find yourself, things are different “here”. It’s so easy to fall into cliché’s, but every place has its own (photographic) traditions, mentalities, expectations even… Vivian has been a wonderful friend who has helped me discover and navigate the Dutch art world. And with that, I’m pleased to introduce her latest body of work, A soft breath in the cold dawn.
An interview with Vivian follows. As mentioned later in the post, she has created a set of cards of this project and they can be found here.
Vivian Keulards was born and raised in the Netherlands and successfully graduated as a portrait photographer at the Photo Academy in Amsterdam in 2009. In the past she also gained a master’s Degree in communication science. Her fascination for images and photography started at an early age, but she decided to become a professional photographer when she turned 35 years old. One year after her graduation at the Photo Academy she moved to Colorado (USA) with her family and lived there for 3 years. Children, young people and particularly vulnerable groups are often recurring subjects within her photography projects. In documentary or in creative, fictional form. Her portraits have been published, exhibited and rewarded internationally. The Annenberg Space for Photography, Photoville NY, FotoFestiwal Lodz, Athens Photo Festival and Kolga Tbilisi are a few places where her work was shown. She was a Critical Mass top 50 winner in 2015 and 2016. Her first book ‘Flaming Grace’ was awarded 3 times gold and 1-time bronze in the Moscow International Photo Awards 2017. Nowadays Vivian lives in the Netherlands, where she works on her own photography projects and on assignments.
An interview with Vivian follows.
A soft breath in the cold dawn
This series marks a new beginning. It’s a step in which I bring a hard quest to a close and in which I embrace a new light-hearted era. It’s a volition to rely on my intuition and my eye. To have full confidence in me.
In this creative series I get taken away by my fantasies and dreams, where images are created from fictional (staged) and non-fictional scenes. In both cases though I’m touched by the appearance of vulnerability, beauty and wonder. Poetic moments in which my heart makes a little jump and I realize why I’m a photographer again. It’s a project without an assignment and without a clear message, but with the look and feel I love so much. The one of freedom, tenderness and stillness. An encouragement to rediscover my strength as a human being and as an artist. It’s the beginning of a new day in which nothing is impossible. – Vivian Keulards
Since we met I’ve known your work to be mostly slow journalism – at the very least you often photograph series that document people in some way: you won Critical Mass 2 years ago “Me and my Selfie”, photographing 13 years old kids, your book “Flaming Grace” shows beautiful portraits of red haired kids, you’ve photographed women in and out of their uniforms etc. But “A soft breath in the cold dawn” is different. What is this project about?
Since I moved back to the Netherlands in the summer of 2013, I struggled getting my life back on track. I still don’t know how to call this period I just put behind me: a burn out, a depression, midlife crisis, … It doesn’t really matter how we call it. It turned out that I needed to put a few major life topics to a closure. That’s what I’ve been working on at a personal level. At the same time, I lost track of what made me happy in photography. I was insecure about all the work I made and in which direction to go. This body of work ‘a soft breath in the cold dawn’ is a symbolic new start. It’s like resetting my inner mind. It feels good to start over in my head and go back to my basics. I’m creating a fictional story where I connect with my inner world and fantasy, rather than working with a contemporary topic or concept. With this series I’m taking you on a
trip into my wonder land and we don’t know yet how this tale will end.
What lead you in this direction with this work?
After a hard time, it’s an encouragement towards myself. To simply create stories again by trusting my eye and intuition. To examine my inner world and rediscover my strength as a photographer.
You’ve made card sets of those photographs and I showed them to my daughters (we even had a short fight as to who could hang what up on the wall…). But when I told them that the little lamb on the table is in fact stuffed, they were stunned. I actually really like this tension in the series – I see light and darkness, beauty but also death, along with a lot of hope. Am I totally projecting??
Of course, you’re projecting. And that’s okay. I think that’s usually the case when you look at images and art. Like Henry David Thoreau, the philosopher, said: it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. It’s your perception of the photographs. You see the world with your glasses and with your backpack full of values, experiences and believes. And that’s what I like in photography and art in general. You’re allowed to create your own story. I like to leave that open space for the spectator’s view. In these cards I see many things like life, beauty, curiosity, love, hope, freedom and innocence.
Who are the people in your photographs? Are they all female for a reason?
I stopped these girls on the street and asked them if I could photograph them. Pretty exciting, because you never know if they’ll contact you. Maybe they think I’m a scary, weird woman asking them for a portrait out of nowhere. If I spot people I know there’s something fascinating about them that I want to examine closer. Usually it’s something soft, vulnerable and strong and powerful at the same time. I think for now it’s a coincidence that they’re all female. Not sure yet. I can spot it with men as well. The series is ongoing, so let’s see what happens.
Sometimes we just know we need to do something in a certain way which is a bit out of our comfort zone; it can be hard to do so, or it can be a welcome relief – it can even be both. How has the process been for you in making this work so differently than usual?
I don’t think I worked so differently, I just gave myself more space and freedom to create. It’s less within the strict boundaries of a concept or topic. The series is more about the experiment or process of creating a fictional story. I’m writing this novel and I’m not sure yet how it ends. That will unfold itself in the future. It’s all about the feeling of beauty and wonder. To connect with my subconsciousness. That’s what I did on a personal level, now I need to do it on a work/photography level. Portraiture still has my heart, but I also can make that connection in nature or in a simple moment, like the blue hour in the Burren of Ireland. It took my breath away, it felt so magical. I was at the right place at the right time, just by accident. I NEEDED to capture that. “Stop the car now” I yelled. Those moments I know why I’m a photographer. Then I’ve got the urge again to make that photograph. The same feeling I’ve got when I spot that one person on the street I would love to photograph. It’s like a need to capture moments in life, to keep them as treasures and memories. As an example, it’s not only the white lamb on the white table that gives me that feeling of innocence and vulnerability. It’s also connected to memories of that day. It was in the house of one of the twins (in red). I was so touched that they made a delicious lunch and brought a suitcase full of clothes for the portraits. We had so much fun with the three of us. I’m so grateful on such a day that total strangers (yes, I met them on the street as well) open their doors for me. I store that in my head as a beautiful memory connected to the images of the lamb and the twin sisters.
Will you continue expanding on this project?
Yes! Next to my other documentary-based series, this will be my fictional project to freely create my ongoing story and drive my fantasy to the max. Of course, it needs to be a series, the images need to match and talk to each other, but the ending is still open. Maybe strange to some people, but I like it that this series can go into different directions. My subconsciousness is my leader. I’m sure though people will still recognize my familiar elements and signature.
What’s next for you now?
Next to this series and the other short editorial series, I’m working on the biggest project ever. I mean that in a mental way. It’s the personal story about the death of my brother and what it has done to me. I’m working together with a great team of two designers and a photography consultant. Hopefully at the end of the year I can show my story in a new book and a video installation. The book is a combination of family pictures and created images with a very symbolic and poetic look. The videos are more documentary and both of them together will share my quest for answers. Coming out with this project will break taboos and it will be a milestone in my life!
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