The gift of a camera at age 15 was the beginning for Hellen van Meene. Born in the Netherlands in 1972 she began photographing adolescent girls her own age whom she knew. First exhibiting her work in 1996 she has continued to show internationally in America, UK, Europe, Russia and Japan and is quoted as one of the leading photographers of her generation.
Significantly, when Van Meene was invited to photograph in Japan in 2000, she found that while she could not communicate directly with her subjects, her instincts regarding the universality of adolescent experience, and her visual and stylistic approach to it, were translatable. That she was able to work so successfully with unknown individuals in culturally unfamiliar circumstances suggests that Van Meene’s pictures only masquerade as portraits. Her photographs of unnamed girls are best understood as collaborative reflections on the genesis of individuality, and how best to visualize it. Using a square format and operating from a medium focal range, Van Meene strives to compose: “photographs of adolescent situations and attitudes, which represent the type of ‘normality’ we don’t usually share with others, but keep to ourselves.”
(Museum of Contemporary Photography, 2002)
As with other photographers like Bill Henson (Australia), Van Meene’s adolescent subject matter is a highly sensitive topic and striving to find ways to shoot and exhibit her work has not been without many challenges. In an interesting article Olga Bubich interviews Van Meene for Bleek Magazine about the difficulties of shooting subjects of this age. Read Here
Often compared to 17th century Dutch paintings her work shows a sensitive understanding of light which is an integral element in all her works. Without deliberately drawing inspiration from master painters like Vermeer, exposure to the works of these painters has without doubt had a subliminal effect on her portraits and the relationship of light, figure and objects within them.
Hellen van Meene’s current exhibition ‘Five’ is exhibiting at:
Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York
December 10, 2015 – January 23, 2016
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