Scarlett Hooft Graafland’s work is on the borderlines of photography, performance and sculpture – with live-performances in the salt deserts of Bolivia, in the Arctic, rural China and India, in the lava fields of Iceland or in the rich Dutch cultural landscape. The Dutch artist makes good use of the unreal beauty of the Netherlands’s rough face of nature and makes it her canvas.
Following exhibitions in the Rencontres d’Arles, World Expo in Shanghai, MOCCA Museum in Toronto and the Museum for Photography in Amsterdam (among others), the Huis Marseille in Amsterdam is showing her fascinating pictures until the end of the month. Kehrer Verlag published a nice picture book to mark the occasion (29,4 x 24,5 cm, 122 Pages, 50 colour images., ISBN 978-3-86828-223-8 , 35 Euro).
Scarlett Hooft Graafland spoke with Nanda van den Berg about the making of her famous motif 'Polar Bear'. The whole interview is available on the museum’s website.
NvdB: Your polar bear has become an icon. What do you think makes the image so compelling?
SHG: I was able to give that image several layers. It has something very dramatic about it, with that grey light, the bear all huddled up – it looks a bit like Rodin’s Thinker, but then the legs sticking out make it a humorous image after all. If it weren’t for the legs, the picture would be more one-dimensional. And Inuit sculptures and drawings are often part-human and part-animal. You see the same thing in their myths and legends. So I also wanted to put that idea into the photographs.
NvdB: How long did you actually work on that shot?
SHG: Quite a long time. It started with the polar bear skin, which was drying out over a sort of balustrade. It’s just amazing, a huge white thing like that. It’s incredible to see a skin like that just lying there. In the Inuit tradition, you don’t knock on the door; only the police do that. So it’s normal to just walk in – and there I saw a very old woman, snoring on the sofa. Who turned out to be the hunter. I made a deal with her, to hire the skin on a per-day basis. And then I went looking for locations, with Sheba, an Inuit girl who was helping me. Her husband had allowed her to take the snowmobile. First I sort of mounted the skin on a length of rope. Gradually, over a week, the image took shape. I think I went out with Sheba three or four times. Then I suddenly had the idea that I should be sitting on something. So I had to search for a stepladder. All sorts of practical things like that. And the weather had to be good, too; that really grey light. We had to wait a while before the light was right. (…)