“To make a great portrait, you simply have to concentrate on what’s in front of you. Find the perfect light. Focus on the models. Say the right things and make your models relax. This is a formula that has never changed…” says the Dutch photographer in an interview on her portrait photos. A selection of her portraits of women is now on display in the James Freeman Gallery in London.
'We are pleased to present ‘The Bird in Borrowed Feathers’, a solo exhibition for Dutch photographer Hellen van Meene. This will be Hellen’s first solo exhibition in London since 2008 and will place new works in context with a number of pieces from the past decade.
Hellen van Meene is renowned worldwide for her distinctive photographic approach. Working in analogue and principally in small format, she focuses on the experiences of young people at the stage between adolescence and adulthood. It is a fragile space, full of uncertainty, and riven with the anxieties of change. Hellen finds glimpses into these intimate inner worlds and brings their fragility to light in ways that are sometimes surreal and unsettling, often uncomfortable and challenging, but always deeply sensitive and sincere.
Many of Hellen's new works explore the use of animals as motifs. Pets – dogs, birds, rats – appear as emotional familiars for their uncertain friends. Butterflies, the perennial symbol of transformation, appear like a floating spirit over the skin of the model. So many of Hellen’s works are composed as small format interiors lit with milky natural light in a tradition that stretches back centuries to the Northern Renaissance. Within this context, the family pet appears as a kind of emotional support for children on the cusp of braving the outside world.
Materials and textiles are another echo from traditional Dutch painting that find expression in Hellen’s works. Young they may be, but many of her subjects are dressed in exquisite fabrics, which Hellen captures with crystalline detail. Often these stem from shoots for large fashion houses whereby, Cinderella-like, the clothes are loaned for just the day. In Hellen’s photos, the pleats are crisp, the billowing folds voluminous: material takes on a fetishistic quality in the rites of dressing up that her young women embark upon. It is also another means of capturing the sense of displacement that her subjects express: in almost every instance, the clothes seem to be something these young women are on the point of growing into, a promise of an as-yet unknown life. Hellen’s project is to capture that moment just before it comes to pass.'
James Freeman Gallery is a contemporary art dealer based in Islington, London, UK. Established in 2003, the gallery explores contemporary approaches to classicism, presenting artists who combine current tendencies with art-historical references and research. In particular, the gallery aims to present artists who do this in a way that is both aesthetically powerful & technically accomplished. Wonderful artworks are what we look for, works that engage the eye, the heart and the mind.
The Bird in Borrowed Feathers – Hellen van Meene
11 July to 3 Aug, 2019