Fig 1. Ellen Kooi. Spaarndam – wolken. 2011
Following her postgraduate studies in art in the Netherlands, dutch photographer Ellen Kooi has built an exciting portfolio of compositional landscape imagery. Her work has been exhibited internationally across Europe and America including recent shows such as 2013 group show OFF SPRING in Ohio. Kooi creates imagery with a story telling presence in which she positions in serene, fantasy like landscapes. Her images often present themes of curiosity and innocence revealing dream like situations that leads the viewer into a place that is unfamiliar. Kooi usually uses mature females and children as subjects within her images in which she is experimental with poses that correlates with the surroundings.
I admire Kooi’s use of wide angle views as this stretches the scenic element of her images making an effective impact on the viewer as they relate to the subject as well as experiencing the landscape on a broad scale. Kooi is simplistic with her staging and brings an explorative element to her work. I find it fascinating how Kooi gives an unknowing perspective of the place but still presents an existing relationship between the personal subject and their surroundings. I also admire the use of composition with the land and sky as I find this gives a sense of endless distance where this may have the viewer feel they can feel lost in the space.
I find I can relate my own practice to this style of photography as I am currently interested in exploring ‘quiet’ landscapes featuring simple subject matter. I find Kooi reveals environments with a very open perspective with subtle subject matter that is neither a primary focus or a background feature.
Fig 2. Pieter Hugo. Cape Town. 2013
Born in South Africa, Pieter Hugo marries documentary and portraiture in which he often focuses on urban and traditional culture in his work, usually within African cultures. Hugo has featured work on a global basis and has exhibited within various countries including the Hague Museum of Photography, Tate modern in London and the Maxxi in Rome. In 2008, Hugo received the Discovery award and KLM Paul Huff award at the Rencontres d’Arles Festival.
Fig 3. Pieter Hugo. ‘The Hyena. 2008
Hugo’s imagery of African culture presents rather intense subject matter exploring characters in the streets of Africa in which Hugo often has the subject looking directly at the viewer. One particular series of interest is ‘The Hyena’ series which explores African citizens posing alongside the African hyena. I find this series is quite powerful in how the characters Hugo comes across pose with the animals; the hyena is a wild type of creature and I find the use of this animal in the series is quite dominant and brings an intimidating presence. I have noticed how there is a slight saturation in the images and I find this gives a raw quality to the subject and it’s surroundings. I find this series contrasts against the more commercial side of African culture which is usually tropically colourful and this series explores a gritty, very real side of the culture. However there is still reference to colour and a bold sense of materiality throughout the images represented on the clothing and accessories of the figures he photographs, for example we can see materials such as rope tassels and chains tied to the hyena and ripped, patterned fabrics layered as a dress fashion. This also brings a tribal element to the subject, possibly building upon a more primitive background of African culture. I am inspired by this series as there a consistency in using a particular subject (the hyena) and this is something I am continuing to develop in my own practice that brings forth a certain subject of significance.
One image by Hugo that I find particularly interesting is the print ‘Green Point Common, Cape Town featured in the series ‘Kin’, 2013. This image is very different from the more daring images in Hugo’s portfolio and presents a more personal approach to documenting African culture. The image presents a figure of a boy sleeping beside a tree in a misty field. I find this image captivates a sense of mystery and, similarly to Kooi, an anonymity while still allowing the viewer to enter a somewhat private space of the subject. The atmosphere in the image is very peaceful and emphasises a connection with nature as the figure is leaning against the tree and again, a is a sense of distance as the mist hides the surroundings.
I find Hugo’s work a great influence towards my practice as I find his work captures an element of tension but also a genuine perspective of people in cultural environments. His style of documentary photography is quite honest in how she captures seriousness in the characters he explores which gives a sense of realism to his subject matter.
Fig 4. Go Sees- ‘Untitled’. 1998-9.
German photographer Juergen Teller works within the fashion and fine art photography industry. Following his studies in Munich, Germany, Juergen has since featured works in many fashion publications including top publishers such as Vogue and I-D. His work crosses a fine line between documentary and fashion as his images often explore young women in ordinary urban environments. His series ‘Go-Sees’ produced in 1998-9 presents a collection of portraits of young women standing at the entrance of an apartment. The images gives the viewer a perspective from inside the apartment in which we can see some interior features as we look out at the street, presenting a cropped ‘frame within a frame’ composition.
Teller introduces us to a mix of characters; one image introduces us to the working woman who we see in a formal suit, this woman stands in a very formal manner with her hands at her sides which gives the viewer the impression of a rather business involved character. In another image we are introduced to an ordinary girl who could perhaps come across as an active character as unlike the other females we see in the series, she is standing inside the doorway and more of the interior space is revealed. A third image introduces us to a woman with some edge, her hands are in her pockets and she wear casual clothes, taking note that she wears a leather jacket which may suggest she is quite a streetwise character. Lastly, a fourth image introduces us to a woman who appears to be stumbling into the hallway as her pose is rather awkward with one hand behind her head and the other on her chest. We also see that she has a cigarette in her mouth and her eyes are closed; this woman could likely be a character who is quite daring.
Reflecting upon the series as a whole, I find the images present a unique style of narrative on each of the woman we see through the doorway as we are given an unusual perspective where the viewer looks through the frame, allowing us to explore both the interior and exterior environment. I also find the images give an antique quality as the temperature of the images are slightly warm but also uses soft, natural light. There is a constriction within the images as there is a limited view of the street seen through the frame of the doorway which has the audience question the location of the scene; this can also apply to the interior space as only small parts of the hallway are revealed. I find this may have the viewer feel they are lingering or stuck between each of the spaces both inside and outside as neither are fully shown to us; it is almost as if the person we see through the doorway is stopping us from exploring the space.
Ellen Kooi (2012) Selected Works [Online] Available from: http://www.ellenkooi.nl [Accessed 02/11/2015]
Photography Now.Net (2015) The Photography of Pieter Hugo [Online] Available from: http://www.photography-now.net/pieter_hugo [Accessed on 01/11/2015]
Millar, J. (Tate 2008) La Foto Chiari: Some thoughts towards a neorealist photography. In: Eskildsen, U. et al. Street and Studio-An Urban History of Photography, London, Tate Publishing, p. 179-184