Hellen van Meene is an artist who makes photos, mostly portraits, mostly of young people, and mostly of girls. Thanks to her galleries she can make a living out of this. Her work is shown in museums and galleries all over the world. She is the single subject of three books. She lives in Heiloo, The Netherlands.
Hellen was educated at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. She began exhibiting her work in 1994 and has had one-person exhibitions in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, London, Milan, Tokyo, and at the Venice Biennale. In 2001 she was shortlisted for the Citibank Photography Prize.
Her work can be found in the collections of major museums including the Stedelijk Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, MoCA Los Angeles, the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?
A. "When I was about 16 years old I had a pink camera and started to make photos of my friends."
Q. For close to a decade you have been producing intimate portraits of adolescent girls and androgynous boys. It has been said that you form a bond with the models you select- which results in photographs that capture the essence of the models. Your noted for being able to capture so much... with so little. Can you go into detail about your photographic process?
A. "That is such a difficult question .it is not easy to answer in words, but what I can tell you that it is all about chemistry and the right attention."
Q. Your photographs have been exhibited internationally and can be found in the collections of major museums including the Stedelijk Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, MoCA Los Angeles, the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Did you expect your work to be so successful? How did you feel when your work started to 'take off', so to speak?
A. "When I had my first solo show I never realized that there where actually people who wanted to buy my work. And when that happened in 1998 it was an extremely great feeling!. But when I made my first photos it has never crossed my mind that it could happen that important museums have bought it for there collection. I am more focused on finding good faces!"
Q. How do you select a model? Is there a certain 'look' you search for.... personality?
A. "I am attracted by different things, but basically you could say it is about personality and there is a lot of variation in that. Big, thin, small red hair, black hair etc..in the beginning of my career I have made a lot of photos of red heads and pale looking faces. But now looking back it has been changed into different kind of types. Your taste also changes and that is a good thing. You have to surprise your self to be taken by a good face."
Q. How do you know when a photograph is 'right'?
A. "That, is a stomach feeling."
Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?
A. "Good weather helps little sun in spring or winter. I don’t really like making photos in the summer the sun is too high and to hard on faces. When I have met a good face, that makes the energy for me to a starting point that I am all nervous and excited to make a photo."
Q. What was your most important exhibition? Care to share that experience?
A. "It is difficult to mention just one, because every show with new work is exciting for new reasons.
But it was special when I was invited to be the first foreign artist to join the Japanese pavilion for the architecture biennale in 2000.
I have made new work in Tokyo that was the first time to work in another country than my own. I worked with models I did not know and could not speak too. I fail the Japanese language and they could not speak English.
But it was a very good experience it worked really well. The language was no barrier at all. And the show in Venice in the Japan pavilion was great. We showed the work horizontal on a small pin in the floor. They where laminated with thick plastic so that the pin was made on the plastic. The effect was that the photos where presented as "tables" they felt like they are floating. The works where not presented on a wall so that was also special and the works where presented outside the pavilion and inside. It was very beautiful!
This has been a great experience!"
Q. Can you share some of your philosophy about art and artistic creation? What do you hope to convey in your photographs?
A. "I hope to make images about how special you can be and that by making photos, others can see it as well."
Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist?
A. "Leaving a Dutch gallery."
Q. Do you have any suggestions for emerging photographers?
A. "I am always much focused in what I want to accomplish. That is important to make good work and concentrate on it and not to be afraid of making mistakes in your work. Focusing in your work is the most important thing."
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Hellen van Meene. Feel free to critique or discuss her work.
Take care, Stay true,