Best known for her blunt portrayal of girls on the brink of adulthood, Hellen van Meene is a Dutch natural light photographer. She explores the vulnerability and uncertainty of adolescent life through her work. While capturing the feelings of youth and awkwardness, she invents her own fictions and scenes using the girls as models. Through her unique way of viewing the models and her thoughtful technique, Hellen van Meene succeeds in making photos that portray girls at this significant time in their lives.
Inspiration for her photography comes from the people she meets, youth and her own work. While not directly influenced by any photographers, she does admire artists such as Diane Arbus and Sally Mann. Her greatest inspiration, however, is the youth she photographs. “Young people are so inspiring, and I love to be inspired by them. They’re so open and new and fresh, they have to explore everything, and I love to guide that” (Colberg). To create her square color portraits, Van Meene combines this with her inspiration of the small ordinary details such as “the light fall on white skin, bruises on an arm, hands which disfigure in water, and starting goose-pimples in frosty weather” (Schampers).
Van Meene calls her work “photographs of adolescent situations and attitudes which represent the type of normality we don’t usually share with others but keep ourselves” (Schampers). When looking at her photography, particularly her early work in her hometown, the scenes appear to be ordinary intimate moments in the natural environment of the model. Yet, there is usually something odd about them: a strange pose or clothing that does not fit or is inside out. The honest looking scenes often seem like windows into the lives of the girls. However, they are very much staged. Through her photography, she intends to capture the uncertainty of one’s identity as an adolescent and has no interest in portraying their particular personalities and does not consider them portraits. Instead, she thinks of the models simply material for her fiction.
Choosing her models carefully, Van Meene avoids conventional beauty and opts for girls that would seem ordinary to most. Speaking about her work with adolescent girls, Van Meene says “This theme actually came about quite spontaneously and almost intuitively. It stays close to myself. I can relate to them, I understand them better, I see in them what I once was” (Schampers). While an older woman might know how she wants to be portrayed and pose according to that, the younger girls are not trying to come across as anything else. As Van Meene states, “They are still themselves” and are consequently easier to guide (Schampers). On occasion, she has also photographed young boys, choosing mostly androgynous models. Picking models that don’t possess qualities that the media and others would consider special allows Van Meene to bring something out of them that is not normally seen. They are not photographs depicting their...