Photobook: Roxane II by Viviane Sassen

Reading Time: 3 minutes
“When I unbutton the sleeve of a shirt/Shades of sky under my skin awaken,” read the opening lines of Maria Barnas’ poem You and I, used at the start of Viviane Sassen’s new photobook, Roxane II. Abstract though these lines seem, they possess a subtle symmetry with the images which follow, in which expanses of pale skin sit in stark juxtaposition to graphic, almost blindingly bright streaks of colour. In Roxane II, the human and the organic seem to bleed into one another with captivating results.
Sassen has long made a name for herself in her double-pronged approach to her practice, straddling personal and commercial work with an agility unnatural to many in her field. As an artist creating her own projects she is unabashedly bold, introducing the viewer to her dynamic interplay of colour and shape through photobooks and exhibitions.
In her commercial work, on the other hand, Sassen’s fascination with colour and form are seen through the prism of her collaborators’ visions, be that the high fashion her models wear, or the studios they are shot in. Where Sassen’s work stands up above her contemporaries is in the relative equilibrium of the two halves – you can prefer one to the other, she seems to suggest, but together they make up the whole.
From Roxane II © Viviane Sassen
This is the second time she has worked with Roxane, the muse after whom this book is named. The ongoing project takes the form of a shared visual journal, in which Sassen interacts with her subject through a playful series of visual experiments. The resulting images are intimate and sensual, clearly the product of an enduring relationship.
Perhaps most importantly, the series is permeated by the photographer’s own performance; Sassen is present in awkward angles and shadows, and even through painterly imprints. In fact, Roxane II is underpinned throughout by paint – where previous works have seen the photographer apply bright hues directly onto the skin of her subjects, here
she paints onto the surface of the images too, masking nuances of tone with the two- dimensionality of layers of acrylic.
At times, paint even finds its way onto Sassen’s own body, which is used to leave a series of Yves Klein-esque impressions on scraps of paper, shots of which intersperse the book. The result is collaborative and good-natured but always resonant, showing Sassen at her best. As Maria Barnas also writes in her poem: “When I take a glance at our selves I hold my breath and see us expand in colours and clouds bursting from a mouth. Are they yours or mine?”
Roxane II is published by oodee, priced £45. This article was first published in the June issue of BJP, which is available via
From Roxane II © Viviane Sassen
From Roxane II © Viviane Sassen
From Roxane II © Viviane Sassen