“The interior and the subject are important, but without light, I am nothing,” says Hellen Van Meene, the Dutch artist renowned for her distinct style of portraiture – her “handwriting”, as she calls it. Often working with young women, Van Meene uses natural light in ornate locations to illuminate the magic of the transformative stage between adolescence and adulthood. “If there is no light, I cannot make a good photograph.”
But her dream-like aesthetic owes itself not only to her subjects, the light, and the location, but also to the clothing that she chooses for her sitters, and the animals that pose with them. “It all helps to create a photograph that is timeless,” says Van Meene.
The Bird in Borrowed Feathers is the photographer’s first solo exhibition in London since 2008. It will present unexhibited images alongside older photographs, to give context to her new work. The title of the exhibition is borrowed from a classic Greek fable, but is intended to refer to Van Meene’s way of working, and the borrowed clothes that she dresses her subjects in. “We felt this title was appropriate to my work,” she says.
Van Meene has always been inspired by young people. “A younger face can transform in many ways,” she explains, “you can play more with what you see”. She finds that adults usually sit with an idea of how they want to be photographed, whereas “a younger person tends to trust you more”.
Most often, Van Meene approaches her subjects on the street . “You see the greatest personalities on the street, and it’s nice to put my light on them,” she says, “I create these images so that other people can see what’s in my mind”.
The Bird in Borrowed Feathers will be on show at James Freeman Gallery in London from 11 July until 03 August