I’m having something of an eh day. Dentistry was involved. Numb face, numb brain. On these kinds of days, I like to look at things that pick me up. And the work of Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen puts me right in that sweet spot of pleasurable viewing and unsettled viewing. When I look at her photos, I wake up. As a child Viviane lived in a Kenyan village where her dad ran the polio clinic until they moved back to Amsterdam. Those years were transformative. ”To me, Africa is vivid colors and strong contrasts of light and dark,” she says. “I remember looking at women and children sitting under the trees sheltering from the sun and, even as a child, seeing these graphic shapes.” She has shot tons of fashion campaigns, many of which have been featured on this blog before, but also does documentary photo books of her travels in Africa.
Sassen studied fashion at the Royal Academy in Arnhem and briefly became a model, working for Viktor & Rolf before she transferred to do a photography degree at Utrecht in 1992. Sassen used photography, she says, to explore her sexuality as a teenager, making nude portraits of herself, her boyfriends and female friends. “I think that the experience I had of being shot by male photographers shaped what I was attempting to do, to show a different kind of sexuality than that created by the male gaze. One that is more fractured, disjointed. I have always been a very shy exhibitionist, ” she says, “Trying to hide but wanting to show.”
Lately Sassen has grown a little tired of fashion photography, she says. “I have always had this love/hate thing with it. I don’t really like the business side or the superficiality. You see more and more images of multiple models with multiple sunglasses and multiple bags. It’s all product, product, product and not much creativity.”
“Photography is in some way about putting one foot in an unconscious world. I am trying to evoke that parallel universe I experienced as a child and that I could not find when I came back to Holland. All artists, to a degree, make self-portraits – that is what I am doing in my own instinctive way.”