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Brushed by Light, Interview with Carla van de Puttelaar

photo-eye Gallery Brushed by Light, Interview with Carla van de Puttelaar photo-eye Gallery is pleased to present two new portfolios by represented artist Carla van de Puttelaar, The Rembrandt Series and Adornments – with work from her monograph by the same name. Gallery Associate Lucas Shaffer spoke with van de Puttelaar regarding her process, how she thinks about image making, and what she's currently working on.

Rembrandt Series, Archival Pigment Print, 18x12" Image, Edition of 8 – Carla van de Puttelaar
Light is physical. Existing as both wave and particle, light constantly grazes us with its fingertips on an infinitesimal level. Nowhere is the tactile nature of light more apparent than the soft and graceful work of Dutch photographer Carla van de Puttelaar. Through her lens, van de Puttelaar uses cool broad light against a dark and rich void to reveal the sensitivity of skin, the fragility of a flower petal, or a ripple of tree bark. Her images are intimate, personal and vulnerable. Through light, Carla states that her work "allows the eye to touch the skin on many different levels."

photo-eye Gallery is pleased to present two new portfolios by represented artist Carla van de Puttelaar, The Rembrandt Series and Adornments – with work from her monograph by the same name. Gallery Associate Lucas Shaffer spoke with van de Puttelaar regarding her process, how she thinks about image making, and what she's currently working on.

Rembrandt Series, Archival Pigment Print, 12x18" Image, Edition of 8 – Carla van de Puttelaar


Lucas Shaffer:     How did the Rembrandt Series begin?

Carla van de Puttelaar:     I have been inspired by the Dutch and Flemish masters for as long as I remember, especially by the northern light, the clair-obscur, the use of fabrics and the serene stillness in their works. When I was asked by the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam to do a series inspired by Rembrandt nudes in order to be shown alongside their exhibition Rembrandt’s Naked Truth I instantly felt a deep attachment to this project. I worked with an intense flow of inspiration, which resulted in a large body of work, much of which has now been published in my new book Adornments  – which is a testimony to the last six years of my photographic passion.


Rembrandt's Reclining Female Nude, 1658, Etching on Paper (Left)
Rembrandt Series, Archival Pigment Print, 12x18" Image, Edition of 8 – Carla van de Puttelaar 
(Right)

LS:     What did you find particularly inspiring about Rembrandts drawings and etchings?

CvdP:     I already mentioned the incredible use of light, in which Rembrandt shows his genius at his best. The etchings show the ultimate control over the craftsmanship of hatchings and the lines of the ink, often quick and just right. I see and feel the virtuosity of lines.  Reclining Female Nude shows Rembrandt's skill in all respects as he nearly lets the woman vanish into the shadows. I used this etching for my photo of a reclining woman, whose dark skin nearly merges with the black background, while the light emphasizes the soft glances of her skin.

LS:     Did anything surprise you during the creation of the Rembrandt series?

CvdP:     I was surprised to find out things about myself, how I loved the combinations, to work with the models, their beauty, the curves, the skin and the combination with fabrics and how I could use these fabrics to build up the composition, like Rembrandt did, but also painters like Van Dyck, Reynolds and Singer Sargent.

Rembrandt Series, Archival Pigment Print, 12x18" Image, Edition of 8 – Carla van de Puttelaar

LS:     How are the tableaux made? What is your process like?

CvdP:     First of all I approached various models, several of them I had already worked with. Some I asked because it felt that they made a connection with Rembrandt’s work, whereas others I have known for a long time and they have become my muses over the years. Moreover, I have collected costumes and fabrics for at least 25 years, always loving them, but hardly using them up till then, and suddenly I had a purpose for them, combining the love for photography, nudes, portraiture, skin, fabrics, and dress into one. I work a lot from inspiration on the spot: models, fabrics, the artworks that inspired me in my head, the light, the interaction with me and between models, all these aspects shape in my mind what I want to do and allow me to build up a final image. It is like acting in a play, or to hear a piece of music: there is a combined inspiration that leads to the climax the magical moment, caught in a photograph.

Rembrandt Series, Archival Pigment Print, 12x18" Image, Edition of 8 – Carla van de Puttelaar


LS:     Did you encounter any particularly powerful or challenging situations while creating the series?

CvdP:     Until [The Rembrandt Series] I never worked with more than two models at the same time.  At the last moment, a model also had time to come over, but only at a time that I was working with two other models. I wanted to work with the third model as well and so I sort of put her in between the two other models. I let her bind the two other models together visually making connections with both of the other models. It allowed me to play even more with compositions and observe the interactions between the models, and to capture the moments of brilliance. I also became much more interested in history paintings, and sculptures of mythological scenes such as Pluto and Proserpina by Bernini. I love the tension and challenges, they give me the highest focus to create artworks.

Hortus Nocturnum, 2013, Archival Pigment Print, 18x12" Image, Edition of 8 – Carla van de Puttelaar


LS:     Most of your work has centered around portraiture; why did you begin photographing flowers?

CvdP:     Flowers have inspired me, by their power and fragility. I began making the work when I looked at a bunch of incredible roses that I got from friends while the sun was flowing into my kitchen playing over and through the petals of the white roses with soft pink hues, I felt that I had to capture it. I needed to express the feeling that I got inside enjoying the immense beauty of them at that moment.

LS:     Are there similarities for you between your previous bodies of work and Hortus Nocturnum,
the flower Series?

CvdP:     Yes, in a way the flowers present themselves to me like individual creatures and I have a special attraction for some. For example, flowers move and bend like dancers, their glace, their petals shining through showing their fragility and veins, their slow movements changing rapidly through all the stages of their lives – sheer beauty and deep drama combined in one. I am able to follow them and catch just the right moments.

Hortus Nocturnum, 2013, Archival Pigment Print, 18x12" Image, Edition of 8 – Carla van de Puttelaar

LS:     Your images have been described as fragile or sensitive — do you relate with those descriptors or is there something else you see in your subjects?

CvdP:     Indeed I do relate to those descriptors, but as said before I also relate to the beauty and drama of life —and ultimately death. As for the women, my portrayal has been described at other-worldly,  untouchable, and yes they are, they also demand respect and show power in their own delicate way. The inner beauty and power of women.

Carla van de Puttelaar in studio
Image: Fred Meijer
LS:     What is the portrait process like for you? Is it collaborative between you and the model, or do you give explicit direction?

CvdP:     Both, it is important to observe, to capture what they have to offer you and which enables you to create artworks, but also I see situations that I want to create and enhance, so in that case I give directions. Spontaneous inspiration leads me through a path to the ultimate image.

LS:     How do you find and build rapport with your models?

First of all, I must have an instant feeling of connection. When I see a model there must be an urge to ask her to pose for me. I cannot say how it works, the feeling is instinctive. And while working with a person, you observe, talk and capture their "own-ness" and combine it with your thoughts to create images. Some of the models I only photograph once, but others have posed for me several times over 10-20 years. Some have become friends, others just left their image and disappeared from my life.

Galateas, 2016, Archival Pigment Print, 18x12" Image, Edition of 8 – Carla van de Puttelaar

LS:     Light is so essential to the nature of your work. Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with light - what are you looking for?

CvdP:     Light is one of the most important assets of my work. I only use natural light for my photography and it remains an ever-changing source of inspiration for me. Each light, northern light, sunlight, half clouded, every situation brings me new possibilities, just like it has been for Rembrandt, Vermeer, Metsu, Sweerts, and others. It is fascinating to see each time that by changing a bit in the position of a hand or face and make a huge difference.

Untitled, Archival Pigment Print, 18x12" Image, Edition of 8 – Carla van de Puttelaar

LS:     You've mentioned in previous interviews that you see your portraits as autobiographical, that your models assist you in telling your story. Do you still feel like that's the case with your recent series?

CvdP:     Yes, this is still the case!

LS:  How do these images continue to tell your story?

CvdP:     Through my models, I can express myself as a woman, show the (inner) beauty and strength of women using both expression and gesture. Beauty as I perceive it. Presently, it appears that there is a strict mandate about how women should look. Erasing the skin, smoothing it to a flat surface, plastic, with no need or possibility to breathe, whereas, all these signs of life, enhance the "own-ness" of a person. But maybe even more now, through the internet, a certain kind of fashionable beauty is forced upon. Whereas, I feel like it is most important to cherish and celebrate the small details, movements, and "own-ness" of a model.

Rembrandt Series, Archival Pigment Print, 18x12" Image, Edition of 8 – Carla van de Puttelaar

LS:     What does "own-ness" mean to you?

CvdP:     I mean that people have their own specific personalities: habits, movements, but also the structure of the skin, the form, and gaze of their eyes and some things in a specific person are so distinct, it's so very personal, and even stronger when these traits are merged together.

Amber Butchart – Tutor Tailor – Carla van de Puttelaar
LS:     Can you tell us what you are you working on now?

CvdP:     I'm  currently working on a portrait series of prominent and promising women in the art world, such as Maria Balshaw and Fariba Farshad, dressed in fabulous clothes by fashion designers, vintage clothes, or wrapped in exotic fabrics. This new series will first be exhibited from 16-31 May 2018 at The Weiss Gallery in London – famous for its Tudor portraiture.

Carla van de Puttelaar photographing on location
Image: Fred Meijer
The decision to showcase personal, powerful or designer garments in the portrait emphasizes the character of the sitter, just as clothes have often played an important role in portraiture for centuries. For example, in Tudor portraits are often impressive expressions of fashion.

Overall, I want to show the power of these women as a group, but also the variety of the individual women on various levels, such as age, stage of their careers, cultural differences and various occupations. They include artists, art historians, curators, collectors, designers, directors and journalists working for example in contemporary art, or with old master paintings, etcetera. Over past decades, women have emerged from the shadows [in the art world], and are continuing to shine brighter, but up till recently they, somehow, often remained out of the limelight. This has begun to change, and I want to show this change by photographing these women. I want to show their face to the world and connect young women with the older more experienced members of this group.

– photo-eye

For more information about Carla van de Puttelaar, and to purchase prints, please reach out to 
Gallery Staff at 505-988-5152 x 202, or gallery@photoeye.com




Carla van de Puttelaar's stunning monograph Adornments is now available at photo-eye. Published in late 2017 by Fw: Books in Amsterdam, Adornments is an exhaustive 270 collection of recent works by the Dutch photographer made over a 6 year period. Images from both portfolios debuting today on the photo-eye Gallery website appear in this gorgeous edition.

Adornments 
Photographs by Carla van de Puttelaar.
Fw: Books, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2017. In English. 270 pp., color illustrations, 9¾x13¼x1½".

» Purchase Adornments



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