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On Carla van de Puttelaar

2008_24, 2008_23 and 2009_6 from the Cranach Series
I felt myself strongly connected with the Old Masters and I am now working as a researcher in Dutch Old Masters as well as being an artist myself. --- Carla van de Puttelaar


Dutch artist Carla van de Puttelaar creates beautiful timeless images of women in their natural state. According to van de Puttelaar, the images that we see in magazines are more about makeup and fashion - they are plastic, not about real beauty. For van de Puttelaar, beauty resides in the "little things," small imperfections or tiny movements. She defines this as a very human beauty. van de Puttelaar seeks to create images that capture "beauty with dignity" by focusing on distinguishing marks like small moles, imprints from lingerie lace or elastic or a slight bruise. To van de Puttelaar each portrait is, in a sense, a self-portrait as she relates to her models as a woman.

From the very first time I was introduced to van de Puttelaar's work I knew that I was looking at something very special. In the past year I have spent a great deal of time with her work. We have exhibited it at photo l.a. 2010 (and upcoming 2011), Art Chicago 2010, and Art Santa Fe 2010, produced a limited edition portfolio from her Cranach Series and now her work is our current exhibition in photo-eye Gallery. In the process of getting to know van de Puttelaar and her work (via email as she is Amsterdam) I have gained a broader understanding and an even greater appreciation of her photographs. I hope that you will enjoy some of our conversations.


Carla van de Puttelaar
Anne Kelly: Tell me about the first time you picked up a camera.

Carla van de Puttelaar: I can't really remember, I have always taken photographs, from my earliest childhood on, but I started to work with photography seriously when I was in art school. Before that I was more involved in painting and drawing.

You are currently known for your nudes. Did you start out shooting nudes or was there another subject that you photographed prior to what is now your signature subject?

CvdP: I made many portraits, first as a painter and later as a photographer. I still make them. I always had an interest in faces and bodies. I made portraits mainly at school. Between the lessons I portrayed many schoolmates. Later I started to follow courses to draw nude models. That's how it started and then when I began photographing using a technical camera, the skin became very important to me. I also saw that the skin generally became less and less visible in photography, certainly in magazines and television, which alarmed me, as this is one of the most vital parts of our body, showing so many emotions, such as blushing and goose bumps, and it gives the viewer the feeling that there is so much going on under the surface.

AK: What are your thoughts on the subject of beauty?

To me beauty is a very personal thing. All the small expressions, marks and thoughts that somebody has, make beauty into something individual and create attractions for others. What surprises me a lot is that in magazines and books people always try to homogenize beauty, as if there is only one kind of beauty, the only thing that you can highly admire. Especially nowadays, when all small marks of personality are edited out, making women into plastic dolls, saying how pretty they are till the majority thinks so too. Women identify themselves with what is shown and taught to them as a result, until fashion changes again and with it the concept of beauty, producing a new absolute truth for as long as it lasts. Actually I think this is quite absurd. I do not want to be forced to look at things in that way, but from my own thoughts of beauty, admiring the veins and patterns on the skin, for example, and the changes in myself as time goes by.

As a woman, how do you relate to your subjects?

CvdP: My work is strongly autobiographical. Through the women that I photograph, I can tell my own story about how I see myself as a woman. The fascinations I have for the skin and my own skin, small marks that I see, such as moles, scratches, scars, all the imprints of life. I transform my own thoughts and passions through the models into photos. I cannot do that through men. I would not know how. It is like standing in front of a blind wall; the connection fails.

Lucas Cranach the Elder
by Lucas Cranach the Younger
AK: The images from your Cranach Series are inspired by the paintings of Lucas Cranach the Elder. When were you first exposed to his work?

That was a very long time ago, I cannot really remember, but I know that I was impressed by the long sensual figures and the strong lines that he used to paint them. From an early age, I felt myself strongly connected with the Old Masters and I am now working as a researcher in Dutch Old Masters at the RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History) as well as being an artist myself. I work in the department of Old Netherlandish Art and research on paintings and artists and describe paintings for the database. I often visit auction houses to see what they offer. It is very interesting to see the paintings in real life and study them thoroughly (image, condition, support etc.) The RKD has a large database in which you can find many art works (mainly of Dutch origin). They also have the fiches of the Witt Library and a very large stock of photos and other info. It is an amazing place.

Venus, 1532 -- Lucas Cranach the Elder

AK: As Fred Meijer mentions in his essay for your photo-eye Editions portfolio, the women in your images interact with the viewer in a very different way than the women in Cranach's paintings.

CvdP: Yes, there is a fundamental difference. Cranach's women strongly want to interact with the viewer, they try to seduce, they are very much aware of their feminine attractions. The women I portray are wrapped up in their own world of fantasy. They do not seek out the viewer, they do not even seem to be aware of anyone.

Do you perhaps intend to extend this feeling of fantasy to the viewer? That is what I experience.

CvdP: Yes, I always hope that I can trigger a kind of personal cycle of fantasies and feelings within the viewer. That's also why I don't talk about my process. I think that it is the result that counts. Too much information on how things are done disturbs the fantasy of the viewer.

AK: Where do you find your models?

CvdP: They are either friends or I ask them on the street. And sometimes they are recommended to me, when someone who knows me very well says that a particular person would be a very good model for me. But that is always difficult for outsiders to decide. Someone who is very good at it is the photographer and a good friend of mine, Hellen van Meene.

van de Puttelaar's art fair model
I remember once seeing a good model at a local bakery shop. I did not ask her then, but the image was printed in my mind. About year later I saw her again at the same shop and then I did ask.

Another model I asked at an art fair. She was already leaving and quite far ahead of me. I called her and walked towards her, but as I was approaching my mind already made various steps, such as: "Yes she is a good model, I will ask her." And then just as I stood in front of her I thought: "Is she over 18?" So instead of introducing myself and telling her who I was and what I wanted, I said: "Are you over 18?" She replied very kindly that she was over 20 already, but was aware that she looked younger. She agreed to be a model and I made some beautiful photos of her.

AK: What is next to for you?

CvdP: I am working on moving photographs. These are short films in which the hands play the most significant part. It is fascinating to explore the possibilities of this medium and learn a lot of new technicalities at the same time. I have a few results and am I very much excited about it! I have two films ready, but I am working on more and also on the final presentation, but I think this is going to be very lovely and intense.