Psychology & Powerful Photography: An Interview with Natascha Hemke
Art fair KunstRAI is fast approaching and of course, Gallerease will be present there. We’re proud to introduce photographer and artist Natascha Hemke, of whom we will be taking two particularly strong works with us. Natascha was kind enough to open up to Gallerease: interview-style! Discover her answers to our questions and let the philosophy behind her work inspire you...
GALLEREASE: Natascha, can you tell us a little bit about your background?
NATASCHA HEMKE: My mother, Ans Hemke-Kuilboer, has been running an antique store specialized in antique jewellery, for as long as I can remember (pieces of Ans Hemke-Kuilboer Jewellery & Antiques are available on Gallerease as well). With my mother doing what she does, it’s a logical consequence that I used to spend all my time in her store, even as a toddler. What you get from being surrounded by things of beauty, craftsmanship and originality all the time, is that you learn to appreciate these things in a natural and playful manner. You could say my focus on detail definitely comes from my mother.
My father was a hobbyist photographer with strong focus on the technical aspect of things. He, surprisingly, was not afraid to let me play around with his camera collection. I remember he sent me to a dark room class for photo development, which I attended on my own. This experience definitely had a big impact on me, being around seven years of age.
The antique jewellery store of Ans Hemke-Kuilboer; the first building on the left.
In short, you could state that the combination of art, technique and craftsmanship is deeply imbedded in my character. It has been both my parents, whom influenced me in this. I often drew, painted and wrote poems as well. But the focus on self-expression, now so important to me in my photography, hasn’t always been there…
G: Could you elaborate on this?
NH: In my early twenties, I kind of lost my sense of self. I had started studying Applied Earth Sciences. I found myself lost in a completely different environment. The excitement for passions and hobbies that used to come naturally to me as a child disappeared into a vacuum and I was just really unhappy.
G: Definitely not the best situation to be in. Yet you managed to pull yourself out of this?
NH: As I stated, I wasn’t happy with the mental and physical place I was in. I decided I was in need of a different perspective, which turned out to be very much true. When I felt the strong urge to travel the world, I just went for it.
As I set up my travels to Latin America, it was my brother who pressed a camera into my hands. According to him, it was the only way my family at home would get a chance to see where I stayed, for everybody knows I’m not a skilled journalist or writer, haha.
When I started snapping documenting pictures of everyday life, I realized this was something I enjoyed doing. When I first came back home for a longer period of time, the need to express myself in this only grew stronger.
Thus, photography became the ideal medium for me to feed the need for self-expression, visualizing my thoughts and organizing my mind.
G: How did this personal love for photography grow into something professional?
NH: I kept my images to myself for a long, long period of time. I was having drinks in an everyday bar when I got into a conversation with Jaap Polak, renowned photography enthusiast and collector when he demanded a peek inside my portfolio, which I happened to be carrying partly on my phone. I was overwhelmed when he told me he wanted to purchase a print. When I had a second encounter with him some years later at the PAN Amsterdam art fair, I was even more surprised he introduced me to a gallery that was willing to represent me.
Natascha Hemke with her own work
G: Quite the story indeed! So, how do your images come together?
NH: I get my inspiration from things occupying my mind, whether it be some social theme or a personal dilemma. An image manifests itself in my head, and I see the realization of this image as a kind of mental processing. This is also why I don’t do commissions, unless I’m certain I will be given complete freedom in my outcome.
When I work with a model, emotion and things naturally happening on set of course influence me. I try to work with this intuitively as well, so you can say a particular atmosphere can really influence the outcome of my image.
G: Do you have a philosophy behind your work?
NH: I produce what I find beautiful, or what moves me, as a personal relief. From this perspective on my work, I have to take nothing but my own perfectionism into consideration: I want every inspirational factor to come from a deep place inside of me. It’s a way to express those emotions, which cannot be put into words. In essence, all my photo’s become a self-portrait of my inner soul.
G: We will be taking your work ‘Restrained Man’ with us to KunstRAI Amsterdam. Can you tell us something about this?
NH: With this work I’ve tried to express the feeling of repressment. Not only racism is a topic I wanted to get into, but also the general feeling of being the ‘underdog’, or being less than someone else. The theory of how this feeling may influence a person’s manners or thinking ways was really important to me. I felt I needed a strong, male model, to create a contrast with the vulnerability of his body’s position. I edited the tattoo on his back into the picture, as a notion to slavery. The ship itself is a 17th century British war ship, of which an original oil painting hangs in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I love wandering around this place and I happen to get a lot of my inspiration from old master paintings and sculptures.
Left: 'Restrained Man', Natascha Hemke. Available at Fotogalerie Utrecht.
Right: A Ship on the High Seas Caught by a Squall;
Willem van de Velde II; c. 1680; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
G: A really strong image, thank you. We'll be showing 'La Tour Eiffel' to the public as well; what's the story behind this work?
NH: In 2015 I had to deliver a few larger prints to a buyer in the middle of Paris by car, because I wanted to save shipping expenses and thought it nice to visit Paris for the occasion.
However, when I arrived coincidentally a few days after the recent terrorist attacks, I felt as if Paris had died. When I stood on the balcony of my client and looked at the Eiffel tower, the normally crowded place was completely empty. I did not feel peace, tranquillity or silence. I felt a tension creeping up on me, leaving a stamp on my soul I couldn’t forget.
I decided to translate this into an image: my model a former ballerina, in shape of the Eiffel tower, as a protest against the fundamental extremism. The vulnerability of her position and nudity becomes enforced by the tension of her muscles. The contrast between her skin and the background enhances the tension... When I look at this photo, it still takes me back to that particular moment on that Parisian balcony.
‘Trapped’ is the title of my most recent work. With the same model as ‘Restrained Man’, I’ve tried to put a translation to the feeling of being bound or captured, both mentally and physically.
I used the darkness of the model’s skin is in this case as a contrast with the band on his finger. I don’t want to go any further into the backstory of this photo, I feel the image speaks for itself.