by Dieter Debruyne

© Julie Van der Vaart from the ongoing series 'Skin'

Tell us about your approach to photography. How would you describe your personal research in general?

Julie Van der Vaart (JV): My work is personal and intuitive. I do not make a lot of appointments for shoots, but just have my camera with me wherever I go. I prefer making images in nature during little trips or hikes and photographing people who are near me. I work very slowly; I don’t take a lot of images at a time. After a while, when I have enough images I am satisfied with, I start making combinations and think about the link between them. For example, there were a lot of images of nature and naked bodies recurring in different series so I just wanted to concentrate on those subjects for my latest work.

How did your research evolve in time? Starting from your first shots to your present oeuvre?

JV: In high school I studied science/mathematics and always thought I would continue in that direction. However, during my last year I felt the need to do something creative. Since I had always had a love for images, I very intuitively chose to pursue a study in photography.

My first shots were school assignments and they were horrible. It took me a while to get into it and find out what I wanted to do and tell with photography. My first “good” couple of images were color portraits. For this series I researched a lot of literature, reading about the processes of portrait photography and psychology. It was clear to me what I was doing, but I had the feeling my work was constantly repeating itself. Even though I wanted to be more experimental, my teachers continued to push me in the direction of portrait photography, because in their opinion I was good at it.

It was only after I graduated that I found out what I loved doing the most. I started photographing on film and making images for myself without having to please others. I love working intuitively, which means puzzling with what I have, noticing a link and then taking new images that complete the work for me. I am also working on a project called Beyond Time, which requires research about space and time, because it is more scientific. I’m trying to think about time and how to portray the concept of time in a poetic way. 

Could you tell us something about DUSK’, your self-published book and how it resulted in this form? 

JV: I went through my archive and started again; I began with one image and looked for a second one that had a connection with the first photograph, then a third one, a fourth one and so on, and ended up with the current form of the book. It is a little dark and mostly exudes the feeling of melancholia.

© Still images of the book 'Dusk' by Julie Van der Vaart, self published, 2015

I also wanted to play around with the positioning of the image: how its size or place would affect the way we see it and how, by combining images, the meaning changes. I think the book was a good exercise for me, it was my first self-published book and it definitely made me want to publish more.

Can you name a show or book that inspired you in some way? 

JV: Abstracts by AM projects. AM projects is a collective and in this book you find the works of Olivier Pin-Fat, Daisuke Yokota, Tiane Doan na Champassak, Ester Vonplon and Antony Cairns. The book brings together the works of these photographers who approach photography in an experimental way. They use different methods that lead to a transformation of the original photograph to an abstract image. The results are all different, yet they go very well together.

© Abstracts by AM projects, with works by Antony Cairns, Tiane Doan na Champassak, Olivier Pin-Fat, Ester Vonplon and Daisuke Yokota. Adad Books, 2015

How did you come up with the idea for your latest release ‘SKIN’ and why you published it as a book?

JV: In my previous work, the human body and nature were recurring themes, so I wanted to make a series concentrating only on these two things. I started out making combinations of images and one such combination was the start of this series. It's an image of a nude male torso, framed in a way that the head and its genitals are cut off and an image of a long shaped plant with a butterfly on it. To me it is kind of obvious that what is hidden in one image is suggested in the other, but I also found it quite funny. I saw this and thought I could try to make a series on sensuality, working with these combinations and associations. So a lot of the images are of nature, which reminds me of parts of the body and others are of flowing water, which is also very suggestive. I think the series works best this way, the strength is in the combinations and the sequence of the images. It made sense to present this as a book, because in a book you are most in control of these things. My work was also featured at an exhibition, but I prefer to show it as a publication.

© Still images of the book 'Skin' by Julie Van der vaart, self published, 2016

We talked about your love for the sciences, still your pictures tell a very poetic story. How does this love for science collide with your imagery? And do you find poetry in science? Also photography has its base in optics and chemistry, yet it is considered an art form. Did you take this into consideration when choosing to study photography? 

JV: I am not yet sure how to translate my love for science in my work. I am working on a project called Beyond Time, which is about how I perceive time. I have read a lot about space and time and want to translate my view on it into a series, but I am still searching how to accomplish this. It is a work in process.

I find science very poetic. I am currently learning about astrophysics and I really enjoy that. If you think about how the universe is formed you discover the pure poetry behind it. For example the death of huge stars, massive stars use up their hydrogen much faster than normal stars. At the end of their lives the center of the star collapses into itself and transforms into a very dense state (such as a neutron star or black hole). The outer regions sometimes get blown off in a huge explosion called a supernova, which would outshine all the other stars in its galaxy. Some of the heavier elements produced near the end of the star's life are then flung back into the gas in the galaxy and provide some of the raw material for the next generation of stars.

At high school I studied Science/Mathematics and I actually chose to study photography, because I wanted to create something myself, instead of absorbing existing information. So it was not a conscious choice in the sense of choosing something in the line of science. Besides, I actually never had a real interest in chemistry, more in physics, which does not make sense, as working in the darkroom is pure chemistry and it is magical.

© Julie Van der Vaart from the ongoing series 'Beyond Time'

What are your projects in the near future? 

JV: I am now a resident at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. I started in April and will be staying here for a full year. I made my first self-published book DUSK here as an outsider and my second one SKIN as a participant. I would love to publish something else again, as this feels like the time and place to do it. I am very lucky to have a big and bright studio and that the Academy has a lot of equipment in the labs to work with and experienced staff that is very helpful. I have a lot of different ideas, but I am now mainly focusing on my project Beyond Time, because I don't know yet how to translate it or how to put it together. I still need to make choices, try out new things and keep researching.


Julie Van der Vaart 
44 Gallery 
urbanautica The Netherlands