About Stephan

Formerly I was known here as Dimitri but I changed it into Stephan, that has become to suit me better.

Summer in New York

The day I wrote this in sketch—Tuesday 22 January 2019—a young Dutch model was flying to America, to NY, for the next three years, to work as a model (like Maddie Ziegler) for IMG Models, though based in Paris, London and Milan as well. She, Summer de Snoo, is 9 years old and has been a model since she was 4 years old.

(Photographer unknown) – Summer de Snoo with her mother Jessica in Dutch talk show ‘Jinek’ (2019)

(Photographer unknown) – Summer in the same talk show of Eva Jinek (2019)

I had not heard about her before yesterday, when she was a guest in the Dutch talk show Jinek, run by Eva Jinek. In it she appeared with her mother, her first manager, and clearly still under her ‘watchful’ eye. She also has a professional manager. The mother, and two sisters, moved to NY as well. The father has a company in Holland, but will follow later, when things in the States are settled. The mother was asked by some journalist, whether her daughter’s income will be enough for the family—a bit of a direct question perhaps—but she answered at once that whatever Summer earns herself will remain hers.

Perhaps predictably, and inevitably in our culture, there were questions and remarks about whether modeling by someone so young is a good thing to do, let alone flying to America for it. Summer says that this is what she wants to do: that she likes the variety in clothes she wears and the people she meets. Meanwhile, she has her catwalk workshops, her school, her sports and playing of video games (like Nintendo)—as her mother claims, and as she shows in the few short documentaries about her, seemingly without putting on (modeling) airs. She goes on to tell about one of her more specific dreams: to someday become one of the only 14 Angels of Victoria’s Secret.

(Photographer unknown) – 6 out of 14 Angels from Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (year unknown)

May I mention her beauty, apparent in some well-made photographs, shot in The Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe—namely Milan? Today, it is still winter in NY but Summer is there. Later this year,  I may try to find out more about her experiences there, as she expands her thoughts about posing, to write a more general post about young girls modeling (and acting and dancing). She will join the ranks of such talents, often with beautiful names, as Maddie Ziegler, Kristina Pimenova, Thylane Blondeau, Laneya Grace, Jade Weber, Laura Niemas, Lily Chee, Lilly Kruk! Kruk…? Well, what is in a name? And maybe a few are a bit less famous, but as bright and beautiful as the rest! And maybe I will find out what, seemingly, brought some of them together, in modeling—at least in photography.

(Photographer unknown) – Laneya Grace and Jade Weber (year unknown)

(Photographer unknown) – Laneya Grace, Lilly Kruk and Kristina Pimenova (year unknown)

(Photographer unknown) – Summer (year unknown)

Sarah Ann Terschegget – Summer de Snoo (2018)

Sarah Ann Terschegget – Summer (2018)

Cooper Seykens – Summer (year unknown)

Studio STIEP Portraits? – Summer (year unknown

Judith Onderstal – Le Portrait (year unknown)

(Photographer unknown) – Close up (year unknown)

I presume Summer can give us a Mona Lisa smile pretty well. One can see her giving smiles pretty well in daily life as well—at least in the daily media. But I have seen her, giving for example, ‘serious’ (1:27) and even ‘angry’, being asked to (1:35), change herself with this serious gaze—or I would say a vanishing point gaze of beauty like those examples above.

Here below acting out her dream and her signature smile.

(Photographers Unknown) – Victoria Secret Angel – Summer (around 2018)

I will let Summer have the last words, a response to the criticism and the issues of modeling so young. In this short clip in Dutch she answers the journalist who asks her what she thinks of all the reactions (beginning at 1:17). Translated:

Eh, very irritating. Because they do not know how I live my life. The only thing they know is that I make nice pictures and of course normal videos and that is the only thing they see of me.

I want to tell all the children that watch me, to follow their own dreams and do not say that you are ugly. Because you are beautiful the way you are.

However, all in all, if her ‘Big Apple’ dream should somehow end, this could be her other dream.

(Photographer unknown) – Summer (year unknown)

However, at least one fan knows how to find her, one way or another.

(Photographer unknown) – from Summer de Snoo Fan Account (year unknown)

Polder Girl or Girls in the Polder?

Photographer unknown – Girl on skates in the Duivenvoordse-Veenzijdse Polder (1960-70)

Here are some more images of this polder and girl in blue jacket. It is probably all three times the same girl named Erna Verhoeve.

Photographer unknown – Dogs are welcome in the Polder of Kruibeke (around 2018)

Here is a somewhat funny explanation that dogs are thus welcome in this polder, but not everyone feels comfortable with dogs, and also polder animals (like cows, sheep, horses) can be frightened by “our four-legged friends” although dogs do “nothing” so keep dogs on a leash, and do not forget to clean up their poop.

A polder is the kind of typical Dutch landscape, drained, won from the sea, or nearby rivers, by dikes and pumps. Recently I came upon two stories about two girls. The one about Sofie happened in a polder without particular reference to that term. What happened to Sofie could have happened anywhere, where traffic bars can go high. The story about Floortje actually plays with the word ‘polder’: Maseratis in the Polder. First I wrote two posts by themselves, about Sofie and about Floortje. Later on I wanted to illustrate the word ‘polder’ (with girls) and wrote this post or is it ‘Girls in the Polder’? Is there such a thing as a ‘Polder Girl’?

I found a Fashion Brand named Polder, with a line for women, and one for girls, named Polder Girl. And I got the idea to add some rather traditional Dutch images of girls connected to polders. The Dutch word has no other translation into English than ‘polder’. I would say, it is a landscape. But in Holland, in the Netherlands, one can also call it a so-called ‘Heimat’ or terrain like forests in Germany, mountains in Austria, moors in England and prairies in the United States. As a noun ‘polder’ can also be seen as a metaphor for the Netherlands.

To polder is also a verb, namely, creating these landscapes. And figuratively speaking, it has become a way of doing and governing: doing it together, governing in a democratic and rather egalitarian way and making decisions or compromises by deliberation—The ‘Polder Model’. Maybe it was inevitable that girls should join this model.

Polder Girl. About this fashion brand I cite as I could not say it better myself:

Polder was created by two sisters, Madelon (Lanteri-Laura) and Natalie (Vodegel), who were born and raised in the Netherlands. They spent their childhood living in an area where they overlooked polders that stretched out as far as the eye could see. In January 2008, in Paris, they presented “April showers by polder”, which is now known as Polder Girl. This label shows a mix of a Nordic spirit, with a French touch of vintage. The handmade components, bring a unique and hand-crafted quality to the collection. Shapes are extremely pure, and the prints, materials and finish make them a strong and acknowledgeable product.

Polder Girl was first named ‘April Showers’, changed in 2017 (or 2016). The two sisters’ own site is here. But there I could not find anything about Polder Girl. Using Google images I found only this, presumably a part of their site, but seemingly not reachable through their homepage.

The clothing line is described as:

sophisticated and modern. Strong minimalist design. Very contemporary and with a bohemian spirit.

And as

the typical effortless style that we love so much of French fashion.

And here with a

cool, laid-back Parisian chíc


a little Dutch touch.

Has the polder in the mean time been left behind? What is there in a name? I would say, “what does it matter?” I would not say that something is typically ‘polder’ or that this is ‘polder lookalike’. It is as if these girl models come directly from some polder in Holland. But then, these girls could be seen in the polder, as well as in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Paris, Lille, Cannes and the Belgian mass-tourist coach. The clothes are not too expensive and to my eyes ‘western’ in general. One cannot expect that the two couturiers would really create some ‘polder look’. What would that be? And it would probably hamper their creativity and what is fashionable at the moment. So, this kind of ‘Polder Girl’ does not really exist. Let’s just have a look at their work and models. These pictures are most probably taken in a studio, with a soft light, which gives it a kind of soft, ‘natural’ touch, which may have helped create the kinds of impressions mentioned above.

Photographer unknown – April Showers (Summer 2014)

Photographer Unknown – April Showers (Summer 2014)

Photographer unkown – Dress Dune Sand (around 2017)

Photographer unknown – Dress Dune Sand 2 (around 2017)

Photographer unknown – Caroline Mustard Poldergirl Dress (around 2017)

Photographer unknown – Polder Girl Dress Caroline Mustard (around 2017)

Is anywhere the Polder Girl, really in the polder, to be found in tradition, in costume, as if from a movie? In Polder Costume? There was and there still is in Holland. More or less like the USA has its Amish and Germany their Dirndls, with that difference that these ‘traditional’ way of dressing can still be seen now and then in Germany or Holland, perhaps mainly within still-existing (or in recollections of)  ‘traditional communities’ such as the Amish in the States. I would not be surprised if in the US, at certain celebrations, people dress themselves as in the time when ‘the West was won’. Dressing in costume at special occasions is a popular western pattern. These are topics for another post.

Has Dutch (polder) costume been given a new, better life? For instance, here at the Keukenhof, a yearly Dutch grand garden in the spring, or as a set of dresser drawers at the Zuiderzee Museum.

Photographer unknown – Dutch Province of Zeeland Isle of Walcheren (year unknown)

Photographer unknown – Young generation in costume during Tulip Weekend in the Keukenhof (2009)

Photographer unknown – Dressing up Cabinet (year unknown)

Photographer unknown – Mill Sight Volendam (year unknown)

Paul Cuvelier: Comic Strip or Fine Art?

It was 40 years ago on the 5th of July that the Belgian painter and drawer of comics Paul Cuvelier died. He painted and sketched mainly women and girl nudes as well as in comics, but not comics in the humorous sense. There is some confusion about the proper terminology here so maybe it is better to say he produced graphic novels or engaged in graphic storytelling. But for the sake of convenience, I will mostly use the term comics, especially since Paul Cuvelier had a difficult relationship with that medium.
This post is in English, but is about a Belgian from the French-speaking part of Belgium, Wallonia. In French the term for graphic storytelling is ‘bande dessinée’, which Google translates as ‘cartoon’. So that offers no help. ‘Bande’ translates as ‘strip’ into Dutch (my native language), which is in fact the general term in Dutch for graphic storytelling. Thus it is a ‘strip’ of drawings, telling a story, with the text in balloons or underneath the drawing, serving as subtitles.

It was sometime in my puberty that I discovered Paul Cuvelier, first as the artist of a graphic novel series, Corentin, about a boy from Brittany having all kinds of adventures mainly in ‘the Orient’. Around that time I also read a biography about Cuvelier entitled (in Dutch) Corentin en de wegen van het wonderlijke (Corentin and the Paths of the Miraculous) by Philippe Goddin, who was a specialist on Tintin. And I discovered, by the same author, a study titled Jonge Afrodites (Young Aphrodites) about Cuvelier’s other or rather main art, the classical nude. I remember that my mother discovered this book and made a comment about it to me! I replied at the time that ‘it is art!’ And that was the end of the discussion forever. I did not realise back then that I would wish to write about this artist and others who portrayed ‘Young Aphrodites’.

Here is an example of Cuvelier’s work I referred to.

Paul Cuvelier – The Fantastic Adventures of Corentin (1946-1947)

He was born the 22nd of November 1923 in the village Mont-sur-Marchienne, near Charleroi, capital of Wallonia. The first example of one of his girl nudes was probably shown at an exposition in 1977 with the theme: Les Nymphettes. The theme was inspired by the type of the child-woman described by Nabokov, namely Lolita and was titled: Young Aphrodites. Cuvelier wanted to have a second exposition with the same theme, but death kept him from fulfilling it. On the one hand, there was the Nymphet, the Young Aphrodite—according to his biographer Philippe Goddin—chosen as the theme of his last exposition, to show the thematic and artistic context in his work. And on the other hand, Cuvelier had just begun a new artistic adventure. His girl nudes I associate with the Greek goddess of eternal youth, Hebe—but we must never forget also his “comic” heros nor his delightful horses.

Paul Cuvelier – No title (year unknown)

In his youth he told stories to his younger brothers, illustrated by drawings, among others about Corentin. Corentin became his main graphic novel. Paul was discovered by George Remi, also known as Hergé, creator of Tintin, and invited to join the staff of a new youth comics magazine, also titled Tintin. He was only 20 and didn’t believe Hergé when he told him that he had nothing more to teach the young artist in drawing technique. Here we have Corentin himself.

Paul Cuvelier – Corentin Feldoë (around 1948)

And with his main friends Kim, Belzébub, Sas-Kya and Moloch:

Paul Cuvelier – Corentin, Kim, Belzébub, Sas-Kya and Moloch (1958)

And here we have another example of Corentin and Kim with the oriental princess Sas-Kya, on a sketch for the front page of Tintin, the magazine mentioned earlier.

Paul Cuvelier – Corentin, Kim, Sas-Kya (1958)

And here Line, another girl heroine of Paul, or in Dutch, Dientje.

Paul Cuvelier – Line or Dientje (1963)

In all, Paul Cuvelier had several such series in graphic noveling: Corentin, Line and a few more. So, he was invited to jump in while still very young; it was his main living. But doing this sort of work had never really been his dream except for introducing certain inventions such as the so-called ‘Miraculous’ of Corentin, its ‘orientalism’. The world of classical art, nude art and drawings of mainly women and girls—rather more girls than women—was his main dream. Also important were his animals—mainly horses. This was his main impulse: the animated body, the soul in the flesh, its movement, its gestures and expressions. Here are some more Young Aphrodites, in oil—in fact, I have found none of these from Goddin’s book anywhere else on the internet.

Paul Cuvelier – No title (year unknown)

Paul Cuvelier – No title (year unknown)

Paul Cuvelier – No title (year unknown)

Brigitte, his last model, is sketched here. Though already 18 years old, she had in the artist’s eyes this ‘Lolita quality’.

Paul Cuvelier – Brigitte with Doudoune (Brussels, 1977)

Paul Cuvelier – From his last sketch book (Brussels, 1978)

Paul Cuvelier – From his last sketch book (Brussels, 1978)

Paul Cuvelier – Brigitte. Atelier study (1977)

Comics or graphic noveling became too strict, too narrow for him. He missed—and probably suffered because of it—an artistic freedom. At first, he’d found that his work was not that commercial, but over time he felt a great uneasiness regarding the potential of his talents. And this was the case in his graphic noveling with frequent delays and incessant changes by scriptwriters. In the very beginning of his career, he wrote the stories himself, being the spiritual father of Corentin. He eventually became so unmotivated by this work, that he almost never read the script in advance. He would draw directly from whatever novel the story was based on, sometimes mistakenly drawing something that was not part of the script.

There was one escape for him with graphic noveling, Epoxy, an erotic graphic novel taking place in ancient Greece where he could express his main theme abundantly. Here’s an example, with a close-up.

Paul Cuvelier – Epoxy (1968)

Paul Cuvelier – Epoxy (1968)

He lived his life and finally died in Brussels, on the 5th of July 1978, in a time of his life after he had quit graphic noveling and was drawing comics for youth. It was a time when he was strongly on his artistic path. As said earlier, there was one expo on ‘Young Aphrodites’ and so I offer a few more examples of this kind of work, somewhat sentimentally from Philippe Goddin’s book of the same name.

Paul Cuvelier – Four Girls before the Sea (date unknown)

Near the end just before his untimely death, his work with the 18-year-old Brigitte developed. Although Brigitte is described by Goddin as a young woman, she was also a child still, not perfectly grown-up like adult women models. Thus she had a natural charm and grace—perhaps something like his heroine Line.

The two biographical works about Paul Cuvelier, written by Philippe Goddin, are informative with respect to biography and art. But I feel they are a bit too poetic or sentimental, especially Young Aphrodites. What do I mean by “Too poetic”? Isn’t this ‘Gypsy girl’—like those well-known sentimental Gypsy children—a poem in and of herself?

Paul Cuvelier – Gypsy Girl (year unknown)

Maybe it would be good if a new biography were written. There is one site, in French, that is reasonably complete about Paul Cuvelier. However, there is a dearth of material from Young Aphrodites there; only one or two appear there. What would be the reason for that? Inquiries by email have yielded no response. There still needs to be more development there.

Until now, I could not find out where his originals are. Apparently many pieces are in private collections including family members. Are there any on display? I will inform readers later in the comments, should I find out. I am glad that more attention can be given to this artist. He is a well-known name in European comics and, paradoxically, he may not have been that well-known as an artist had he not been a graphic novelist.

At the moment his legacy in media is mainly in paper media, a heritage of the last 40, 50, 60 years—mainly out-of-print. He deserves more attention on the internet and I conclude with a few quotes from Philippe Goddin’s biography (translated into English) from July–August 1973.

I have made comics. By happenstance, the encounter with Hergé, I have made my profession of it. I have done this because I could draw. I loved drawing, but not so much the comics as such. I have drawn comics as a living.
In any case my work has acquired some publicity (particularly with Corentin), that comes probably from a certain quality of my drawing. My talent is unique and supports me in my artistic endeavors, just like drawing comics.
Drawing in all its forms means my life.
Art helps me to win myself back, to justify myself, to restore myself in honor in my own eyes. It makes it possible for me to bear my tough existence rather philosophically and helps me to continue the struggle.
My talent is innate. So it is not instinctive. It develops especially out of an extraordinary sensitivity for every form of nature that can move and is animated. A sharp sensitivity that results from intuition, from a quick and far-reaching understanding the inner structures due to observation. A sensitivity for every developed and organised life form. So sensitivity for the animal life form, for the human body, thus for the essence.
I must admit that my creations remain limited to the realistic imagination of the animal life form and, preferably, of the ‘Anima in Animale’: human being.
My drawing art will always have to suffer by the fact that I, since my youth and constantly thereafter, was not able to study nude bodies in all forms and all ages. I would have eagerly put half my working time into studying them, to draw them over and over again, to devote myself afterwards to real creation.
But yet, if it would be somewhat possible to study nature, with sketches drawn from life, certainly would have helped me more easily and quickly draw good, realistic comics. But I lack the material means to pay the numerous and suitable models that are necessary for such an enterprise. Especially because I would need these models for the whole period of the creation of a story. My drawings would certainly become more realistic, richer and more beautiful by this. Maybe though they would also lose part of their power of communication and calling, for such an enterprise might be able to undermine the power of creation. So although I cannot claim that I can make all the characters of a story after a model, I do avoid coincidental use of a sketch so as not to lower the level of my drawings, and to not get discouraged by comparisons. So I stick to pure imagination, even to the point that I refuse the help of a mirror (by which I could study this or that movement or perspective of myself).
One major exception to make things easy for myself was to learn from a sketch or a document that fits a certain image.
Yes, except for these rare exceptions I have great regret that I cannot claim that in my displayed work I have drawn absolutely everything from the imagination. It is however nearly true, and I know how much it has cost me. -Philippe Goddin, Corentin en de wegen van het wonderlijke. Paul Cuvelier en de strip (Corentin and the Paths of Miracle. Paul Cuvelier and the Graphic Novel), Extracts from 112-119, Brussel, 1984

Goddin then wrote:

After he had put his back into graphic noveling Paul Cuvelier engaged in a painful struggle between 1973 and 1978 … He devoted all his powers to the practice of his art. Without doubt he has worked less in service of his public image and his career, than in the function of his personal commitment. Marked by a tormented life and undermined by sickness Paul Cuvelier died on 5th July 1978, surrounded by his family. -Philippe Goddin, Corentin en de wegen van het wonderlijke. Paul Cuvelier en de strip (Corentin and the Paths of Miracle. Paul Cuvelier and the Graphic Novel), 119, Brussel, 1984

Maybe I can locate Goddin in order to speak with him about Paul Cuvelier’s place in art history and where his Nymphets or Young Aphrodites may be found.

Paul Cuvelier – Female Centaur (year unknown)

‘Anima in Animale.’

Dutch Maserati-Girl

One day there was this Dutch girl, Floortje, who got an “internship” at the company ‘Italy in the Polder’, selling Italian cars and scooters in Holland. A polder is a phenomenon peculiar to the Netherlands referring to land that has been reclaimed from the sea and low-lying rivers. ‘The Polder’ has also become a term to indicate the Netherlands generally. This was what Floortje did and thus sold her first Maserati within 4 hours. This second video’s title is ‘Floortje verpatst Maserati’. ‘Verpatsen’ is the typical Dutch way of saying that something is very easy to sell—almost too easy!

(Unknown photographer) – Floortje (2018)

The context of this first video is unusual in that it is not strictly a proper commercial. It may simply have been Floortje’s audition performance. Actually selling a Maserati in this fashion, as can be seen in the second video, is a news item about the unexpected continuation of that performance. The story is essentially this. There was this guy, Sam, who is the entrepreneur of ‘Italy in the Polder‘. And Sam also has creative ambitions of making videos and singing in them and so makes commercials he also calls ‘Italy in the Polder’. His neighbour girl Floor asked him several times whether she could act in one of them.

(Unknown photographer) – Floortje and Sam (2018)

In her first clip, Sam tells her that she has a very interesting approach but how does she expect to sell a car? Floor answers that the car will sell itself! In the second clip Sam comments that there is a whole shop dedicated exclusively to these cars but to sell one in 2018 one needs to do something special. Floor put together these dances probably from things she has seen before. In answering a question from a reporter, she simply explained that she did some kind of shuffle and something called ‘swish swish’ and then she danced (as if the shuffle and swish swish were not dances themselves). Here is an example of shuffle which begins at the 31 second mark. The swish swish comes from the so-called ‘Backpack Kid’ which is connected to Katy Perry. I was able to find some girls doing these two dances and even found one that combined both. But what the originals may have looked like must be left to the imagination, as I could not find any clear example on YouTube.

After being questioned about making a sale in just a few hours Floortje says only, “we have sold it!”, in a tone of surprise. She did not think that the clip would have been watched by so many people.

So, it is quite possible to drive a Maserati over the Dutch dikes. And one day Floortje herself may drive one, if ‘the Polder’ can manage to stay dry until then.

Sofie went ‘wheeez’

(Unknown photographer) – Sofie (2018)

Recently on Thursday May 3rd an up-to-then unknown girl of 8 became famous for a few days. Sofie, who is from Spaarndam in the Netherlands started hanging several meters high on a bar in front of a bridge to a sluice. One might expect a stunt like to be attempted by a boy, but it wasn’t.

It is unknown whether she wanted to remain anonymous, at least until she had the chance to climb some real mountains. Suddenly she was lifted to a high altitude and found herself having a short adventure, in a manner of speaking. The whole thing lasted about one minute.

After the incident, her friend Noa said that Sofie suddenly went ‘wheeez’ into the air, holding on to the bar meant for stopping cars and pedestrians, like Sofie, from falling into the channel below as boats passed through.

(Unknown photographer) – Sofie and Noa (2018)

After the boat passed, the bridge went down again, but the bar was still too high for Sophie. “Like a silly one”, said Noa’s and Step’s (another friend of Sophie’s) fathers said afterward. The sluice operator realizing what was happening stopped the bar from going all the way back up. The father had warned the girls three times about playing with the bar when it was about to go up. He and a bystander quickly stood under her, pleading for Sofie to let go so they could catch her; but Sofie said she could not because her hands were too sticky, the very reason she went up in the first place.

She, Noa and Step were there on their way to an ice cream shop, which was subsequently delayed several hours after the aforementioned events, much to their dismay. Only once the bar was brought all the way down, did she finally return to earth. The father had some sharp words for her and she cried, but she also got a hug.

It was her practice of sport-climbing walls and climbing trees that helped her avoid a tragedy. But it did not save her from, as her mother explained, nightmares afterwards. A journalist asked Sophie what she would tell other kids about her experience. She cautioned that (translated from a YouTube clip), “Now, I would never do this. You would think it is just fun. But it is very, very high”. Here Sofie speaks about it in her native Dutch. In the video, a few boys could be heard saying, “We’re used to a lot here, but this we never saw before.

A censored deer and balloon. Or was it the red hair…? A comparison of four Dutch Female Photographers

The last few years, I visited expositions of some Dutch (female) photographers that have in common the theme of the portraiture of girls. For the most part, they are in a kind of quiet, intimate, minimal, unstarched style, in natural light, intended to portray the girl herself. There was no idea of deep meaning beyond the fact of the model—however valid a deeper expression may be. So we are speaking of a simple portraiture of the girls—within the bounds of the photographer’s creativity. There is none of the emphasis on light and darkness, symbolism, mythology, etc. This is quite different from the work of say, Jan Saudek or Irina Ionesco: no touch of heaven or purgatory. Consequently, it does not really matter whether the photos were taken “en plein air” or in a studio.

One of them, Vivian Keulards, has been censored for two bare portraits (or was it the red hair?). This case seems to be a matter of the eye of the beholder. Judge for yourself, along with a few other examples of her work and the work of three others. Originally, I had only wanted to write about Keulards because I read in a newspaper that two of her portraits—including one of her daughter—has been removed from an expo in the Art Gallery in the WTC, The Hague. A similarity with some other photographers came to mind. This was a good occasion to show something that was going on that had nothing to do with whether there was some kind of typically Dutch style of photography. This question might be better discussed in another post.

Photographers like Ata Kandó, who died only last September, whose work—at least her books with her children Dream in the Forest and Kalypso & Nausikaä—might be called fictional, fairy tale-like, mythological—apart from it being a kind of fashion photography with her children. That is to say, there are moments of reality that appear unexpectedly. In that ‘light’, what happened to Keulards is a repetition of ‘darkening’ history. In an interview Kandó tells (translated from Dutch):

There was actually no money for it, but I felt that my children were entitled to go on vacation, and that’s why we went hitchhiking. I like to photograph children, because they are photogenic and sweet. In prudish Paris they didn’t want to publish Dream in the Forest. The girls had no breasts yet, but stood on the picture with bare upper-body and the French media found that it had to do with sex. I was very angry about that, for me that work was totally poetic and innocent, like in a fairy tale.

Here two pictures from Dream in the Forest. I tried my best to find a ‘decent’ and an ‘indecent’ one.

Ata Kandó – Dream in the Forest ‘Madeleine and Thomas Kandó’ (1957)

Ata Kandó – Dream in the Forest ‘Ferns’ (1957)

Here the two images of Keulards, who would not have been censored without bare upper torso, with other work by her, who could have been censored as well, if these had also showed bare torsos.

Vivian Keulards – Dear Noortje (2010-2013)

Vivian Keulards – Marc Anthony (c2013)

Vivian Keulards – Taryn & Olivia (2013)

Vivian Keulards – Eimear (2014) [Bookcover of Flaming Grace, 2017]

Vivian Keulards – Eline (2013)

Vivian Keulards says about her series and book:

For years now I’ve been fascinated by red-headed children. In 2007, I made the first portraits in the series ‘Flaming Grace’. Until today I’ve photographed many red-headed children, not only in The Netherlands, but also in the US and Ireland. Why? Simply because I think they’re breathtakingly beautiful! I find these children mystical and magical and they push my creativity to the max. They’re visual poetry to me! Along the way I learned a lot about the red hair MCR1-gene and heard many stories and myths. Some people say redheads will likely be extinct in the next 100 years. This is because the gene is not dominant enough to survive. I don’t know if it’s true, but if so, I might even have written history.

The other artists did not focus on red-headed children, but I found a few examples and added them at the end—excepting Kandó whose work is mainly in black and white.

Rineke Dijkstra – Kolobrzeg, Poland (1992) / Sandro Botticeli – The Birth of Venus (c1483)

Rineke Dijkstra – Marianna (The Fairy Doll) (2014)

This is a film still from a video installation I saw in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, in a ‘black box’ rather than a ‘white cube’.

Rineke Dijkstra – Marianna And Sasha Kingisepp, Russia (2014)

Rineke Dijkstra – Coney Island, NY USA (1993)

Pip Starr commented on this last image by Dijkstra:

This is a strange image. The little girl is topless, which is odd considering the time and place the photo was taken: Coney Island, New York in the early ’90s. Unlike in Europe or other parts of the world, little girls going topless at an American beach is highly unusual, to say the least. Moreover, bucking the usual trend for these kinds of photos, this girl does not appear to be very happy. She’s frowning, and her arms are crossed defensively. Award-winning photographer Rineke Dijkstra is Dutch, but perhaps her subject here was not, and while Dijkstra clearly saw nothing out of the ordinary in having this girl pose topless, the girl herself seems less than thrilled at the prospect. Then again, the little redhead could be upset about something entirely unrelated. Who knows? This subject is now an adult, and I’d be curious to learn what was actually going on in her head at the time this was taken

Most of Rineke Dijkstra’s portraits are poses like this. Seriously, whether topless or not (with or without red hair), Dijkstra created a whole series of child and adolescent portraits, in bathing suits at the beach. Some seem to be topless and would have been more usual on a Dutch beach. About her models she said:

With young people everything is much more on the surface—all the emotions. When you get older you know how to hide things.

Hellen van Meene – Untitled (2012 – 2014)

Hellen van Meene – Untitled (2014)

Hellen van Meene – Untitled (1997)

Hellen van Meene has worked with many models, but I choose to present here two of the same model, with dogs and one earlier work with a red-haired girl. Maybe she is the least unstarched, compared with Keulards, Dijkstra and Bouma—though also with natural light. In comparison, van Meene is more dreamy, like Kandó, but more awake. Maybe even a kind of sweet, dry humour, with her series on ‘Dogs and Girls’ in mind. There was some biographical basis for this: as a child, she had been bitten by a dog. The decision to embark on this series featuring dogs came as a surprise even to her.

Here is some more about her work and one of her books, The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits. Here van Meene mentions that she does not find it important to identify her models, therefore her work is mostly untitled. Her careful staged images seem to want to capture moments in time, but with a sense of timelessness. Indeed, these girls (and dogs) are without a clear sense of time or place. The girls, though, can be different on another day, especially when they are in-between and growing up. I experience these portraits as portraits of the girls themselves—modelled, yes, but after themselves.

Aline Bouma – (Title unknown) (c2016)

Aline Bouma – Eva (c 2016)

Aline Bouma – Marjolein (c2016)

Dimitri – Exposition Aline Bouma in the City Theatre Utrecht (2017)

Aline Bouma, 25, had an exposition titled Twelve in the Utrecht City Theatre. It was her exam project as a documentary photographer.

Here is a comment about it that, unfortunately, can no longer be found online:

12 / 24 – What goes on in the world of twelve-year-old girls? Are they already having their first crush? Or are they climbing to the top of the tallest trees? When Aline Bouma reached this fascinating age, her mother passed away, causing all these fleeting memories of being twelve to become a giant blur. Her father had stopped taking photographs, and so there is no visual account of this period of her life. The only things that remain of these memories are small diary fragments that she kept as a girl. What she must have looked like back then is a mystery, with just her imagination and memories that have been warped throughout the years as all she has left to go on. With this project, Aline brings you into the, for her, unknown world of twelve-year-old girls. By photographing them, she creates an indirect self-portrait in which she tries to rediscover the year that had been lost to her.

Why have the two portraits of Vivian Keulards been taken away? Was it because the boy holding a balloon in front of his head was topless with a bare torso—or perhaps it was the red hair? The hair of the girl, holding deer antlers on her head, also topless, was red as well—or rather dark blonde. Someone or ones unknown working at this WTC took offense of it. Whoever it was, I assume what plays a role is, that this is a gallery within the context of this WTC. In the Netherlands there are a few such WTCs, roughly modelled after those in New York.

Now that these actions have taken place, one’s gaze can now be thought of as “spoiled” when it would not otherwise have been. Why should one’s gaze be tainted by looking at a serious but playful picture of this girl holding her deer antlers—bare and topless notwithstanding? Come on! Maybe one thought it would be a distraction. Can we no longer allow these portraits to speak for themselves or are business interests so paramount that these companies dare not risk losing commercial clients? Now it is impossible to say what my first impression would have been, now that these have been taken away from the display. On the other hand, without it, I might not have heard about it and seen it at all. My best guess is that my first impression would have been that it is merely a girl with deer antlers and would have pondered the mysterious mixture of her playful yet serious gaze. Is there something about her pose or her physical appearance that is supposed to be erotic? In truth, I do not even find it really sensual; and even if it were, what of it? An artist contributes to her cultural paradigm and should not be taken away assuming it has not been produced by abusive means.

None of this was ever the photographer’s intention. Keulards shares her own account of what happened (translated into English):

Last weekend, I got a phone call from WTC The Hague Art Gallery that they took two of my portraits off the wall. Since October 19th, two photo series hang on the walls of the gallery: “Flaming Grace” (portraits of red-haired children) and “Bloody Mary and Sloppy Joe” (documentary portraits of my time in the US). Business people walk by my work daily as the gallery is located within a commercial environment. An international company, renting an office within the WTC, complained that they think two images in my exhibition are offensive. It concerns portraits of two children with bare upper bodies: a red-haired little boy and the other one is my own daughter. The gallery has decided, after consultation with the WTC Executive Board, to take these images off the wall. They said they had no choice, they needed to respect the decisions of WTC.

The entire weekend I was upset because of this action. Of course, photography and art are a matter of taste, you’ll find something beautiful, or not. But to qualify my work as offensive? That’s a comment I heard for the first time. I became emotional after hearing about this, but it took very little time to discover where this feeling came from. These portraits, that I made from the heart, where I tried to show beauty and innocence, have become infected. That makes me sad. Who on earth looks at these portraits this way? At my own child? What goes around in these viewers’ heads? That’s what gives me the chills!

That what these viewers see, and what I have intended to capture, are miles apart from each other. Through my eyes there’s nothing, absolutely nothing sexual or offensive in these portraits. The fact that someone sees something totally different says a lot about this person. To let this issue pass me by silently felt very wrong. I have to stand up for myself and my work. In fact, I also need to stand up for our community of professional photographers. Creative freedom suffers when we do not speak up. Where do you draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not? A difficult discussion in these times, but I do know that I find the vision of this company heavily exaggerated, hypocritically prudish and narrow-minded. When I made this portrait of my daughter in 2010, she was six years old. She was like a fish in water in the nature of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Together with a friend they were pretending to be deer, holding the antlers to their heads. As a mother, I found this touching to watch. I saw my fragile girl happy and confident again in this outdoor setting, and this after a difficult time as a preschooler in the Netherlands. That’s what I put in this portrait and nothing else! My images often leave room for interpretation. In fact, it cannot be otherwise, because everyone looks at images with their own filter, their own luggage filled with experiences, education, upbringing, standards and values. However, I find it insulting that my images are found offensive. I simply don’t understand. This just happened in the Netherlands, where we still had a high standard of openmindedness and tolerance. Which is exactly why I want to share this story. If we do not raise our voices on these kinds of issues, against this censorship, even coming from a commercial, business world, we create a ridiculous taboo. This is not what we want.

Maybe the artist should have taken away the rest of her art from this gallery; the artist deliberately left her pictures there with two empty places till the end of the expo. I went there to find the two empty spaces on the wall where the photos once hung. At least I found most probably one.

Dimitri – Empty place in the spotlight (2017)

These pictures come from two series. ‘80349, Bloody Mary and Sloppy Joe’, about her time starting in 2010 in America. The second is ‘Flaming Grace’, portraits of red-haired children, compiled in a book of the same title. The series was originally titled ‘Elusive Beauty’.

Keulards writes that her portraits are staged. Probably that is what I see in them: serious, deep gazes. Sure, they are posed, but not merely so. It is as if the photographer was waiting until she could see a kind of drama—an elusive grace. Although the artist’s daughter does not actually have red hair, two souls with ‘flaming grace’ were taken away from this expo, and therewith its soul; for who might have walked by wondering about the white, empty parts of the wall that could not handle the weight of such portraits. Rather silly for a wall, don’t you think?

A Gaze, a Glimpse from a Girl on Horseback

A gaze on horseback

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Human (2015) (1)

Close-up (1)

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Human (2015) (closeup)

Where a trailer would want to be an introduction or characterization or an appetizer to the movie, can a film still from a movie or trailer be a characterization of the movie? And, secondly, can it stand on itself as a picture, without having watched the movie? Or even can one recognize it was from a movie? Did you realize, at first glance that the picture above was from a movie? And furthermore, can a picture taken from a movie stand on its own merit and characterize the movie? Can a “snapshot” produced by one of the several video players become a kind of artistic photography?

Yann Arthus Bertrand - Human (2015)

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Human (2015) (2)

The two stills come from the documentary Human (2015) by the French photographer, reporter, film director and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand. In 1991 Bertrand founded the Altitude Agency, the first press agency specializing in aerial photography. The film is composed repeatedly of aerial footage interspersed with first person stories told directly into the camera, and close-ups of other people during the telling of the story, giving the impression that they were listening. So this is a movie about humankind, with landscape scenes recorded at high speed to produce the effect of slowed down live action. That is the story and rhythm of a long and rather slow movie about humankind—its pains and joys: love, children, work, dreams and expectations, disappointments, death, the day to day mysteries of life. And about how we use the Earth, but also about—as in a line of poetry by Emily Brontë—“How beautiful the Earth is still”.

Maybe the slower landscape shot and aerial scene suddenly brought to my eyes a girl, gazing for a glimpse and then riding away. I saw her for the first time in the trailer. Maybe it was the briefness of the scene that made her gaze especially startling. I recommend both the trailer and, of course, the whole documentary (188 minutes long). And I wish to recommend these chosen film stills; first the gaze at first glance and, second, a logical end of the short scene. These pictures are not characteristic of the film in the sense that the film is not only about this girl. I do not even know her name, but she can stand for the title of the film. And I would like to add, she herself can stand for a kind of freedom—not merely a child riding her or his first bike, but on a horseback on the plains of her homeland. In this context, this behavior is probably quite usual for children, even girls. Nevertheless, in this brief passing by, there is a glimpse of freedom and a gaze of mutual understanding held in the eye of the everlasting beholder.

Returning to the questions asked in the beginning, it is by chance whether one first sees the full movie, a trailer or just a single image. In my case, it was the trailer with the sudden appearance of the girl on horseback and that gaze. In that instant it became a film still in my memory, long before the use of technology allowed me to express it. From now on, I can choose to look at every film still as a picture and every picture as a film still from a movie. However, it is the eye that judges the picture’s quality and decides whether it represents the tone of the movie. This way of watching is helpful when writing about movies where the focus is on a specific girl or girls—or about the “girl” archetype—here derived as a kind of subtopic, not from a typical coming-of-age movie, but from a beautiful movie about humankind in general.

Yann Arthus Bertrand - Human Official Poster (2015)

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Human Official Poster (2015)

Human by Yann Arthus-Bertrand: Official Trailer on YouTube

Human (Extended version, Vol. 3) on YouTube

Christmas Girls…kind of

Although Christmas, as it is usually celebrated, has already passed and the new year has already begun, I’d like to present here a selection so-called “Christmas Girls”. Incomplete though, but an attempt to search for the variation in depiction of girls during Christmastime. Also important in parts of the world is Epiphany, or the coming of the three wise men celebrated on the 6th of January. And in some Orthodox churches, Christmas has yet to come on the west’s 7th of January, because of the use of the Julian instead of the Gregorian calendar.

Looking back, Christianity began with a nativity, with a boy. Or was his mother still a kind of girl? The early depictions of Mary regards her as a virgin, not quite the same as a girl. So to look for a role model for the girl in Christianity, one has only the Virgin Mary, but later Christmas traditions begin to introduce other notions the Christmas Girl. The connection of my Christmas visions to Mary only came to mind while writing this.

Maybe there was Mary, the girl, that we never got the chance to know before Gabriel’s annunciation for her to become a mother. And she would remain a virgin, though the Bible does tell that Jesus had brothers and sisters. After the Nativity, her often girlish depiction probably contributed to her divinity and her virginity probably required a more girlish depiction. Historically girls, at that time and place, would marry young by our standards: around 12, 14, or even younger.

William Adolphe Bougereau - Song of the Angels (1881)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau – Song of the Angels (1881)

Thus if Christianity began with a young woman, one could ask why Santa Claus, another symbol of Christmas, is not a woman. Where Mary’s child is perhaps the only real Christmas gift, Santa Claus’ gifts are wished for and dreamed about by children and adults. This is maybe why the representation of girls has become more like our cultural dreams about Christmas, rather than the representations of boys. Or it should be the sweet (Christmas) child in general, either boy or girl?

Xck -Christmas Girl (2010)

Xck – Christmas Girl (2010)

However, I am imagining not only shepherds, wise men, an ox and donkey visiting Jesus, but a group of children (with at least one girl). She might have been something like Jackie Evancho singing The First Noël.  Here is a still from a YouTube clip.

Jackie Evancho - The View: The First Noël (2011)

The View/ABC – Jackie Evancho Sings The First Noël (2011)

There is also the depiction of the girl next door, having an ordinary modern Christmas. Such girls might be found under a Christmas tree among the gifts to be opened, perhaps singing Christmas carols, at a Christmas dinner, at home or in a swimming pool (climate permitting).

(Artist Unknown) - Christmas Cheer

(Artist Unknown) – Christmas Cheer

[The image below made private at the photographer’s request. It was a private photo posted on a personal Flickr account. Use of photos in these circumstances is ethically iffy since our focus is on art and the media.]

5c Honest Christmas Girl

(Artist Unknown) – Honest Christmas Girl

(Artist Unknown) - Christmas Joy

(Artist Unknown) – Christmas JoyWhy not a girl in a church? Or in front of one of the most famous, at Manger Square, at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. These girls are wearing the traditional Palestinian costumes in a Christmas procession.  This site is revered as the birthplace of Jesus in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Palestinian girls in Christmas procession (2013)

Reuters – Palestinian girls in Christmas procession (2013)

Palestinian children at Manger Square (2013)

AP – Palestinian children at Manger Square (2013)

Such girls, living here and there, can be found standing model among some artistic Christmas scenery.

Anneke Schram, Studio Anyke, Photowitch – Pink Little Christmas Angel (Date Unknown)

Anneke Schram, Studio Anyke, Photowitch – Pink Little Christmas Angel (Date Unknown)

Anna Omelchenko - Cute Christmas Angel

Anna Omelchenko – Cute Christmas Angel

Or for a Christmas card, modern or vintage.

8a Teresa Kasprzycka - Christmas collage in red

Teresa Kasprzycka – Christmas Collage in Red (Date Unknown)

8b Joyeux Noel

(Artist Unknown) – Joyeux Noël

9 Merry Christmas

(Artist Unknown) – Merry Christmas

Yazidis do not seem to celebrate Christmas, and being refugees hunted, raped, killed and sold as slaves they have almost become a symbol of the opposite of Christmas. Hopefully guest rooms will remain available for these refugees, so that they need not sleep in mangers.

Anthony Legg - Yezidi Girl (2005)

Anthony Legg – Yazidi Girl (2005)

And so we move on to the Epiphany, the coming of the Three Kings, Wise Men or Magi, as well as the baptism of Jesus by John in the River Jordan celebrated on the 6th of January.

Epiphany celebrations of the Three Kings in Dover, USA (2014)

Epiphany celebrations of the Three Kings in Dover, USA (2014)

As mentioned before, several Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas one day after Epiphany in the West, the 7th of January, and then Epiphany on the 21st.  Here, Palestinian Christian girls await arrival of the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem before the Eastern Orthodox Christmas procession.

Palestinian Christian girls outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (2015)

Ammar Awad/Reuters – Palestinian Christian girls outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (2015)

Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria, Greece and Albania traditionally dive into freezing water to retrieve a wooden crucifix, a ritual dating back to Byzantine times.

Brandon and Katie Price - An Epihany in Charkov (2013)

Brandon and Katie Price – An Epiphany in Kharkov (2013) (1)

It is not nearly as common to see children participating, and so the ones who do get quite a bit of attention. Here, a father waits with his young daughter.

Brandon and Katie Price - An Epihany in Charkov (2013) (2)

Brandon and Katie Price – An Epiphany in Kharkov (2013) (2)

Brandon and Katie Price - An Epiphany in Charkov (2013) (3)

Brandon and Katie Price – An Epiphany in Kharkov (2013) (3)

There are several layers of story here—tradition, childlike faith, and the publicity of it all. In the end, the little girl couldn’t manage to go all the way under, so she just dunked herself to her neck three times. brandonandkatie.com, January 21, 2013

Elena and Sacha Kalis: Mother and Mermaid

Elena Kalis’ ancestry is Russian.  Sacha is her daughter, her muse, her model and born in the Bahamas.

She’s my muse and my little mermaid. -Elena Kalis, Digital Photo, November 2013

A natural mermaid who could swim before she could walk; a perfect underwater model. She understands very well what I want to capture in the image. It’s not easy to find models who are graceful and relaxed underwater. It’s a gift only few people possess. -Maha Majzoub, RAGMAG, November 2012

Elena still longs for Russian snow from time to time and the way she photographs may have some surprising parallels with the snow. But in the Bahamas she found a different kind of landscape, or rather seascape. There Elena lives with her family, on a small island, where Sacha grew up.

At first Elena painted.  But the sea around the Bahamas called her to a slightly different kind of art: “Digital cameras and software offer huge opportunities for new images previously impossible to produce.” and “The dreamless, weightless atmosphere allows for all kinds of setups that are impossible outside the water.”  A good marriage of two former impossibilities.

Sacha became her main and probably her first model.  She frequently models for her mother, if that is the right word for someone who was apparently born in the ocean and has since remained there. Rather than modeling, it would be better to say she floats and dives there—swims. The Bahamas are, as cliché would have it, a paradise, but not so much above water as under it, a world less known by human beings.

It is as if somehow the underwater world is a more suitable decor for Alice, to Elena, a Waterland rather than a Wonderland to be found by a fall into the rabbit hole. The underwater world translates beautifully into Alice’s other mode of transport, the looking-glass.

Elena Kalis - Looking Glass (Date Unknown)

Elena Kalis – Looking Glass (2010)

Under water, Elena lets her Alice play with all kinds of props from Carroll’s Alice stories. By reaching through the watermirror, Alice is reaching for a sphere of otherness, while she herself somehow remains the same in these surroundings.  She is still recognizable as Alice, in another of her many drawn, filmed, photographed and rewritten variations.  The timing of Kalis’ Alice is opportune as Sacha was about the right age to play that character as conceived by Carroll.  The movements of Kalis’ characters in clear, still water convey a dreamy, happy sphere—though she has sometimes portrayed the dark side of the sea.  But this is not like the dark sea of the movie The Piano, but rather a wild one—another kind of dream of the sea. The Piano (1993), was the debut of the 11-year-old actress Anna Paquin. She played Flora, daughter of the piano-playing Ada. The movie centered around Ada in the beginning and maybe a more wuthering sea suits Ada better while Flora could step into Sacha’s world more easily. But this image can also be somewhat old-fashioned.  This idea seems worth another article, not merely about this film, but about the portrayal of the 19th century girl in films based on the novels of The Brontës, Dickens and Jane Austen.

Jane Campion - The Piano (1993)

Jane Campion – The Piano (1993)

While I looked at Elena Kalis’ images from time to time years ago, I imagined myself in the images themselves, never asking myself the what and how; it was as if I, for a while, was in that sea itself. Although in beholding, in water, it could have been both anywhere and nowhere.

Now that I have looked more deeply into it, the artist has aid she prefers to photograph in the sea itself, not in a swimming pool.  This fact is more recognizable with the grown-up Sacha photos than the child ones. It seems as though the images of Sacha as Alice, and other images of her as a child, take place in deeper sea than those with the grown-up mermaid, where more often a watermirror/underwater surface is visible. It is logical to shoot underwater to create the sense of a dreamy world and yet the surface is never far away.  “Shooting mostly on sunny days near the surface, Kalis attempts to use natural light as much as possible, sometimes enlisting the help of underwater Sola light” (Maha Majzoub, RAGMAG, November 2012) and “I photograph especially between twelve and four in the afternoon when the sunlight reaches the water vertically. For the same reason I prefer to work in the summer than in winter.” (Elena Kalis, Digifoto Pro, 2011)

This artistic impression of the imagery may be suggestive of the general idea of childhood as a dream state and the so-called adulthood more as reality. But what is more a dream? Alice? Or an example here out of the series ‘Life Style’?

Elena Kalis - Lifestyle (Date Unknown)

Elena Kalis – Life Style (2012)

Alice in Waterland appears as though it is taken in a big aquarium, or simply a swimming pool—a photo studio placed underwater. The impression is that of a dream just before a state of waking or, with these utterly clear photographs, a lucid dream.

Elena Kalis - Alice Down the Rabbit Hole (Date Unknown)

Elena Kalis – Alice Down the Rabbit Hole (2009-11)

The artist uses a Canon 5D Mark II in a waterproof housing, sometimes using a red underwater filter.  When working with adult models she can work underwater for about an hour but only 30 to 40 minutes with children.  Afterwards, she makes use of the techniques of PhotoShop. Despite the fact that she sometimes uses artificial light underwater and the shallow parts of the ocean can catch sunlight wonderfully, this alone is not enough for her to capture her characteristic colorfulness.

Beside playing with colour saturation, photographer and model use plastic inflatable animals, but filled with water so they’ll work better underwater—and they play with costumes.

“The waving movements that clothes make in the water, give interesting forms and light reflections. To get that waving movement, models only have to move calmly and spread the clothes. The rest comes naturally.” -Elena Kalis, Digifoto Pro, 2011

Elena Kalis - Alice (Date Unknown)

Elena Kalis – Alice (2009-11)

Sacha also dressed up as the schoolgirl Raye Hino, better known as Sailor Mars, from the anime show, Sailor Moon.

Elena Kalis - Sailor Mars (Underwater Pet)

Elena Kalis – Underwater Pet (2011)

Sailor Mars from series Sailor Moon

Sailor Mars from series Sailor Moon

Elena Kalis - Sailor Mars (Date Unknown)

Elena Kalis – Sailor Mars (2012)

Other series with Sacha as a child are in the same sphere, emotional fairy tales, but with titles derived from the elements from which it all takes place: ‘Ocean Life’, ‘Ocean Song’, ‘Liquid Joy’.

Elena Kalis - Ocean Life (Sacha Kalis with manatee) (Date Unknown)

Elena Kalis – Ocean Life (Sacha Kalis with manatee) (c 2013)

Elena Kalis - Liquid Joy Pikaboo (Date Unknown)

Elena Kalis – Liquid Joy Pikaboo (2011)

A variation on Alice in Waterland: ‘Neverland’.

Elena Kalis - Neverland (Date Unknown)

Elena Kalis – Neverland (c2013)

The female element in her element: ‘My Fair Ladies’

Elena Kalis - My Fair Ladies (Date Unknown)

Elena Kalis – My Fair Ladies (2009)

But also about the other aspect of the sea: ‘Dark Tales’

Elena Kalis - Dark Tales (Date Unknown)

Elena Kalis – Dark Tales (2011)

Sometimes the same series is released under slightly different titles, like ‘Dark Tales’ and ‘Dark Water’. Or sometimes the same pictures appear in different series, usually on different websites. With so many sites, it is not always clear what the relationship of her series to each other is. And many fine pictures like Atlantis seem merely to emerge via a Google search on sites that have no direct connection to Elena Kalis with unclear connection to a particular series.  So now an observer must try to deduce, immersed in all her images, a way of categorizing, hoping it will make sense emerging as if from the sea.

Elena Kalis - Atlantis (Date Unknown)

Elena Kalis – Atlantis (2008)

The dream goes beyond just the image, but the dream of a better world.  Even the Bahamas is influenced by a corrupted world: the globally rising sea levels, an oil refinery in nearby Venice, oil leaks, floating plastic that gets into the food chain, etc.  Elena has produced ample work which appears on several sites and on social media.  The importance lies in the images themselves, any comments usually short and complimentary.

Digging with a pen and writing in the seabed leaves few traces behind. But doubtless there are reasons why Elena photographs women and girls.

“Female characters are prominent in my work, as I love to explore the softer and more feminine side of underwater photography. My images flit back and forth between happy and sad, dark and dreamy, but I always stay true to the elements that inspire me. I am inspired by the way that humans can interact with the elements underwater, as well as they can move. It allows for a more fluid and dreamlike way of capturing motion.” -Elena Kalis, The Practice, 2013

I would hang these these photographs in my house just like that and not just above my bed or couch. Here and there in the house there would be a little bit of Waterland mixed in with dry land, possibly crisscrossing just like an aquarium. And maybe an added touch with Alice and Sailor Mars or Sacha as minidolls.  Happily, I would not be constrained with only showing the more heavy portrait photography.

What more is there to say than that Elena in her Alice, Sailor Mars, Liquid Joy, Stingrays, Manatees and Neverland, imagines a girlworld that is perfectly appropriate for adults? Elena imagines a feminine sea in which her daughter and other girls and women can still express whatever beauty still remains of the Earth. And now there are these snapshots of beauty which may last forever. In her photography she has, in a manner of speaking, created and experienced growth, with her daughter.

She does not see her art as work; it is her style of life. Does she regard that reality underwater as a dream?   I imagine creating these images captured from her own unconscious is not easy.

Dimitri is a guest writer from the Benelux region.  He did his best to translate things into English, so I had to do some editing to make it more coherent to English readers.  I hope I did it justice.  Also, any more biographical information on the Kalises and dates of the artwork would be very much appreciated.  -Ron

Book featuring Elena Kalis’ work edited by Jock Sturges

Other sites featuring her work here

Online articles on Elena Kalis (some in German and Dutch) here

Elena Kalis’ YouTube channel