Hellen van Meene (Dutch, b. 1972)
Greta Thunburg, Stockholm, 2019
The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins College, Gift of Barbara '68 and Theodore '68 Alfond. 2019.2.21
When selecting her subjects, Dutch photographer Hellen van Meene is drawn to the unconventional. Faces described as traditionally beautiful will rarely be featured in her work, opting instead for the captivatingly unorthodox. The construction of an image begins the moment she spots a distinctive set of features—often out in public and almost always girls and young women—and approaches her soon-to-be model. From that moment, the photographic process becomes highly choreographed, with van Meene carefully directing every aspect of the image including wardrobe, hair, and setting. Every gesture and expression needs to be orchestrated to her exact demands.
By controlling the external aspects of the experience, she notes, the subject gains confidence and opens up to reveal their truest nature. It is through hearing the subject’s words and observing her through the lens of a camera that the narrative and tone of the photograph is decided. The results are images that live in suspension and capture timeless moments of adolescence in the making. She gravitates towards exploring young women in all their vulnerable awkwardness and dignity because it is an experience she intimately understands. The models are often shown in moments of thought or disconnection, gazing away from the camera. The image then becomes a frozen moment through which viewers can pause and step into the fleeting instant where girl becomes woman.