We have relaunched! As part of our relaunch week, Of The Land & Us (formerly Eyes Forward Magazine) are doing an interview a day with a landscape photographer, and today we’re talking to Awoiska Van Der Molen. Van Der Molen’s dark and monochrome imagery immediately drew us in because of their beautfil darkness, something we haven’t really seen before in landscape photography, where normally everyone strives to have that perfectly balanced exposure. Read our interview with Awoiska below!
Edit: Congratulations to Awoiska as she has been shortlisted in the 2017 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize!
Please introduce yourself.
I am Awoiska van der Molen. I am an artist and photographer based in Amsterdam and Umbria, Italy. At the moment I’m drawn to producing new photography work. I’m traveling to different locations right now to work, and as we speak I’m on my way to Japan to make work on one of the remote southern islands.
After this I’ll be preparing an exhibition in Kyoto. Last October I was also the winner of the Hariban Award and I was invited to Kyoto to produce collotype prints of my photography with Japanese artisans still using this rare reproduction technique.
How did you get into photography?
A long time ago, at the Academy of Arts in Groningen (NL), I started studying architectural design. After three years I quit because I could not express my creative needs enough in this type of technical field. For one year I was in a kind of crisis, being 25 years young; what to do now with my life? I had no idea, so I felt pretty down. I started working as a waitress to pay the rent.
To get my hands on something more fulfilling I got out an old Olympus 35mm camera my mother had given me when I was fifteen, and I signed up for a photography course in a community centre down the street. And that was that.
Making photographs, developing them, printing them – I don’t precisely know why – but this mystical world had me completely. I went back to the Academy of Arts and became the happiest photography student. After graduating there, I finished my studies at the MFA photography at the St.Joost Academy in Breda.
What inspired you to start shooting landscapes?
In 2003 I graduated with a body of work on portraiture. With it, I made a start into exploring how to enter into the deep basal core of the things around me.
I would need many more years to learn about my fascinations, and how (and why) I wanted to translate these into images. After portraying people, I slowly started to photograph interiors, and from there I moved to photographing the exteriors of buildings.
In all of these subjects I tried to reach something that is hidden behind the outside appearance of the subject. In 2008, I made an image of a building resting on the edge of a black abyss. This picture led me to the ground, into the essence of existence; Earth. Since then I try to gain access to the autonomous, the mysterious and often impalpable territory of the landscape.
Your landscapes are black and white, and often dark. Why do you choose to shoot in such a specific way?
I like to use black and white film; however, the character of the work is born from what I sense when I am walking, observing, feeling, working.
Do you have a favourite image from your own work?
There are a few, but the image that is used for the cover of my book ‘Sequester’ contains several layers that I find captivating. In the darkness of that image awaits a hidden world to be discovered if you dare to step in. This black hole is tempting, but frightening at the same time.
Do you ever shoot projects?
I don’t think in the terms of ‘projects’. The works I’ve made so far I see as one organically growing body of work.
Where do you stand in the film versus digital debate?
Many types of photography suit the digital technique perfectly, but I only work with film. It is the concentration and focus that I desire, and the slow way of working which starts on film and continues with hand-printing the photographs in the darkroom.
While photographing I move slowly in a state of concentration through the landscape. Knowing there is a limit of exposures on the film plus not being able to immediately see the result increases the concentration.
The images are getting the time to ‘brew’. Images need time, at least mine do. I value the slow movement when using film, even in something as little as transporting the film!
All these aspects contribute to entering in a certain state of mind while photographing, and I believe this shows in the resulting photographs. I know there are photographers that see this as nonsense, but we all have our own way of making art.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Looking at 17th and 18th century paintings, trying to read books on the approach of landscapes coming from different sources (philosophers, historians, biographies). ‘Trying to read’ I say, because I find it hard to find the peace for that.
What are you working on right now?
These coming months I’ll be in different remote places to make work. In the summer, I will print my work in the darkroom, in September, I’ll show the results of new work at the Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam.
I’ve seen that you’re a gallery represented photographer and have been successful by having work shown at Paris Photo for example. What advice would you give to a creative looking to be represented by a gallery?
Try to make your work as visible as you can, by getting into exhibitions. One thing always leads to another. This is my own experience. My gallerist had seen my work in a group show in a Dutch photography museum and approached me after that. We started to work together, and this gallery then presented me at Paris Photo a year later.
I would not have been showing in that Dutch photography museum if I had not made all little steps in the years before that: making work, exhibiting the work, organising shows together with colleagues, sometimes showing curators, in person, the development of my work. Make your work visible.
What advice would you give to the aspiring photographer?
Listen to yourself. Don’t look at others.