‘A Danger Illustrated’ presents a new collection of work by the renowned Dutch photographer Hellen van Meene, exploring themes of femininity, domesticity, trepidation and change in a world replete with peril.
Working in analogue and in small format, Hellen’s photographs focus on young people at the stage between adolescence and adulthood. It is an uncertain moment, full of trepidation and fraught with the anxieties of change. Hellen finds glimpses into these intimate inner worlds and brings their fragility to light in ways that are sometimes unsettling, often uncomfortable, but always sensitive and sincere.
Hellen’s new works continue this focus but raise the stakes through the addition of fire, a motif that Hellen uses principally as shorthand for danger. On one level it explores the warning to ‘not play with fire’: whilst so much of Hellen’s work looks at uncertainty, these new photographs explore the drama that stems from engaging with risk. The same small flame flickering as a candle of hope becomes a ring of fire within which a young bride stands. A chair aflame beside a young musician suggests a past disintegrating before her very eyes, while flames burning behind a girl lying in a bath hint at the willing denial of unquestionable dangers. In this sense, Hellen’s new works reach beyond the intimate personal moment to hint at our current environmental situation: to threats that do not go away if ignored, but rather demand confrontation and action.
The new works sit alongside photographs that continue Hellen’s distinctive approach to image-making, depicting quiet interiors with subtle plays of light and a pensive atmosphere redolent of Dutch Golden Age painters. Young subjects seemingly dressed for a wedding, on the cusp of a new reality, present images filled with trepidation as to the uncertainty of the future and change. Alongside are images of quiet domesticity, depicting adolescent figures together with their pets in calm interiors. Hair is a frequent theme, an organic physical product that is a visual mark of the passage of time. Hellen uses it to bind figures together with their beloved pets, as if anchored in tender nostalgia, or as something akin to fur that brings us closer to our animal friends. They echo a sense of innocent uncomplicated attachment that becomes so conflicted in the adult world outside – the world of fire, of risk, and confrontation that is as intimidating as it is unavoidable.
‘A Danger Illustrated’ opens on Thursday 14 July, 6:30 – 8:30pm.