Hellen Van Meene

Hellen Van Meene a Dutch photographer known for her portraits of girls of imperfect faces and flowed bodies.  Her work has so much resemblance to paintings.

Van Meene’s photographs of her models looks spontaneous but she actually takes care of every detail in the photograph from the exceptional use of light and composition to the model’s clothes.  Her portraits have inherent grace, vulnerability and hidden secrets that can be noticed from the models’ postures and facial expressions.

When asked what makes a great portrait’ Van Meene said the first thing is to concentrate on what’s in front of you, that includes perfect lighting, models and all.  The second thing is to keep a balance between how much you reveal and how much you hide.  The photographer must love his/her subjects to be able to give and get back.



Van Meene’s models seem very disconnected from the scenario they are in, they gaze somewhere else other than at the camera, usually downcast, their expressions are distant which makes you wonder.


Bibliography / References:

Bubich, O.  Hellen Van Meene:”In Photography Everything Has Already Been Done But Never By Me  [online].  Bleek Magazine. Available from: http://bleek-magazine.com/interviews/hellen-van-meene/  [Accessed 6 August, 2017].

Vroons, E.  Love, Focus and Dutch Light: Portraits of Adolescence [online]. LensCulture. Available from: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/hellen-van-meene-love-focus-and-dutch-light-portraits-of-adolescence [Accessed 6 August, 2017].



Assignment 5: initial Plans and Ideas

I am intending to shoot still life photographs or any other photographs that avoid the use of the human figures for assignment 5.  I want those photographs to convey a certain message that expresses a feeling of absence, sadness, isolation and loneliness.  I want them to be about the emotional journeys we go through that no one else sees and about the ones we experience and can’t show others.

I was initially inspired by Photographer Penny Klepuszewska which I wrote about here.  I was mostly inspired by her simplified minimalist scenes that she captured in her series “Living Arrangements”.

My tutor Jayne suggested that I look into the work of Rosy Martin on absence and place, she also suggested that I read The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard and Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes for inspiration.  I did read Camera Lucida for my third assignment and wrote about it here.


“The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard:

Gaston Bachelard focuses on house and space and how they affect us.  His book changes the way we look at homes.  To Bachelard, house is the manifestation of the soul through the poetic image.  It wasn’t easy to read though, I had to read summaries written by others exploring his philosophy through poetic writing.

Bachelard explores the psychology of houses explaining that it is made out of memories and experiences.  Every part suggests something.  For example, a door knob and a key both are used to open and close a door, however, people see the key as something which is more often used to lock a door while the door knob is seen as something used to often open a door.  Another example are drawers, to Bachelard drawers are places of secrets, wardrobe suggests a centre of orders, the attic is a metaphor for clarity of mind, while the basement is the darker secret of the home.

Bachelard explains that understanding the house is a way to understand the soul.  He spoke about daydreaming and how we revere things.  A new house that we enter might be overwhelmed with experiences of prior homes but not memories meaning memories of the house and each part of it are not something remembered but rather something that is tied to our present and current experience.

In short, the house is an image that evokes feelings in every soul.


“Too Close to Home” by Rosy Martin:

Rosy Martin’s work “Too Close to Home” is about the absent and presence that Roland Barthes talk about.  It is a metaphor for the process of aging.  Martin focuses on the house she grew up in where her 88 years old widowed mother lives.  She records detailed exploration of memories of specific space.

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Bibliography / References:

Bachelard, G.  The Poetics of Space  [online]. Available from: https://doubleoperative.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/bachelard-gaston-the-poetics-of-space.pdf   [Accessed 01 August, 2017].

Cultural Reader (2011).  Gaston Bachelard – The Poetics of Space – summary and review [online].  Cultural Reader. Available from: http://culturalstudiesnow.blogspot.ae/2011/06/gaston-bachelard-poetics-of-space.html   [Accessed 01 August, 2017].

Martin, R.  Too Close to Home  [online]. Available from: http://www.rosymartin.co.uk/too_close.html#6   [Accessed 01 August, 2017].






Assignment 4: Double Cherry

The Brief:

Create a series of work (aim for 7–10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place that you’ve looked at so far in this course. Use the written word to play a part in its creation.

You may be inspired by a poem, song or a novel or decide to write your own fictive piece. You may draw upon other people’s words via eavesdropping or another source or use extracts from journals. You might find interesting textual accounts in archives in libraries that could inform this assignment. Allow your creativity to be spurred on by spending time with these words and reflecting on them.

Be wary of illustrating your text with pictures and vice versa. Allow for the viewers’ interpretation to be opened up rather than shut down by the pairings. You may decide not to include the actual words in the final production; that’s fine, as long as they have in some way informed the research and development of the concepts and have pushed the imagery further as a result.

Write a short reflective commentary (around 500 words) describing how your chosen ‘words’ have informed your series of images and make this available to your tutor alongside your images.


Assignment 4: Double Cherry

This assignment was the closest to what I love to do, however, I struggled to come up with ideas and shots, perhaps because the assignment asked to aim for 7 to 10 images or because I over think things all the time.

The ideas for this series, inspirations, research and all has been documented in the posts under the menu assignments: assignment 4: The Making of the Series (Double Cherry).

I decided to go for colors inspired by the work of Samantha Everton which I looked at in assignment 3 here.

For the title, I wanted something other than “Twins”, something more significant to enable the symbolism of the image to be reinforced.  I looked at some twin sayings and quotes and I found two that I liked:

“So we grew together Like to a double cherry, seeming parted, but yet a union in partition, two lovely berries moulded in one stem” — William Shakespeare

“Twins: two unique souls united by birth” — Anonymous

It was either “Twins: two unique souls united by birth” or “Double Cherry” and I decided to go for the “Double Cherry”.

Reading what my girls wrote about what they like and dislike about being twins and from my own experience with raising them; I created these photographs to tell the story and illustrate the text. I decided not to include the text so the viewers will make their own assumptions. I tried to visualize the text in a way that invites the readers to interpret the work which I think is very straightforward and need not to be combined with a text. The series could connect to their own experiences if they have twins or are one.

The meaning of the chosen words were presented as conceptual photographs with a main concept which is twins. Then the concept was transformed into ideas and ideas transformed into specific tangible images that are open for interpretation. In my series I think the title itself is enough guidance for interpretation, thus I do not need to explain the photographs more. The readers can figure out the rest.


The final images for the series “Double Cherry” are shown full size below and in sequence:

















Assignment 4: Final Stage and Contact Sheets

After the preparation stage for the series “Double Cherry” here; the shooting took place and I came up with more ideas to add to the concept.  Some of them worked quite well while others did not meet the standard I was aiming for or was hard to execute.  I had to replace a lot of ideas and reshoot others to manage to get what I was looking for.

Below are the contact sheets of the rejected shots before editing:



Here are the selected images before and after editing:









Assignment 4: The Preparation Stage

It has been a while since I last posted on my blog or worked on my assignment.  I have been very busy with my son’s final school exams and that will hopefully end by Sunday.  After that I will be able to focus on my assignments and blog.

I have received an email from the OCA that my extension period ends on September 17 and that I have to ensure I complete all three level 1 units by the 1st of September 2017 otherwise I will be withdrawn from the degree study.  This course is my last unit of level 1 and so far I have two more assignments to submit.  Not much time is left and I have to work so hard to finish on time.  I am glad though that my kids’ school will end soon as I will have plenty of time to work on my own studies.

Preparation of the Series “Twins”:

I sat down with my girls and asked them to jot down what they like and dislike about being twins.


Then I came up with different ideas on how to illustrate the text into pictures.  I collaborated with a talented friend “Priyani” and asked her to work on some of the pieces I wanted to use in the photo shoots.


Some of the pieces were successful while others did not work quite well as I wanted it to be so I might either discard it or use it for another idea but we did take a fun photo of it though with my phone:


I will be posting more when I complete the project.

Assignment 4: Final Idea and Plan

After looking at the work of Jan Von Holleben suggested by my tutor and the work of Lorna Freytag, I am planning to use conceptual photography for this assignment.  I have always been fascinated by this type of photography.  Illustrating a specific idea using photography is basically what conceptual photography means, therefore I feel that this assignment specifically can be fulfilled using this type of photography.  I have tried this in one of my assignments for the old course The Art of Photography (TAOP) and it was the one I enjoyed the most.  I might not be there yet when it comes to inspiring ideas and outcomes but I am willing to learn and enjoy at the same time.

Coming up with an idea is the hardest part, the assignment asks for series of work aiming for 7 to 10 images.  I did not feel that the first plan would fulfill the requirements of this assignment.  I love the idea of combining drawings with photography but I could not come up with an idea that goes with the assignment’s needs.  I do not want to rush into doing anything just for the sake of finishing the assignment on time although I am running out of time but at the end if I don’t like what I produce, I will be so disappointed.  I thought since I am here to learn then why not do something I like and learn from and at the same time fulfills the requirements?

I am a mother of twin girls, I see them quarrel sometimes and other days they would be hugging and sharing everything.  They come to me complain about things and sometimes there would be a competition between them and comparisons!  At that moment I thought why not do a project about them, about twins!

I started searching online and found the work of Krisitna Varaksina, a photographer from New York.  Her project is titled, “You Are My Twin.”  The project is a psychological study of twins’ relationship shown with the help of metaphors as she explains.  Varaksina collaborated with a talented set designer called Espen Øydvin to create the props she used in her project.

Her project can be seen on this video:

You Are My Twin by Kristina Varaksina

Her project reminds me of the work of Jan Von Holleben which I have looked into previously as suggested by my tutor.

The only difference with my twins is that they are unidentical!  However, that gave me more ideas to think about.  The project idea developed while my girls were quarreling, I said to them:  “How about you two help me with my project?”, of course they both competed to help and I handed them a piece of paper and asked them both to jot down what they like and dislike about being twins.  I asked them to sit away from each other and write down their ideas on a piece of paper without talking to each other.  The plan worked to stop the fight and I got some nice ideas from what they’ve written.  They would be adding more tomorrow then we plan to discuss them and sketch ideas.

Bibliography / References:

Varaksina, K. (2015). You Are My Twin: A Personal Fine Art Photo Project [online].  PetaPixel. Available from: https://petapixel.com/2015/11/20/you-are-my-twin-a-personal-fine-art-photo-project/ [Accessed 4 May, 2017].


Assignment 4: Initial Plans and Ideas

I was lost with different ideas for this assignment, most of them were ideas related to sad memories.  However, I refrain doing so after assignment 3.  I want to try different ideas, something fun and delightful other than sadness.

I emailed my tutor my proposal for assignment 4 in order to get feedback and help before I start.  My first thoughts were combining photographs with drawings.  My kids have a day at school where they are supposed to dress up as a character in a story book and this gave me the idea of talking to kids and asking them to draw themselves as the character that they would love to be so the text would be:  “If you are a character from a story book, what would you be?”  The idea is to take a portrait of the child and scan his/her drawing then combine both together using Photoshop.  I still don’t have an exact idea how the outcome would be but I am willing to experiment.

My tutor Jayne Taylor thinks the drawing is a nice idea but asked me to rethink about the text adding “might there be something rather expressive in each child’s individual handwriting style?”.

She also thought I might be interested in the work of Jan Von Holleben “Dreams Of Flying” invoking fantasy in a novel way, or the community project by Brandon Cawood “When I Grow Up“.  She also suggested I check the Tate Modern site for the work of inspiring artist as it is about to run a talk on text and photography.

Jan Von Holleben’s work “Dreams of Flying” is very inspiring:

The behind the scene shows the amount of work that went into this project:

The behind the scene of “Dreams of Flying”

In this series, Holleben makes nostalgic dreams come true in his photographs using visual representation of childhood and his personal childhood memories.  He gets inspired by classic childhood books and works with children from his local neighborhood to produce his projects.  Everything is possible. You can fly, you can hide and you have all powers you want!

I personally liked his project “Mystery Of Monsters” where Holleben took the kids to explore their adventure places and search for secrets and interesting things to discover the mystery of monsters!  I loved his use of conceptual illustrative photography where he tries to translate a subject matter into an image.  The use of different materials such as leaves and fruits and others gives me more to think about other than the drawing of the kids by itself.  Holleben comes with his own story and ideas and sometimes the kids push him for other adventures and come up with different ideas themselves.  He does not use photoshop but he creates his images using materials and capture them on camera.  I am now thinking to involve the kids with the initial idea and see where it goes from there.

For “When I Grow Up,” project by Brandon Cawood, Cawood created cinematic portraits of 5th grade students acting out their future careers.  He dressed them up and shot against a white background in the school auditorium.  The photos were published as a calendar and the money raised from them went towards the charity City of Refuge for tutoring programs and funds to further the education of impoverished youth.

I liked the concept of the project and the good cause behind it, however, the result to me is disappointing.  I personally did not like the overshopped HDR images.  I do enjoy cinematic photographs however, these are too much for my liking.

On the other hand, I came across the work of Lorna Freytag who combines her love for photography, illustration and children stories to come up with beautiful images.  Freytag is a children’s book illustrator, author and fashion photographer who uses digital camera and post production techniques to produce an image.

My next step will be experimenting with different techniques to see where that takes me.

Bibliography / References:

Cawood, B. When I Grow Up: Cinematic Portraits of Fifth Graders in Their Future Careers [online]. PetaPixel.  Available from: https://petapixel.com/2015/11/15/when-i-grow-up-cinematic-portraits-of-fifth-graders-in-their-future-careers/ [Accessed 29 April, 2017].

Freytag, L.  Lorna Freytag Website [online]. Available from: http://www.lornafreytag.com/illustration/ [Accessed 29 April, 2017].

Holleben, J., V.  Jan Von Holleben Website [online]. Available from:  http://www.janvonholleben.com/project/dreams-flying/  [Accessed 29 April, 2017].

Camera Lucida: Roland Barthes’ Meditation on his Mother’s Death.

My tutor Jayne recommended a reading of Camera Lucida from the part where Roland Barthes meditates on the elusive nature of memory in relation to his deceased mother.  I found the book hard to understand at the beginning and I did read some of the recommended part before but I decided to re-read it twice and only when my mind is ready to absorb dense information.  To my surprise, I loved it and I very much enjoyed this part, it relates so much to my situation when I lost my grandmother.  I am here summarizing what I understood from the book:

After the death of his mother’ Barthes went through her photographs.  He had no hope of “finding” her.  Barthes was looking for a photograph that “speaks” of his mother.  He found lots of photographs of her but they all speak of history “his non-existence“.  A picture of her when he was not born yet, where history separates him from her, when there is no memory of him of her.

Barthes wanted to discover in her photographs, objects that reminds him of her, things that he saw and remembers such as objects she kept on her dressing table, her ivory powder box, etc.

Barthes considers the time when his mother was alive before him is history, a period that is good to see and acknowledge but not recognizable to him since he did not exist at that time.  The fashion, clothes she wore, items etc all unrecognizable to him.  He wanted a photograph of her that reminds him of the face he saw and recognized, the smell he loved and the memory of his existence with her that he cherish.  He wanted to find her in that photograph.

Barthes states that Photography forced him to perform what he called a “painful labor” as he was struggling to find the essence of his mother’s identity, the true “complete” her until he found the “Winter Garden Photograph” which to him provokes her truth and not just her identity.

The photograph was very old with blunted corners and faded sepia print.  It shows his mother ate age 5 with her brother age 7 at the time (1898) posed side by side under the palms of the Winter Garden (a house where his mother was born).

Barthes rediscovered his mother in this photograph.  It reveals all the innocence and kindness that he sees in his mother being a grownup.

Barthes looked at the old photographs by moving back through time just like Greeks who entered into death backwards, what they had before them was their past.  In the Winter Garden photograph, Barthes found his mother, the little girl in that old photograph is the little girl of his that she became during her illness.  The one he nursed and helped during her weakness.

To me the photograph of my grandmother that I cherish the most and reminds me more of her is an old Polaroid photo of her hugging me tightly while I am sitting on her lap.  My grandfather’s thumb that ruined a small part of the photo, my grandmother’s sweet look at me is the true “her” that I missed.  I can still hear her asking my grandfather to take the photo of the two of us and I can still hear my grandfather asking me to smile.  I don’t remember how old I was perhaps 10 but I remember everything about this photo and the place where it was taken.  Looking at the photo you can read the sweetness and kindness in my grandmother’s face.  The photograph is also so close to my heart because although my grandfather is not in it but I still see him in the photo from the mark he left of his thumb and him being behind the camera making a conversation with both of us (my grandmother and I).  I did not only miss her but I also miss him.  They both played a big part in my life and losing them was the most painful.  The look in my eyes in that particular photograph seems like if I knew this was coming, I was not smiling, I just stared at the camera!  The photograph to me talks about both of them, the sweet relationship between them and the love they have for me.  Those things that I remember and cherish.

Looking at the photographs I created for my grandmother’s memory, one photograph in particular explains me the most after their death:


When everything has ended and you can no longer hear the voices of the people you love or visit the places they were once in, it’s no longer the same place, everything is changed, everything is different, everything is gone, only painful memories stay…

Bibliography / References:

Barthes, R. (2008) Camera Lucida. TATE Publishing: London.

Assignment 3: Re-sequencing

My tutor questioned the inclusion of the first image in the final edit and if it fits with the atmosphere of the others.  She asked that I pin the idea behind the image more in my written summary.

Below is the image in question:



To me this photograph shows what I thought I knew!  That I can keep my grandmother forever, that I would stay in this house surrounded by my grandparents and enjoy the play, the warmth, the forever happiness.  That the presence of my grandmother will make my heart sing of joy and never break.  The connection between happiness and memory is the dream and reminisce that makes me feel better and gives me the feeling of warmth and acceptance.

The photographs that comes after this one in the series shows how dreams are sweet yet short!  Thus, I decided to start my series with this dream.

For the sequencing of the photographs my tutor suggested that I remove image 4 and avoid placing images 2 and 3 together as the poses are very similar.  So here is the series after re-sequencing them:

















Assignment 3: Tutor Feedback and Reflection

I was so pleased with the feedback I got from my tutor and so happy that she liked my work, I worked so hard on this particular assignment and I am glad it payed off.

Below is my tutor’s feedback for assignment 3 and my reflection in blue italics. For a PDF file of the original feedback please click here.

Overall Comments
A thoughtful, well-conceived, well-expressed and beautifully-shot assignment Ghada. The work successfully conveys an emotional experience that is simultaneously universal and intensely personal. You have achieved this by working through the creative process quite organically, from the germ of the initial idea, through experimentation, development and finally some thoughtful editing/presentation decisions. Well done.

Assessment potential
I understand your aim is to go for the Photography Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course. From the work you have shown in this assignment, providing you commit yourself to the course, I believe you have the potential to pass at assessment. In order to meet all the assessment criteria, there are certain areas you will need to focus on, which I will outline in my feedback.

Feedback on assignment

You’ve produced some very beautiful and evocative images here, Ghada. The series communicates a universally-recognisable sense of loss and grief.

Bereavement creates a desire to somehow revisit or recapture the past, and this is conveyed extremely well through your choice of location and in casting your daughter as your younger self. The location itself is incredibly rich with the impression of layers of personal history, and with traces of the passing of time – the atmosphere is palpable. The interior shots worked particularly well with the wide-angle lens, and you’ve directed your model with confidence throughout – great stuff.

This time I very much agree with your decision to present the images in black & white – it greatly heightens the psychological effect of the images and suggests the innate surreality of memory (and, perhaps, dream?).

What makes this a successful series is worth summarising for your own future reference:-
• Your initial brainstorming of ideas
• Your trial-and-error approach to shooting
• Your experimental approach
• Your research and preparation
• Your willingness to be more self-critical at the image-selection (editing) stage
• Most importantly: the very personal resonance of the subject matter (- you wanted to “express something” rather than simply “photograph something”).

In terms of the final edit, I might question the inclusion of the first image – clearly a strong image in itself – but does it fit with the atmosphere of the others? Perhaps you just need to pin down the idea behind the image more in your written summary.

In terms of sequencing, there is some visual repetition across images 2 and 3; the poses are very similar at first glance, so I would possibly avoid placing them together in the sequence.

Similar repetition (of pose) between 4 and 7. Consider removing image 4 from the series – it doesn’t seem to add much to the series, in comparison with the others, so has the effect of diluting the work just a little.   (See post here for the sequencing and the inclusion of first image).

• Again, some good work produced through the coursework exercises, at times illuminating your desire for self-expression through photography (as in the ‘window’ exercise).

• I’m glad to see that you have taken on board some of the advice from the book Behind the Lens – this has clearly had a beneficial impact on your way of working.
• I would highly recommend a reading of Camera Lucida in connection to this assignment in particular, as here Barthes meditates on the elusive nature of memory in relation to his deceased mother.  (See post here).
• Please do continue to reflect on how your research is feeding into how you think about and take photographs.

Learning Log
• You’ve made a particularly good learning log entry here, Ghada. This is what the learning log is all about: asking questions, working through an idea via research and then testing it that idea within your own practice.
• It’s evident that the learning log is beginning to function more as a blog or notebook for your thoughts and ideas as they develop; including tests, experiments, independent research, self-reflection.

Suggested reading/viewing
• Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, as above – a small but dense book that I think you’ll enjoy re-reading as your studies progress (essential text).
• Are you aware of the work of Francesca Woodman? She’s an important artist for you to be aware of and able to reference in terms of this assignment.  (See post here).

Pointers for the next assignment / assessment
• Would you mind sending me a brief (200ish words) proposal for your next assignment please, Ghada, articulating the kind of images you hope to create and why (and also how). As you know, this can be very helpful in focusing initial thoughts as well as giving me the chance to suggest relevant references.