Saskia Boelsums’ landscapes (Interview Fotografie, edition 2, March/April 2017)
Beautiful, isn’t it? Everything!
Dramatic landscapes right next door. Saskia Boelsums feels touched by the nature she photographs. Dutch nature. She represents herself through her work. Tranquil landscapes, lonely locales, emptiness and serenity.
Visual artist Saskia Boelsums studied spatial and graphic design at the Academie Minerva in Groningen. After her graduation, she focussed on installations and spatial works: large works of art, with which she established herself as an artist. Photography did not play a serious role in her life until 2013 when she transitioned from spatial art to photography. The seed for that transition was planted during a move. “In 2008 I moved to the countryside into an old farm. All around me I discovered the beauty of nature, the details, the changes, the lighting. As a city person, you sometimes think that the countryside is boring, but that is so not true. One day I bought a pomegranate. I was so in awe of its beauty and the smell of the fruit that I wanted to share that experience with others. I decided to photograph it and that became the foundation for still life photography.”
On the kitchen table
Boelsums starts very simply with small still lifes “on the kitchen table”, with her being in control of everything. “I really like a challenge. If something is new and I cannot quite do it yet, I find it interesting. In the past, when someone started lecturing me on the technical aspects of photography, I tended to quickly lose interest. But after making my start with the pomegranate, I delved into photography techniques because I considered it a challenge.” That started an educational journey into photography, she gave herself four years to learn how to photograph. “I said that in 2013 and since then I have tried out different photography disciplines: still life, portraits, and now, four years later, landscapes. Every photo you take teaches you something, technique-wise. You learn to master the technique a little better each time, to perfect it, and I am still learning.” In addition to still lifes, Boelsums also does portraits. “The portraits was something I did because I really wanted to try everything… I was caught up in it and wanted to do it perfectly, but after a while, I noticed that I even more liked taking photographs of still lifes and landscapes.”
By the end of 2014, she wins an important photography award with her still lifes, which are still exhibited every now and then. But now she is all about landscape photography. “I noticed that I was literally drawn outside. The surrounding area became my working area and my inspiration.”
Landscape photography really allows Saskia Boelsums to express herself, because: “I love silence. In that way, landscapes are a reflection of myself. Tranquillity, silence and a little loneliness. I am not much of a talker and do not feel the need to constantly be surrounded by people.” She prefers to tell stories through images rather than words: “Telling someone about what you saw lessens the experience. I prefer to show it with images. Showing others the picture I saw as a photographer. Communicating my feelings through photographs…”
And it is all the more rewarding when you discover that that kind of work speaks to people. “Since I started photographing landscapes, I have gotten a lot of requests for exhibitions. It makes me very happy when people want to see my work or buy it. That someone wants to hang one of your photographs on their wall is truly a great experience!”
The basis for her creativity
Saskia’s father worked for KLM and she lived abroad for part of her childhood. She grew up in Iran and on Curaçao. That is where the basis of her creativity lies. Not in living in those countries specifically, but in the fact that they did not have a TV in the house. “We were a creative family: In the evenings we would do arts and crafts at the table and let our creativity run wild. I loved it! I knew in secondary school that I wanted to be an artist. The freedom that came with it really appealed to me. I am not someone who could work in an office from 9 to 5. I preferred to decide how to spend my time myself, doing what I wanted to do. That is why I chose to go to the art academy.” Expression, creativity, freedom, it is a recipe you encounter with other photographers as well.
Boelsums did not have a very steep learning curve when it comes to personal development in style and signature of her photography, although you might expect that considering her fairly recent start. “My own style is rooted in a deeper past. For that, you need to look beyond my years of photography. People often tell me that I am still actually making installations with my photography. Not that strange, because as an artist, you use all your knowledge in everything you do over the years, not always consciously.”
Old masters as inspiration?
Saskia Boelsums’ work is often reminiscent of landscape paintings by old masters, but that is not the goal according to her. “I immersed myself into the old masters’ lighting and style when I started doing still lifes. That is where you can see a clear influence from classical paintings, but with my landscapes, I do not feel the urge to copy Ruysdael for instance.” She does, however, get inspired by the development of artists through the ages. “I like seeing how artists developed, how they tried things and showed the courage to do things differently. That way of working with art and doing your own thing appeals to me, it fascinates me. But also in modern art and photography, I see people doing their own things. I love that.
Saskia’s photography always reflects her true self. It is her representation of what she saw and experienced. As a Dutch artist, you do carry certain cultural baggage. And that Dutch landscapes are very special was something they knew back then too.” The Dutch skies and expansive river landscapes are not something new, is what Saskia is trying to say. In fact: “Recently I was working near Amsterdam somewhere among the lakes surrounding Loosdrecht and Vinkeveen when I discovered that there are areas there that have not changed since the 17th century. You can see Potter, Ruysdael and Maris right in front of you. And I want to capture that.”
Reproduction of what she sees
Photography is something Saskia Boelsums does in raw, of course. And the photographs she takes reproduce the landscape as she saw and experienced it. Of course, there is postprocessing as well, Boelsums processes her images to show how she saw it in front of her. Everything in moderation though. “I do not cut and paste from different parts. Sometimes I might take out something annoying, but that’s about it. I want to communicate to someone what I saw and why I was so excited about it. Make that someone’s mouth drop open. Showing a moment of amazement whereby I only barely remembered to take a photograph.” Smiling, she adds that forgetting to press the button is not a great thing for photographers, who often spend hours in the cold, waiting for just the right moment. Of course, her landscape photography requires a lot of preparation. “It is not like all photography moments are a random chance because you would not create much work if they were. Though sometimes you do get lucky by accident and something spectacular happens. Usually, it is a waiting game however, waiting, waiting and more waiting.
Boelsums made a conscious decision to use a square format to capture her landscapes. “I find it a fascinating format. I thought it was a challenge to capture something so expensive in a square format. So it has nothing to do with my aperture choice, but with my fascination for the possibilities of a square image. And square is really modern, think of Instagram for instance.” Instagram and Facebook are an integral part of Boelsums’ work. “I post a lot on Facebook to show what I am doing, what I am working on, but not to collect likes. I think that if it is all about the likes, it’s the wrong choice for an artist, for then you start creating work to please others. To me, Facebook is a sort of public studio where people can see what I am doing, what I am experiencing and what I am enjoying. Because I really do enjoy what I do. Life is beautiful! At a photography collective, I was once asked what motivated me. I replied: “Beautiful, isn’t it? Everything!” That is why. No hidden childhood memories or long stories on how and why I work the way I do. I do what I do because I enjoy life and everything I see around me. You can see that in my work.”
As a visual artist and photographer, I carry a rich cultural heritage with me. That is why I feel a strong connection to the Dutch tradition of landscape painters. That rich history helped shape me. And at the same time, it confronts me with the future. In the beauty that I try to capture in my photographs, there is also uncertainty and something threatening. I see the skies becoming more dramatic, the weather is becoming more extreme with unexpected phenomena, our climate is becoming more violent. It looks like the classic historic Dutch landscapes and skies are being pushed out by landscapes and skies that are the result of climate change. I am very aware of that tension. That is what I capture.