Hellen van Meene – Tout va Disparaitre

Copyright Hellen van Meene 2009, courtesy Schirmer/Mosel

Dazed and Confused may be an apt subtitle to Hellen van Meene’s 2009 Tout va Disparitre. The usual blank look of most of her young subjects seems to underlie their lack of understanding of why they are being staged as they are and subsequently photographed. The ensuing editing and sequencing of the book does little to provide many clues, thus we are left to depend on some direction from the book’s title (French to English translation “Everything will Disappear”) and the three regional cryptically titled sections; Pool of Tears (The Netherlands), America, Going my own way Home and St. Petersburg, Russia.

The book’s title stating that everything will disappear applies to the age of adolescence, that this period of personal development is transitional and in retrospect, briefer than it seems while enduring it, but is a statement that is applicable about the transitional aspects of life. With the perspective of looking back, time does fly between youth, adolescence, young adult, middle age and into the senior years. Van Meene has chosen to focus her lens on the troublesome period between youth and young adult.

But then again, perhaps dazed and confused is also the theme for those in the chaos of the age of adolescence, that terribly awkward place between youth and adulthood. Their bodies changing in unexpected ways, new emotions popping up in weird ways, desiring the perceived freedoms of adulthood, but still clinging to those safe places afforded the youth.

Only most those of this age do not usually need much coaxing to appear in that awkward state, but perhaps with a little patience, the awkwardness would naturally manifest itself. Thus, there is a more forced appearance to van Meene subjects, an underlying tension, that they appear manipulated in a manner that they are not comfortable with or understand.

The statement provide by the publisher, that of van Meene “showing her models between melancholy and a readiness to break out, between self-abandonment and reinvention” regretfully is lacking and not readily evident in but maybe a few of the photographs.

I do find her panoramic environment portraits of keen interest, with the ambiance, lighting and almost surrealist setting recalling the staged and hyper-real photographs of Jeff Walls. There a number of singular images that exsist independently of the attempted internal context of this book. As an example, the first photograph below of the young Russian girl in what appears to be a disheveled kitchen space. It is not known if she is taking us on a tour of her home, or a place that was found, as she looks at us (the camera lens) from the corner of her eyes, with her arms dropping to her sides and a relatively blank expression. She stands to one side, allowing the interior space to be revealed and her location within the frame acts a fulcrum and counterbalance to the disorder and clutter.

Likewise, in the second photograph below, this time in a run down section of America, a group of girls strike a pose on and around the front hood of a parked car. Unlike her other adolescent models, this group pose appears to be more fluid and a pose of their own making. The group of subjects in the center of the frame is very aware that their photograph is being made, but the young boy on the edge is unaware of the panoramic capabilities of the equipment being utilized. Thus his disinterred pose is unintentionally creating a counterbalancing discord and tension within the internal structure of the photograph.

The last photograph in the book, fourth below, reveals a panoramic expanse of a brown couch and adjacent chair on the green patterned carpet with the striped pattern wallpaper. The side lighting provides hints of the furnture’s textures as it fades into the darkness, with no evidence of van Meere’s adoledencent subjects, they are now gone and have disappeared from sight.

The essay by Dr. Colberg is provided in both English and German (Deutsch) text. The large book is beautifully printed in Italy with a hardcover and dust jacket.

by Douglas Stockdale

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