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Daniëlle van Zadelhoff’s pictorial epiphanies


Daniëlle van Zadelhoff, born in Holland but now living in Belgium, started taking photographs six years ago and her aesthetic is distinctive and personal. Her photographs echo 17th-century paintings by artists like Rubens and Jordaens as well as Cranach the Elder but they also evoke the work of 15th-century Flemish painters like Hans Memling and Rogier van der Weyden. Such a wealth of art history, however, is blended with a sense of the contemporary and this is what gives them an unmistakable identity of their own.

A photobook published by Stockmans captures the beauty of van Zadelhoff’s mysteriously alluring portraits.The influence of Renaissance art shows itself in her use of chiaroscuro. Van Zadelhoffworks with models, enveloping them in introspective plays of light and shadow to create contemplative and sequestered moments of stillness and reflection. Incongruous as it may be, they bring to mind film frames of Willard’s encounters with Kurtz in Apoclaypse Now; sharing in their depiction of faces the paradoxical use of darkness to bring something important to the surface.

The ethereality of her portraits has a kinship with religious painting but not with the theological. They seek to capture something numinous but any spirituality that may be discernible is not traceable to a sense of the divine but rather to the awareness of a secluded human consciousness. She strives to show how the psyche divulges something of itself in private moments, becoming visible in a facial expression or a particular posture of the body. Sometimes the face is not observable and only the back of a body or a head is seen. A common feature, whether photographed from the front or back, is a nuanced observation of bodily flesh in a particular play of light and dark. Such observations become expressions of human vulnerability.

Seen like this, her portraits disclose a reality that is already there but not always apparent. Such pictorial epiphanies, if this is what they are, are not readily associated with fine art photography but the work of Daniëlle van Zadelhoff calls for a rethink.

Sean Sheehan

Sean Sheehan has written about photography for The Irish Times and LensCulture and is the author of Zizek: A Guide for the Perplexed and Jack’s World. He lives in West Cork and in London.


Danielle van Zadelhoff – Monografie

Published by Stockmans Art Books

ISBN number:       9789077207369




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