I want to create simple but visually arresting and stylish images for my final degree show. I don’t want them to be elaborate or in your face, rather subtle and light. With this idea in mind, I was encouraged to look at the photographic works of Bettina Von Zhewl. Bettina von Zwehl was born in Munich in 1971 and received an MA from the Royal College of Art, London in 1999. She has built an international reputation for her subtle and unnerving photographic portraits.
Bettina Von Zwehl constructs captivating photographic portraits which have many of the same attributes as traditional still life paintings, where gender lines are often blurred and identities left ambiguous. This visual aesthetic of Von Zwehl’s images which share many of the same attributes to traditional still life painting is achieved through a combination of the sitters pose, quality of light and the use of a large 10×8 format camera which requires complete stillness from the sitter.
Von Zwehl’s aim is to capture something otherwise not revealed through her portraits, something I too want to do through my own portraits, she writes: “As an artist I am drawn to the intensity of the resulting image and the descriptive power of the format. My work is an ongoing enquiry into the possibilities of portraiture and its fine nuances. With each series, I aim to depict psychological states in everyday life using controlled conditions to search for some note of perfect balance in which the sense of an intimate humanity might be revealed.” I feel Von Zwehl manages to capture this intimate side of humanity through the ambiguity and silence of her images. They are gentle and in their gentleness something is revealed, a quiet dignity. For Von Zwehl this is achieved through capturing people in profile.
For almost a decade Von Zwehl has been researching the human profile and the hierarchic approach to portraiture that was applied during the Italian Renaissance. There is an uncanny quality to viewing a person in profile, related to what remains invisible and untold. This method of representation may have a cold, rigid aspect, with no indication of the subject’s true character or emotion. But for Von Zwehl capturing a human in profile is one of the most powerful ways of representing a person. And I can’t help but to agree. The ambiguity that can be achieved by shooting someone in profile is quite seductive, a visual technique I will bear in mind when creating my own images of gender bending individuals. My main aim is to keep the individuals I capture dignified and mystical: not aggressive and outlandish. Perhaps shooting them in profile could help in achieving this, similarly to the works of Von Zwehl.
John Jones (N.D) Bettina Von Zwehl [online] available from<http://www.johnjones.co.uk/education/interviews/photographers/bettina-von-zwehl/> (27th May 2014)
V&A (N.D)Photography Resident: Bettina von Zwehl [online] available from<http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/p/bettina-von-zwehl/> (27th May 2014)