Eyes on the Street

The Work of Sarah Van Rij

We Folk: How did you get started as a photographer?

Sarah Van Rij: I’ve always been very visual. I have a big love for art house and classic cinema dating back to my young adulthood. Back then I also collected other people's images on a Tumblr page and it was my 'hobby' to play around with them making visual stories mostly in terms of colours and shapes. From there, I started exploring with disposable cameras and the first mobile phones with cameras, taking more and more photos. Finally I bought my first camera when I was 22.

At that same age I got my first full time job at a young creative company in Amsterdam, where I worked for 4 years. I was in charge of Creative Direction but also making all the images. This wasn’t necessarily all my style but with the graphic designer we spent many hours in a small studio set up photographing small objects, making it more playful and interesting by adding graphic elements and using props. I learnt so much during this time which forms the base of the graphic elements you find in my work right now. Eventually I got my first job with the Dutch newspaper 'Vrij Nederland' and my first more fashion related assignment was for Paris based fashion brand 'Pigalle'.

WF: What do you think your biggest inspiration has been in another artist – what made you feel connected to them?

SVR: It’s hard for me to name one artist... it varies from certain photographs, to movies and paintings which are often more inspiring to me than only photographs. However, I love the photography of Harry Gruyaert, his use of colour and framing and I feel related to him in terms of working mostly on the streets. I once found him saying in an interview, “I was much more interested in all the elements: the decor and the lighting and all the cars: the details were as important as humans”. That’s a different attitude altogether. I experience the same, all the layers matter equally, especially in my personal work this is something I can relate to a lot.

WF: What have been your most exciting moments over the last year or two. How did you feel when Jacquemus and Hermès came calling?

SVR: I’ve been only doing full time photography for a little more than 2.5 years now. So actually this whole period has been very exciting, from deciding to give it a go, making a lot of work, to slowly getting interesting assignments and selling my work. Three exciting highlights, definitely the collaboration with fashion brand Jacquemus is one of them. I loved how he approached me personally and the true respect I felt for my work. It felt free and not as if I was being directed in a certain corner, to me – as a not full time fashion photographer – this was really nice, they really wanted me for my style. The team was lovely to work with! This assignment gave me the chance to use my fantasy creating staged images, I really discovered a surrealistic part in my brain that I think reflects in the result, mostly by playing with proportions and scales.

It was also lovely working for Hermès, their visual identity is so classy, creative, but also very playful and colourful. Working for a brand with such heritage feels like an honour. This assignment was purely focussed on shoes which I loved, because in my personal work I have a small obsession with legs and heels, haha.

Another important event was being selected by Photography Museum Foam as their Foam Editions in addition to the Brassai exhibit last year in September to November. Foam Editions exposes and sells two works by young/upcoming photographers at the in-house gallery for a period of two months. There was also a small event with a Q&A.

WF: Tell me how you see – what is it about the leg/shoe, the things you don’t quite see. Is this really about narrative and have you been very inspired by film-makers?

SVR: The way I see it usually is in diverse layers that come together in harmony with each other, in a way it may feel more like constructing a 'canvas' and filling surfaces. It’s most of the time a lot about shapes, graphic lines and colours. Humans are always part of my photographs but most of the time very subtle or just a detail, barely completely visible... they are part of the layers I observe and how they blend into the surrounding. I think capturing humans in this way creates a more mysterious and poetic feeling rather than straight forward and in your face. I don’t really know where the shoe/leg obsession comes from, but I think many makers have or should have their small obsessions. As mentioned above I definitely draw a lot of inspiration from cinema, even though when creating work I don’t think of this, I think it’s something that grew to become a part of me and the way I look at things.

WF: Can you take a few of your favourite pictures and tell us why you love them.

SVR: I’ve selected a few works, some are commissioned and some personal. I like doing commissioned work but it’s very important to me to balance it with personal work, as mentioned before, since the Jacquemus assignment I loved exploring the more absurdist side of things, this is something I’d like to continue in future fashion work. From my personal work the man with the Cigarillo is at the moment one of my favourites, in this image I’m really seeing how all elements seem to communicate with each other and are in great harmony, colour wise and shape wise. The photo of man with white hand glove is one of my most recent works. This photograph has a bit more of a melancholic feel to it as opposed to most of my other work. Also as I referred to, my love for paintings and how my images are sometimes constructed in a similar way, this one to me is a perfect example of that. The black and white beach scene photo called 'Silhouette Soleil' has also been a favourite of mine, the rhythm of this photo created by all the different silhouettes makes humans almost mannequin-like in this picture.