A Conversation with Carla van de Puttelaar



I have long been an admirer of Carla van de Puttelaar’s photography, which, I think, is not that well known outside of Europe. Carla just had her new book “The Beholder’s Eye” published (available via Idea Books). Given I had been thinking a lot about nudity and/in portraiture for my show “Bare”, I approached Carla and asked her whether she would be willing to talk about her work. Please note the following images are NSFW.


Jörg Colberg: We are bombarded with images of naked or semi-naked people every day. The nude/semi-nude human body is ubiquitously present in the media, typically in ads, and usually the implication of the nudity is that sex is to be had. It must be rather hard as an artist to work under these conditions of images of the naked human body. What made you take those photos?

Carla van de Puttelaar: I have no other choice. The female body is my source of inspiration. I have my own tale to tell, which is different from what nude images in the media want to show.

JC: What then is this tale of yours?

CvdP: The tale of individual female beauty. It is strange to see that in book shops all these artificial generic cover girls stare at you from glossy magazines. I hope that there will also be an admiration for the individual person and that women will be strong enough to see and show their own beauty and that they do not try to look like airbrushed girls.

JC: And how easy is it for you to get past people’s ideas of nudity?

CvdP: That is not something I occupy myself with in the first place. I create what inspires me. I simply have to. I want to follow my deepest thoughts, not influenced by today’s opinions. But by doing so I certainly fight people’s current ideas about nudity.


JC: In another interview, I read that you talked about the beauty of the naked human body. Can you talk a little bit about this beauty?

CvdP: I am especially interested in the skin, the little moles, the sensations that give away somebody’s mood. The small delicate individual things, which make the true beauty of women. I also like the differences in women’s bodies as a whole, which show their individuality and their many different forms of beauty. In my newest work I show the whole body. Women lying very relaxed, not inviting to participate but being in their own world. I am so horrified about the form of plastic beauty presented in the media. Acceptable to many, but empty in heart.


JC: I noted that all the women in these new photographs have their eyes closed, which makes for an interesting effect when looking at the photographs. How and why did you decide about the eyes being closed? Is this the “being in their own world” you’re talking about? I think the closed eyes do have another effect, though, namely that looking at those photographs might create a bit of a tension: You look, and because of the closed eyes the naked person cannot look back - it’s like she doesn’t know she is being looked at. Of course, in photographs people never actively look back, but there certainly is this feeling of an interaction when one looks at a photograph of someone looking at the camera.

CvdP: Yes, I do this on purpose. I definitely do not want to have the direct contact. There may indeed be an element of voyeurism. Of course, I tried to portray my models with eyes opened, either looking away or into the camera, but it simply doesn’t work. At least not for the nudes. I have made some close portraits of faces only and there I prefer the direct look.

JC: I’d also be curious to learn a little bit about how you arrived at what one could call the “look” or your work - which is very delicate and soft, with muted colours?

CvdP: That developed gradually. It was a very natural process. I never liked harsh, very vivid colors, but I also wanted to avoid the trap of false romance. I liked the paleness of the skin and wanted to increase it. This also enables me to give greater contrast to skin’s small marks and sensations.

What is more, it has something to do with me. I have pale skin, and my work has a strong autobiographical touch.


JC: Why no photos of naked men? Is the naked male body not beautiful?

CvdP: Of course it can be! But it does not inspires me for my own work. Through my photos of women I can express myself as a woman. Again very autobiographical.

JC: What is it that you would like women to get out of your work? And what you want to express how would you explain this to men who might be unfamiliar with many aspects of what it means to be a woman?

CvdP: To see that beauty is more than the glossy ideal type. My work must speak for itself. But I see that men are interested in my work and want to understand it. I often hear from both men and women that my work could only be made by a woman. And that is the biggest compliment I can get. I certainly believe that most of nude photos we see are made from the typical male point of view.


JC: I find it quite interesting that there are so many female photographers from Holland who have made an impact with their portraiture (two other photographers would be Rineke Dijkstra and Hellen van Meene). Of course, this could just be accidental, but maybe it isn’t?

CvdP: I do not know. I admire them, and Hellen is a friend of mine, but it may have something to do with the long portrait tradition we have in the Netherlands. Especially the portraiture from the Golden Age: Rembrandt, Vermeer, van der Helst, de Bray. There is such an immense richness in it. It feels like I have in in my bones. At the moment there is a beautiful exhibition by Golden Age portrait painter Jacob Backer at the Rembrandt house. The combination of these paintings in such a house! It is magical and very inspiring.