Meet Artist & Photographer Olga Van Saane
Olga Van Saane (@olyavansaane) is a Netherlands-based portrait and concept photographer. She is not bound to any group or "ism".
Interviewer Alexi Ueltzen (@alexi) is Ello’s Social Media & Email Manager. If she’s not at the office, she’s probably swimming, getting muddy with her dogs, or baking cookies. The best cookies.
First off, tell us a little bit about how you got into photography.
I’ve been writing about photography for ages, never touched a camera myself - everybody around me was so good I happily stayed in my position of a curator and admirer.
It was something I wrote and needed to illustrate when I took a camera and gave it a go. The pictures were terrible, but I enjoyed the process. In fact, I enjoyed it more than writing because for the first time in my multilingual existence I didn’t have to choose a language per audience (as before) but could address all of my audiences at once, in one visual message.
When like me, you are a nomad, a stranger, wherever you go, all those pieces of different cultures that are you - it’s very important to hold them together. Your identity, that is. Important to cherish it, to preserve, to be able to express it, to find a resolve. Memories, too, become the most significant - and fragile- aspect of your existence. Different cultural perspectives, an outsider angle, - the way you look at things being an “Englishman in New York” – that as well creates a need for self-expression beyond verbal. Photography embraces it all, gives it purpose and meaning. In a big way, photography provided me with the language and the key to my own creative space, wherever I am. This might sound pathetic, but only to folks who don’t go anywhere.
So yes, like that. I skip the technical details, they are pretty much the same for every photographer: it all starts with butterflies.
You travel a lot. Has there been any single location that you found especially inspiring?
Good question… I could have named one of the recent, exotic places, like…the Buseoksa temple in South Korea where I made a series of wood-grain images to illustrate a book of sijo poems. Could be.
But I have to say the most inspiring place for me is…a room. Any room. Give me a room, a light source, and let me play with stuff in there - I’ll be a happy girl.
If I had to choose between a…Sydney Opera House and a small motel room in the middle of nowhere, I’d go for a motel, definitely.
Not a fan of anonymity in postcard-like “great outdoors”. It’s difficult to create an intimate connection with a full-scale landscape image, unless you manipulate it heavily during post-processing, injecting your vision into what otherwise would have been a shot no different from any other shot by any other person who was there at the same time. Though I do photograph landscapes or architecture, I prefer to get creatively involved with where I am. Could shoot volumes without leaving my house. In any genre, really. In fact, I did.
You often present two images together...what elements do you look for when pairing photographs?
In the off-line reality, my photographs are stand-alone images in their own right as part of series, where there is a content and a context. Online, however, for me, personally, to view a photograph from one perspective is quickly boring. So when it’s an out-take, why not to play a bit, and create another perspective, another context, put two of them together on one “page”. Seemingly random or well-chosen, two images next to each other make a more complex message, hence – more interesting to ponder.
So, it is about observing relationships between person and object, person and person, object and object, to see if in the final image one plus one becomes … something else.
Your subject matter is often a close-up or a detail of an object. Why do you like to focus on the details?
My brother used to say when I was photographing him: "Don’t cut my legs off." Funny he doesn’t say it anymore, so I cut away. What I am trying to achieve - in my portraits, too - is how much (how little) is enough to create an idea - with just a few features or a hint of a feature, leaving the rest to viewer’s imagination. (Less is more, absolutely. If I cannot express my point in a few clear outlines, I don’t have a point. This means, my average viewer might not see a point either. Wasted shot.)
Yes, the details. The way we look at the world is technically zooming-in and out. Overview gives a general idea, zooming in for a detail makes it personal. The best part of viewing great art paintings is to zoom-in for a detail.
This said, I believe that a photo series, no matter what you shoot, should include a variety of images, to cover all possible point of view on a subject, from a general - a woman by the window, let’s say, to her tiny earring and a flock of hair, her hands, a picture on the wall, or what she might be looking at, etc. That’s why in my series I try to have five-seven different images, and some of them are close-up, the details, allowing a viewer to get a little more intimate with the subject.
And… may I ask you what do you see when you imagine your…grandmother?
You get my point.
You also create really beautiful prints. What got you interested in printmaking and the materials involved?
Thank you! Sarah Moon, my dad’s photographs, and an accident with a Russian Earl Grey.
I saw Moon’s work, fell in love with it and wondered why her art looked like it looked. The answer was - rather intricate printing technique around her Polaroids.
My father made thousands of film photographs, on humble glossy photo paper. The more I looked through his prints, the more I wanted to keep the images from vanishing. Hard to overestimate the importance of printing methods and materials, if you want to preserve an image. So, I started learning about printing techniques and materials, to be able to create a beautiful print that lasts longer.
My tea spilled over a plain photo print turned it into a rather beautiful thing. Since that first spill I soaked/deep-fried/deep-froze my photo prints in pretty much everything, and I printed my images on pretty much every material that my printer could manage, - until I came across Japanese paper or washi. Though I still print on variety of materials, from canvas to Duratrans, I think that washi (I use Awagami handmade paper) being so diverse serves my purpose best.
It doesn’t mean that I print every photo I shoot. The prospect of printing requires a serious approach to a choice of subject. I always think: "Print out your image only if you want to turn it into something more, something better, - or don’t print it at all."
What are some of your must-have pieces of equipment?
Especially now, when I am trying out a new technique – and that is some extra treatment for my images after they were printed out - it’s gotta be my printer. When I run out of ink or photo paper, everything stops, and I hate it.
Are there any big projects on the horizon for you?
First big one is that I want to finish what I need to finish. Revisiting and reflecting on what I have in my archives. Very time consuming, but I use it as a “breathing” exercise, a retreat. Out of this wrap up I expect two books to be added to my shelf. Editing down is hard, but the result is worthy.
Secondly, there might be a new venture: an art collective and an online art gallery in collaboration with two like-minded photographers from Russia and China. The whole concept of art (re)presentation is changing as we speak, so why not us, why not now. The prep’s done, so we’ll see.
Meanwhile, and sort of in relation to the above, I plan to retreat to my study and give this newly figured printing technique a serious go.
What are you doing when you’re not taking photographs?
Basically, it’s either being super-active (walking/motorcycling) and super-lazy (good book/good movie). And a treat of a modern dance performance whenever I have a chance. If that is on neo-classic music - a double joy.
You can follow Olga's work on Ello, Instagram, and on her website.