The photographs of Ellen Kooi are concerned with the symbiotic relationship between the landscape and those who enter it. Her pieces are readable as compelling poetic stories through her use of the panoramic perspective. In these stories both the landscape and the human figures in it function as protagonists. This explains the show's title - Next to Me – it refers to the slowly developing feeling of kinship with ones surroundings. People seem to be eager to establish a narrative relationship with the natural locations they encounter. The hills, forests and lakes are given names and are surrounded with numerous fantastic tales. By doing so these places are given a human meaning and become part of a collective memory. This mythologizing process stands in shrill contrast with the hardly magical reality of the urbanized Dutch landscape.
Kooi tries to envision the lyrical connection between man and nature without losing touch with the soberness of this reality. Her photographs show ritualistic acts and poetical gestures within imposing landscapes. But the nearby parking lot full of tourists or the suburbs looming on the horizon are never erased. She seems to photograph events that are usually hidden from view but which take place nonetheless. Indeed, practically nothing in these photographs has been digitally altered. She forces herself to find the perfect location and then waits for a perfect moment to take the photograph. This approach grounds these pieces in realism. The site-specificness of these photographs has found high acclaim abroad. She has mastered the technique of presenting the uniqueness of the Dutch landscape by making clever use of narrative suggestions that cross cultural boundaries. By utilizing literary and art-historical references she is able to involve a larger audience in her photographic tales.
In her latest body of work a subtle change in style is noticeable. While her earlier pieces often told their stories in a lighthearted tone, her more recent works seem to have adapted a grander, more compelling visual language. The emotions evoked by her models seem to be emphasized by the surrounding landscapes. It looks like Kooi distills an underlying emotional current from tales of folklore and from natural lyricism in classic literature. She has found a way to spectacularly capture her own surroundings (near to her hometown of Haarlem) without losing her spectators in gaudy pomposity.
Ellen Kooi's works are collected and exhibited worldwide. In the past few years she has had solo-exhibitions in Paris, Madrid, Tokyo and New York. Her photographs can be found in many private collections as well as in public collections such as those of the ING bank, the Frans Hals Museum, the French national collection (FNAC), the Marsh-collection London and the 21c-museum in Louisville-Kentucky. Besides Next to Me and the presentation at Unseen her works her exhibition schedule for this year includes shows at the Zuiderzeemuseum, the ASU art museum in Tempe, Florida and at Camara Oscura gallery in Madrid.
2012, Emiel van der Pol
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