Posts Tagged ‘Bernhard Willhelm’

WHOLE: 25 years of Freudenthal/Verhagen

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

My fabulous friends, art director Karen Heuter and photographers Carmen Freudenthal & Elle Verhagen just released this awesome ride of a book, covering 25 years worth of memorable work by Freudenthal/Verhagen. I’ve had the honor to work with Carmen and Elle on several occasions. That’s how we became friends. That’s how I ended up making a Hitchcock style cameo appearance as a Viktor & Rolf model on the opening spread in this anniversary book. And that’s how I got to do quite some writing in and around this special publication. Read my personal introduction below, followed by my interview with their long time collaborator Bernhard Willhelm after the break.

Images courtesy of Karen Heuter and Freudenthal/Verhagen

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It was during the spring of ‘98 when I first had the pleasure of working with Carmen Freudenthal and Elle Verhagen, and it was due time too. BLVD Magazine, where I was a senior editor with ‘fashion’ as one of my main responsibilities, was preparing for its 5th anniversary issue, and Carmen and Elle just happened to have a proposal that fit the bill: we would celebrate the wave of Dutch conceptual fashion talent of that moment with an extra large fashion shoot using contemporary dancers and performers for models and national park De Hoge Veluwe as the décor. It was a celebration of the creative freedom that marked the decade, and that was so manifest in BLVD., which was all about thrusting ourselves into the future where the digital revolution was lurking and the new humanity makeable. The models-who-weren’t-fashion-models were not modeling the usual high profile clothes that were going to be for sale that summer but instead they were dancing like cavemen around their bonfires, caught up in some kind of ritualistic performance with the highly experimental young designer pieces – some of which were designed especially for the occasion – adorning their powerful naked bodies, revealing ‘private parts’ and all. It was in fact a photographic performance, minutely choreographed by Freudenthal/Verhagen, their camera and their computer. The ‘naked in heathland series’ as we called it, gained extra momentum for Carmen and Elle when, after it had made its impact in BLVD’s festive issue, it featured in i-D magazine as well. Somehow, suddenly, these two originals, who had already spent a decade putting out their highly autonomous ‘staged photography’, experimenting with room filling installations, on set trompe l’oeuil effects like projections as well as pre-Photoshop dark room montage techniques, they had become an establishment of sorts. Their signature was out.

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For Freudenthal/Verhagen it must have meant that their seemingly conflicting proposition, using art photography to take a critical stance towards the established fashion imagery, had finally entered this international dialogue, this visual language that is such a big part of the fashion discipline. And fashion design, in its creative core, is something they love. The ‘naked in heathland series’ had caught Bernhard Wilhelm’s eye and together they embarked on a perennial collaboration that would deeply engrave their wildly imaginative collage style in the international fashion world’s collective memory. Their lookbooks for Bernhard Wilhelm became collectibles, and then they made a book out of it. That same year I joined them in Rome for ‘Dutch Touch’ with the Dutch Fashion Foundation for which occasion they’d made another book called Wonder Holland.

However in demand, instead of seizing their moment as established high profile fashion photographers, knowing all to well the sacrifices they’d be forced to make, Freudenthal/Verhagen saw an opportunity to return to their earlier 3D installation work when Arnhem Mode Biennale offered them a main stage in Museum voor Moderne Kunsten Arnhem. Their photo’s seemed to come to live, leaving the frame as the silk they were printed on draped off the walls and onto the floor. As if having found the secret code to the magic mirror, Carmen and Elle have been comfortable crossing over between their chosen disciplines ever since, be it fashion imagery, photographic installations or anywhere the two can meet, like in advertising, and all the while they keep experimenting with their toolbox. From the very first moment I had the pleasure to sit with them and discuss their editorial ideas it has been clear to me that Carmen Freudenthal and Elle Verhagen are true artists. Their painstaking and time consuming work processes, the ever so earnest dedication to their artistic vision – which, being strangely entangled with a marvelous sense of humor, is simply inimitable -, their continuous drive to create against the grain, all this now accumulates as a Whole. A seriously hard earned delight.

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