Hyères Photo Focus: Anouk Kruithof

We talk to the Dutch photographer who won the judge's vote during last week's design, photo and music festival with a portfolio exploring the nuances of human psyche and contemporary social experience

Photography Rise
 	 Anouk Kruithof, The Daily Exhaustion, 2010. Pho
Anouk Kruithof, The Daily Exhaustion, 2010. Photograph of magazine.

Set in the grounds of the Villa Noailles, Hyéres International Festival of Fashion & Photography has become known for discovering some of the brightest stars in fashion – Sølve Sundsbø, Viktor & Rolf, Henrik Vibskov, Charles Fréger, Blommers-Schumm are all amongst its luminaries. Curated by Michel Mallard and Raphaëlle Stopin, the festival connects the dots between art, photography and fashion and offers a unique platform for the support of new talent. Each year, ten emerging fashion designers and photographers are given the invaluable opportunity to communicate and collaborate with some of the most significant names in the industry – this years stellar fashion jury included Raf Simons, Christopher Kane, Proenza Schouler and Cathy Horn.

On show at the Villa this year were exhibitions such as ‘History of My World’, curated by Raf Simons and including artists such as Cris Brodahl, and an exhibition of emerging fashion photographer Daniel Sannwald, one of the highlights being an exhibition of colour photography and film by pioneering fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld. Judging this years photography prize were Jason Evans, Colette Olof, Magdalene Keaney, Winfried Heininger, Marc Feustel, Jennifer Pastore, Tom Watt, Lisa Naftolin, Yannis Bouillis and Nathalie Herschdorfer. Winner of this year's Photography prize was Dutch photographer Anouk Kruithof who impressed the judges with the energy and emotion of her photographic study. The 29-year-old Berliner's considered, confident portfolio explores the nuances of human psyche and contemporary social experience.

Dazed Digital: How does it feel to be the winner of the Hyeres 2011 photography prize?
Anouk Kruithof:
HAPPY! And also slightly dazed and confused, because all of a sudden I am going to move from Berlin to New York and to be honest this really means something to me...!

DD: Your project The Daily Exhaustion impressed the judges with its engaging and simple execution. What were you looking to explore with the project?
Anouk Kruithof:
I wanted to make a work about our ‘daily exhaustion’, as in stress – the feeling of unreal pressure and running from one thing to the other. I have very often found myself in this ‘situation’, as have as every single person around me... the feeling of the daily exhaustion is inherent to these times.
 
DD: Your playful use of timing, colour and format brings a real energy to your photographic portfolio. How did your visual language develop?
Anouk Kruithof: My personal aesthetics and the use of colour in my work is very intuitive, I like to order colours till they get too perfect and I immediately need to destroy the order again... When I use one colour in a work, as in ‘Becoming Blue’, 2006-2009, I use the colour for its meaning, combining the art historical and the psychological meanings in the work.
 
DD: Exploration of the human condition and vernacular psychology are threads that runs through your work. What is it that interests you about these subjects?

Anouk Kruithof: I am fascinated since whenever I know by how our mind and emotions of people function, the human psyche, all quite general things maybe to work on for artists, but also a never ending topic because everybody can relate to it. Sometimes I feel people just do not want to go so deep as I do; I like going under the skin of people and try to find out what's behind the border of 'our facades'.
 
DD: For your project ‘Happy birthday to you/ Lang zal ze leven’ you spent three months working as artist in residence with the patients of the Altrecht mental institution in The Netherlands. What were your interests and experiences of working with people with mental problems?  
Anouk Kruithof:  I asked them about their wishes for their upcoming birthday and celebrated their birthday in the way they wanted to have it. One patient asked me to go out to smoke a birthday drink, while another wanted to have a big party where all the elderly were invited with a live singer and jus d'orange with toast with haring to snack.
I have always been around the closed department of a mentally ill hospital because my grandma lived there till her death, so I guess her my interest comes from...there were a lot of patients of my grandma's department where nobody showed up at their birthdays...
 
DD: Breaking from tradition, the playful execution of this project is very much one of joy and hope...

Anouk Kruithof:  Yes, very very much so. Most people who are locked up in their minds, as were many of the patients at Altrecht, and others I know, such as my own grandma...they don’t experience much joy, but once they do, it means so much for them that they are able to hold on to that moment. I think many mentally "healthy" people, whatever that actually means, can learn something from this.
 
DD: The notions of controlled experience / coincidence seem to work together to create the energy in your works. How do you engage with these contrasting notions?  

Anouk Kruithof:  I start working conceptual on projects, also for the birthday project with the 10 mentally ill people... I did this, I knew for months what I was going to do there, but the beautiful things in life for me are the unexpected ones, and just as in a mental ill institution, almost everything works in uncertain unexpected ways. Often you experience an 'off the wall' happening and I love the feeling of getting disturbed by things happening, things which bring me out of control and I give over to it, because I am always hungry for chance. This I guess creates this energy you are talking about: the contrast in controlled experience and coincidence...
 
DD: How do you feel your photographic work and practice relates to contemporary fashion image-making?    

Anouk Kruithof: My aesthetics, my use of colour and maybe also the performative way I work with encounters relates to some more autonomous fashion photography, Of course when you involve pieces of garment, clothing, the context is different, maybe also the power of the images or maybe not, that is something to try out for sure.
 
DD: As a double winner of the SVA scholarship you will also be heading off to NY this Autumn. Do you have any plans for your study at Visual Arts?    
Anouk Kruithof: I want to work on an extensive new book called LITTLE THINGS, which will be great when I manage to develop it. Besides exploring NY I hope to have the dummy of this new book finished at the end of the study-year...
 
DD: What would your dream commission/project (as an artist ) be?

Anouk Kruithof: Right now I am thinking very much of making a work on the ‘forgotten spaces’ of the Villa Noailles in Hyéres, there are such mysterious spaces hidden behind the beauty of this historical place on top of the hill in Hyéres, maybe next year when I exhibit in Hyeres, something of this beginning of an idea will be there... who knows?

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