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Isolde Woudstra

Between theories on the collective unconscious and surrealist inspirations, the Dutch photographer tells us why she wants something to be wrong in her pictures

Isolde Woudstra’s work is good. So good that when Jefferson Hack took his pick of new photographic talent for the ‘What’s Next’ expo at Amsterdam’s FOAM Gallery last year, she was one of the chosen ones. Spoon bending daily-life with the aid of her lens, and with the constant appearance of her fashion, portrait and music photography already published in several magazines, Woudstra shines through the latent relatable darkness of her autonomous vision, where she aims to portray the state of being in-between thoughts. Ultimately, she is not photographing you but beyond you, a moment in your life that has happened and will never happen the same again...

I think I’m most inspired by surrealism and magic realism, but I also have a weakness for occult imagery, things like ectoplasms, orb and spirit photography

Dazed Digital: When and how did you receive the calling to become a photographer? 
Isolde Woudstra: When I first saw the work of Guy Bourdin. Strangely enough, I was already studying photography for a year at the art academy in Utrecht, it must have been 2002. I guess I just wanted to study art, and at the time didn’t care too much about the medium. But as a teenager I always took loads of pictures so ‘photography’ felt as a comfortable place. It was only when I was introduced to the work of Bourdin when my heart skipped a beat. I just adored that ‘there’s something wrong here’ atmosphere in his work. Funny enough, my work looks nothing like his. It never did.

DD: What is your greatest source of inspiration?
Isolde Woudstra: I think I’m most inspired by surrealism and magic realism, but I also have a weakness for occult imagery, things like ectoplasms, orb and spirit photography.  

DD: How would you describe your worldview?
Isolde Woudstra:
I must go with Sartre here. “Hell is other people.“

DD: You seem to have a predilection for the peculiar and the illogical - what is your definition of odd and why do you choose to portray it? 
Isolde Woudstra: I’m interested in creating images that seem just as possible as unlikely. I guess that’s what I would call ‘odd’. That moment when everything seems more natural but also confusing at the same time. It’s about that hint of mystery. But I am not at all interested in 'oddness' achieved by digital manipulation though, I am interested in the fact that people, places, the world, can actually look like that. I want to be amazed by reality.

DD: The subjects in your portraits seem familiar and quotidian, yet there is something a bit unnerving about them, as if they were about to jump out of the frame. Is this approachable confusion something you look for in a photo?
Isolde Woudstra: Definitely. It’s always that whispering ‘there’s something wrong here’ feeling that I’m aiming for. I’m really interested in C.G. Jung’s theory on the collective unconscious. This theory basically states that human experiences since pre-historical times have accumulated in an unconscious part of the human psyche. So not only our physical body was formed by evolution, also our psyche is based on experiences from the past, and consists of latent images. This could explain our universal fear for darkness or snakes… it’s not because of personal experiences, but because we inherited this fear.

DD: What are your plans for the future?
Isolde Woudstra:
I have this list of projects I’d like to work on, and some things are on that list for too long. So I guess the plan is ‘make more work’. Also, I should try to not miss the submission deadline for the Hyères festival this year, like I did the last three years.