Julie van der Vaart (°1988) was born in Maastricht, the Netherlands, but now lives in Lanaken, Belgium. She completed her master’s degree in Photography at Luca School of Arts (previously Media, Arts & Design Faculty) in Genk. She recently started as a participant at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. 44 Gallery represents her work.
In secondary school Julie studied Maths and Science. She always thought that she would further pursue a career in sciences. But then she decided she would rather learn how to make something than to learn by memorizing. “I had several magazines and I would collect all kinds of photographs. I really enjoyed doing that although I knew nothing about photography. So I started my studies in Photography at Luca on intuition. Of course the first year was a disaster, because I didn’t know how to handle a camera and everything I tried failed.” Eventually Julie made a beautiful portrait of her grandmother after which her teacher said “This is either a lucky shot or you have a talent for portrait photography”. Julie transferred schools from Brussels to Genk and continued her project there. After a few years Julie was done with making portraits, despite her teacher’s breathe down her neck. “I was more excited to experiment with my work, but a lot of experiments failed. When you try things you have never done before it often results in something bad. In the end I graduated with a bad graduation project. I still got good results, but I didn’t think the project was any good.”
After graduation Julie decided that photography should be something of herself, something personal, instead of something to please others. Thus she started to photograph for her. “It resulted in fragmented images, like a journal. It was about holding on to what I hold dear, and creating memories for myself. It ended up as a series which would evolve trough time. Especially nature and bodies were prominent in the photographs, but also death though very subtle, because I don’t think of my photos as something depressing.” Julie likes to photograph in black and white to capture the essence of things. “I do like colors very much, but they give too much information which is a distraction. Furthermore, pictures in black and white create a more melancholic and gray atmosphere.”
Again, Julie’s work is very personal and so were her portraits. The portraits she used to make were not just any portraits. Julie tried to capture emptiness in the gaze of the person portrayed. She did so by letting the person stare at a certain point for a very long time allowing them to enter their own mental world. “I had read a lot about that. It is linked to psychology and meditation.” The portraits she made were also self-portraits. “I tried to express a feeling of my own through the persons portrayed.”
There is a current exhibition displaying Julie’s work at CIAP (Association for Contemporary Art) in Hasselt. “The work I show at this exhibition is different from what I normally do, but in a way it is also the same. I normally show just the photographs, and the presentation is fixed, now it is more of an installation. I also show my research materials, not just my own work.” Julie tells us that this exhibition revolves around the concept of time. It is about different aspects of time and how she experiences and think of these aspects. “I have read a lot about time and space. The work is fragmentary because I approached the theme in various ways. It is a coalescence of a scientific and a romantic view on the concept of time. Fragments of texts from different books are shown to present how science has inspired me.” Furthermore, Julie processed her own experiences into her work, like her visit to caves where there is a different notion of time and rhythm of life. She further uses the medium of photography as a link to time. “We take pictures of our loved ones to keep them with us forever, even after their deaths. We also make pictures for our archives, to preserve them for eternity. When we for example take pictures of rocks, minerals or stars I find it strange that we think these pictures will survive time. We only perceive things from our own point of view. But these rocks and minerals and the universe will survive the photographs we took of them.”
In her spare time Julie also likes to keep busy with science. As such she tries to learn quantum physics on her own. “I find it very interesting. After my first year of Photography at Luca I put a stop to my studies for almost a year. During that period of time I wasn’t sure if I would go and study quantum physics or stick to photography. Thankfully I chose photography because I’m actually not very good at maths. My boyfriend has almost finished his master’s degree in Bio-electronics and Nanotechnology. He is very good in explaining things that are very difficult to comprehend without any background knowledge. So I can bother him with everything I don’t understand.” Julie also likes to walk when she has a free moment and she teaches at the Art Academy in Maasmechelen.
Julie’s work was recently exhibited in Paris next to work of Marcel Duchamp. “It was an honor to see my work in the same exposition room as his.” However for Julie, more important than being exhibited next to great names is being satisfied with every exhibition in which she partakes. Every time she will try and deliver good work. Sometimes insecurity strikes, but she stands behind her work even though she finds it difficult to talk about it in front of an audience. She is rather not the centre of attention. “I show a lot of myself in my photographs, I am not insecure about that. However if I would only receive negative feedback, it would hurt my feelings. Then I might stop showing my work, but I still wouldn’t stop photographing.” Now Julie has made the decision to do less exhibitions except for the ones she really wants to do so she can take more time to make something instead of “throwing some frames on the wall”. Furthermore, she wants to focus on publishing booklets.
Julie would love to live from her work as a photographer, that is of her own artistic work because she does not take assignments from others. We wrap up our conversation with the question if Julie wants to share something with our reader. “Yes, I really like it when people come over and bring cake. I really appreciate that (laughs)!” (Julie got a visit earlier that day from an intern who brought a homemade chocolate cake to thank her.)