I got a phone call this summer while I was enjoying pure paradise with my sons and a dear friend and her daughter on Gili Air. An island so enchanting that my eldest son instantly wanted to move there. No cars, no planes just horse carriages and bicycles. My boys were over the moon meeting a giant sea turtle on our first snorkeling trip. We did a beach clean up, Balinese massages and a little bit of soul searching.
The phone call was from another friend, Neeltje de Vries. I’ve know her for a while as we started working together ages ago. There are not many people I can work with like I can with her. Together we made a couple of books over the years; she designed my poetry collection Honderd Haagse haiku’s en zeventien Scheveningse. This time she was looking for someone to write the text for her own work, her first photography book.
‘When do you need it?’ I asked her.
‘By the end of the month,’ she replied. It was past half July. I didn’t have my laptop with me, just a small notebook and my old, somewhat rickety iPad. To further increase the pressure she told me that another writer had already written something really good but ‘it just wasn’t her’. There were other (rather big) names on her list but she wasn’t sure about them. I was sweating a bit, couldn’t tell whether it was the Gili sun or a slight nervousness. I told her to keep them on her list and ask them as I would write something ‘second string’, just in case the others didn’t work out. Neeltje being Neeltje, she canceled the others and told me she was so happy I was willing to write it. One day before entering the plane back home from Bali, days behind on schedule, I sent her my draft. She was thrilled, I was relieved (and also thrilled). We finetuned it back and forth, both of us not easily satisfied.
Recently Mokumo published her book HER and we celebrated the launch at concept store Het Arsenaal where her gallerist and designer of the book Roy Kahmann presents her work, surrounded by the finest of interior decorations. ‘Neeltje has an unparalleled eye for beauty’ was the first thing I wrote about her. I didn’t have to think about that sentence as it has always hit me from the moment I met her. Her work as a fine art photographer actually isn’t surprising; it was inevitable. It’s true that she has this eye for beauty and the book is prove. Page after page she shows the essence, strength and purity of women of all times, telling unique stories in a unique way, whether it be sensual, playful or bold.
I’m proud of her and of being part of this marvellous book. As Neeltje, I also wrote, not only breaks free from the traditional way women are looked at, she also demonstrates that women are so much more than what they’ve been reduced to by the dominant male gaze and centuries-old stereotyping in a patriarchal society. Above all, she offers her unique perspective on what it means to be a woman, on what it means to break free from expectations, prejudices, roles, and patterns.
One essential aspect stands out: Neeltje’s women aren’t trying to please the viewer. These women are, and they are sufficient unto themselves. With the wilderness by their side, as naked as they are invulnerable, you can’t ignore them. Most provocative of all: they don’t want anything from you, regardless of what you want.
You can see Neeltjes work on regular shows all over the country and abroad. But you better order the book so you can look at her work as often as you like, it will enrich you and the way you look at the world and women in particular. And read what else I wrote about this talented woman.