Matters of colour and light – Seeing other worlds with Scottish-Dutch photographer Justin van Vliet

Dutch photographer Justin van Vliet’s portraits capture the quiet, serene and regal side of his subjects. As Chief Photographer for Glass Magazine Online, Justin’s work can be seen accompanying many of Glass Online’s interviews and features. He splits his time working and living in the UK and the Netherlands. Watching him at work on assignment for Glass, he shoots quickly but carefully to create beautiful and distinctive portraits of subjects ranging from artists, musicians, actors and models.

Anansi, 2014, Justin van Vliet. Courtesy the artist.Anansi, 2014, Justin van Vliet. Courtesy the artist.

On the other side of his editorial work, Justin has a burgeoning artistic practice where his subject matters are light and colour. I recently spoke with him to discuss his fine art photography, which debuted in a recent show with The Atik Gallery in London. Justin’s most recent series depict abstract fields of colour that are meticulously combined with light and depth. In the tradition of the great Dutch masters who exquisitely captured light in their paintings, Justin was inspired by Vermeer’s “layers and layers of washed colour” and wanted to translate this into the medium of photography. Working on his technique for the past four years, his aim is to “carefully paint with light”.

Kanus, 2014, Justin van Vliet. Courtesy the artist.Kanus, 2014, Justin van Vliet. Courtesy the artist.

The pieces are created in a pitch dark room and starts with a black canvas that has Justin working “backwards” adding in different colours, materials and light, focusing on different points of the canvas with exposure times varying from 30 seconds to four minutes. Justin talks about the subtleties of the objects he works with such as gels that allow light through of a range of thicknesses. He often creates an image and goes back several times to do it all over again to make the final work. The works are based on images taken by himself of landscapes, cityscapes, and especially the Dutch countryside. Justin describes the “simply great light” found there in the sunsets and forests.

Maher, 2014, Justin van Vliet. Courtesy the artist.Maher, 2014, Justin van Vliet. Courtesy the artist.

Alexander Kappas, director of The Atik Gallery, approached Justin to show his fine art photography for the exhibition titled The Beginning last month along with five other artists. The group show was a significant occasion as it marked the online gallery’s inaugural exhibition and moreover the first showing for the artists. One of the reasons Justin decided to work with The Atik Gallery is that they operate on a model very different from traditional commercial galleries and agents.

Metis, 2014, Justin van Vliet. Courtesy the artist.Metis, 2014, Justin van Vliet. Courtesy the artist.

The gallery, in partnership with USA publisher Odhams Press, provides a platform for talented and unsigned artists to show and distribute their work to an international audience. Selected work become limited edition canvas prints that are high quality yet affordable. The Beginning comprised of six artists, BJ Broekhuizen, Cara Gibson, Christopher Siel, David Gardener, Justin van Vliet and Marc Gooderham, who represented a diverse range of mediums and styles, which gave the exhibition a broad appeal. Justin’s work stood out visually as his canvases straddle the line between painting and photography.

Yaw, 2014, Justin van Vliet. Courtesy the artist.Yaw, 2014, Justin van Vliet. Courtesy the artist

The works in this series are suggestive of outer space and have an ephemeral quality to them as they are snapshot of light that is passing through. There’s a sense of reflection in this collision of the the natural world and the artificial man-made. He explains that the titles are inspired by mythologies from around the world such as the piece called Maher who is the God of war in Axsumite culture and also means “skilled” or “talented” in Arabic.

Lua, 2014, Justin van Vliet, Courtesy of the artist.Lua, 2014, Justin van Vliet, Courtesy of the artist

It’s rewarding to look closely at this first series by Justin van Vliet, to walk or look away and come back to it as it reveals different hues and hints of colours not noticeable at first glance. He hinted at the next series of photographs he plans to create using portraits, which should produce more interesting and otherworldly results.

by Lisa Kim

All images by Justin van Vliet