Intense Painted Photos Project the Power of Female Friendship

The relationship between photographer and subject is reinterpreted through a female gaze in Roxane II, a new photo book published by oodee. In the series of images, Dutch artist Viviane Sassen, known for her fashion photography, paints a fearless portrait of her interactions with stylist and artist Roxane . And yes, it is a sequel—Sassen first collaborated with her muse when making Roxane, published in 2012. The two work well together, because Roxane helps build her own representation by styling herself and Sassen contributes her photographic vision to the partnership. So even then, Sassen knew she wanted to explore their dynamic more: “after the first book I asked her if I could do nude portraits of her, and she said she had to think about it. For four years, I didn’t hear anything… Until out of the blue, she said she was ready: we decided to go on an adventure again.” Indeed, the spirit of adventure runs through Roxane II, as Sassen and Roxane together explore paint, shadow, and color.

For Sassen, working with her subject is “a matter of getting in this zone together in which we can create freely and experiment.” When Roxane and Sassen first started collaborating on this project, all they knew was that they wanted to use paint. So paint they did: on each other, on their own bodies, and on the photographs themselves.

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These painted gestures “overcome the notion of otherness,” according to Sassen, because the brushstrokes provide visual evidence of Sassen’s contact with Roxane’s skin, focusing attention on the relationship between photographer and subject rather than on Roxane as a singular object captured by the lens. On a more general level, seeing the artist’s hand feels intimate—you can place yourself in the painter’s shoes. Some of the more abstract photographs in the series also illustrate this directness:

In the above image, Sassen paints her own breast and makes a print directly onto paper, depicting her female form in a self-portrait. She includes in the frame shadows of branches that exist around or behind the camera, which expands the space to suggest her presence above. In other photographs, space is flatter. Below, blue paint covers the surface of the photograph, reminding the viewer this image is two-dimensional.

The interplay between paint and photograph mimics and builds on the interplay between, as Sassen puts it, “two female warriors”: Viviane and Roxane. When talking to me on the phone, Sassen admits she couldn’t have made these pictures when she was younger. She describes the project as “about womanhood in a broader sense… Roxane’s not yet 40 but I am over 40. We both have been through a lot. I think that somehow resonates in this project, there’s this kind of fearlessness…” A fearlessness that is manifest in the bold and experimental colors, compositions, and materials in Roxane II.

According to Sassen, free exploration is only possible with an open approach. The photographer explains that she is not a conceptual artist—she aims to create without preconceived ideas for a project. Yet she recognizes that these vivid images have accrued social meaning since their conception: “it has been almost a year since we shot it… It was only afterwards that Trump was elected and all the Women’s Marches happened. Maybe we sensed that something was in the air, but it really gained relevance over the last year.” It is clear in the timeless images in Roxane II that depicting female notions of power is always relevant.

Viviane Sassen’s Roxane II, published by oodee, is now available for purchase.


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