She leaves nary a trace behind. Photographer and artist Scarlett Hooft Graafland travels to distant parts and creates art from the context she finds there. Strange interpretations of a foreign reality.
Text: Karolina Modig
Photo: Scarlett Hooft Graafland
Atop tiny white mountain peaks, straining from a similarly bleached, vast landscape, sit a group of women in white tops and colourful skirts, with long black braids and diminutive black bowler hats. Each holds in one hand a cloud of pink cotton candy, raised in a movement that evokes the Statue of Liberty.
– These Bolivian women lead very tough lives, near the salt deserts. There’s not a lot of possibilities and their days tend to be a struggle. By placing them on these tiny mountains, I wanted to lift them onto a pedestal and out of their harsh daily grind. It’s one of my favourite series, the women are laughing and you can tell that they appreciated being a part of it. There’s a really lovely energy in it, says photographer Scarlett Hooft Graafland.
Necessity and Improvisation
Hooft Graafland is a trained sculptor, which may explain the precise but still playful tone you find in her photography. After art school in the Hague, she got her Master’s at Parsons School of Design in New York. While there, she did a lot of experimenting with installations, using photography and video to document her process, and realised that the shots held their own power. Her style also developed in part from practical necessity.
– I travel to such remote and isolated places, all over the world, so if I didn’t document what I was doing. nobody would really get to see it. I really love documenting moments, little slivers of time that just disappear once I’m done. I’m always careful not to leave any traces of myself behind, I always bring everything back and clean up. The idea of no tracks left behind really appeals to me.
Scarlett Hooft Graafland travels on her own to places that rarely see outsiders. She spends a lot of time beforehand exploring a context, talking to people in the know who might already know someone where she’s headed. She brings her analog camera, a tripod, and sometimes a few props.
– I like improvising and making most of the decisions once I’m actually there. I always want to be in a place for some time to become part of the culture, get to know people, find locals who want to assist me in my projects. You usually don’t see it in the final work, but one of my main goals is to find people who are already there who can help me. I also want my models to be locals. Sometimes I use myself – you can see me, hanging in a tree or splayed on a roof – but my photography is mainly about the reality of the actual people. I usually make sketches to explain what I want to do before I take the picture; I let them become part of the story I want to tell.
Scarlett Hooft Graafland travels on her own to places that rarely see outsiders. She brings her analog camera, a tripod, and sometimes a few props.
As a child, she dreamed of a nomadic life, discovering the world from the road. She still feels the beat of that explorer’s pulse, pushing her to beautiful, special, isolated locations, and she takes great pleasure in getting to know the places, the culture, the people.
– I want to show something beyond what the news reels give us. The Arab world, for instance, deserves to have different stories told. Or the Inuit. You need hope, and humor. A lot of these places face a lot of challenges, but there’s always light and hope, too.
Scarlett Hooft Graafland works with an analog camera, to ensure that the beholder can trust the images to be true to life. Since some things can be so surreal as to suggest photoshop trickery, that transparency can be even more important.
– Sometimes it’s intensely frustrating to get back and realise that some of the pieces aren’t as good as I was hoping. But a lot of the time, they’re great. Working in analog gives me a sense of calm and focus when I take the shot. Everything is about what I do then and there. I also feel like it gives the colors more of an intensity and clarity.
Hooft Graafland has just returned from Bolivia, but she’s already imagining what might be next.
– I want to go to Bhutan. It’s a tiny country and they don’t let many people in per year. It seems like a fascinating country, not a lot of people have visited. But that’s in the future.
Born 1973 in Holland.
Got her BFA at Royal Academy of Art in the Hague, Holland, and a MFA in sculpture at Parsons School of Design in New York. Scarlett Hooft Graafland creates surreal, dreamlike works in some of the most isolated and untouched spots around the world. She has exhibited in Amsterdam, Landskrona, Seoul, La Paz, Reykjavik and Jerusalem, and is represented in several museums.
Books: Shores Like You, Unlikely Landscape, Scarlett HG in Altiplano, Soft Horizons, Instant Sculpture, and Discovery.