An artist's atelier (that's the French word for studio) is a place of creativity and expression, with no one being the same. It is a sacred place to an artist, and one most people are not privy to, but when we do get a chance to peek behind that curtain, it provides an insight into their creative practice, and in turn who they are as an artist.
Belgium photographer Stephan Vanfleteren does just this in his new book Atelier. It presents 12 years of photography all taken in his photography home studio. A mixture of natural and artificial lighting has helped capture photography that resembles a combination of paintings by Dutch master painters and contemporary photography. The book is a masterclass in natural and artificial lighting, as he captures a wide range of subjects for personal and commercial projects.
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Not tied down to one particular genre of photography, Atelier's range of subjects include portraits, self-portraits, still lifes, and documentary - all captured with the same respected treatment and with Vanfleteren's characteristic style. Much like Irving Penn's masterful series Small Trades or Richard Avedon's In the American West, Vanfleteren keeps the backdrop in his studio consistent, with only the subject as the variable. Keeping the same curtained background throughout allows the subject to become the message, highlighting greater importance and demanding more observation of it. 'Vanfleteren connects to the traditions of old and contemporary masters but remains faithful to his characteristic style.'
Vanfleteren's studio is at his home and enables him to capture both natural sunlit and artificially lit images in the same space. Throughout the book, there is a mixture of lighting techniques, but the style remains the same, often making the source of light undeterminable. Still lifes feature more in this book than any other that Vanfleteren has produced, including work from his new series Nature Morte, currently on exhibition at Galerie Rabouan Moussion in Paris (until December 31, 2023).
I have been a huge fan of Vanfleteren for many years, collecting his previous publications Surf Tribe and Flandrien, and studying them as a source of photographic education. His portraiture is gripping, connecting the viewer to the subject with unwavering grace, much like statues frozen in time.
Along with the beautiful images in Atelier, there are texts written by Dutch poet and novelist Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, and by Stephan Vanfleteren himself. The words offer further insight into Vanfleteren's process, and how he came to create his home atelier.
Available in several language editions, Atelier by Stephan Vanfleteren is published by Hannibal Books and is available now at the price of €70 (that converts to around $75 / £60). This photography book would make the perfect gift for any portrait photographer.