Even among a very strong field of contributions in the July issue of Dazed & Confused, the fashion story ‘In Bloom’ stands out immediately. The fashion shoot by Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen, styled by Katie Shillingford, is a vibrant and colourful affair that profiles seasonal womeswear collection garments from a broad range of designers including Jonathan Saunders, Jean Paul Gaultier, Frankie Morello, Diane Von Furstenberg, Pam Hogg and Cassette Playa, amongst many others.
If one looks more closely, one can readily tell that this stark and stunning shoot featuring Sassen’s compatriot, top model Lisanne de Jong, was actually shot in a tulip field, underscoring the Dutch connection snaking through it. But, on first sight, the impact of this particular story lies in its falling almost into abstraction. Sassen’s camera creates bold delineations of pure form that play clever games with the undeniable representation of three dimensions that photography cannot escape and the perception of something nearing a two dimensional image that is achieved through the almost painterly means of approaching composition as bold areas of dominant colour.
In this sense, her fashion shoot in Dazed & Confused is keeping with her practice that gained her recognition as a visual artist and that’s only congruent since Sassen, rather unusually, is a photographer whose work as a fashion photographer and whose work as a visual artist working with the medium of photography have pretty much developed in tandem. No matter how other photographers might wish to conceptualise their careers, this case of a simultaneous recognition in two different disciplines – rather than one pre-empting the other- is rare. Certainly, in Viviane Sassen’s case, her particular career path has partly been facilitated by the culture in which she lives and works. The Netherlands, after all, was one of the first societies to overcome the traditional divide between ‘art’ and ‘fine art photography’ and embrace photography as part of the contemporary artist’s many viable choices for making art.
Thus, Viviane Sassen, whose more commercial work as a fashion photographer has long coexisted with art projects, has a long history of exhibiting in galleries and institutional spaces and holds her place on the roster of represented artists in one of Amsterdam’s most respected galleries. Furthermore, she has arguably received more recognition for her stark and haunting photography as an artist than as a fashion photographer. For example, although she received the prestigious ICP Infinity Award in 2011 in New York for her work as a fashion photographer, it’s worth noting that back in 2007, she was the winner of the Prix de Rome, the Netherlands most prestigious national award for the visual arts.
Again, this certain dichotomy of instinctively or intentionally flouting the conventions for success in the traditionally divided worlds of commercial and artistic practice and yet simultaneously receiving recognition in both is something that canny observers and fans of Sassen’s work are keen to highlight. Her list of commissions for luxury fashion campaigns is equalled only by her record of exhibitions in top commercial galleries and public institutions around the world. Some have even contextualised her work specifically for this particular quality of defying simplistic reading such as the ‘No Fashion Please’ exhibition at the Kunsthalle Wien in 2011.
Ultimately, however, all of this makes complete sense though fashion photography is hardly the only discipline that her work questions. Anyone who becomes familiar with her broader body of work will rapidly grasp that it is very much about exploring the chasms and gaps between things. Many of her works raise as many questions about notions of documentary photography as they do about fashion photography as a discipline. Even deeper down on its most basic and conceptual level there is also a way in which her work constantly refers to the unresolved intersections between photography and painting. Sassen, the consummate photographer, often uses her camera precisely to construct images in which we are prompted to consider notions of painting both in terms of content and in the formal construction of the images.
So, for those who have not been lucky enough to view on of Viviane Sassen’s real life exhibition projects, at least the current issue of Dazed & Confused provides a suitable insight into her metier.