DANIËLLE VAN ZADELHOFF
Of Time and Authenticity
But behind every image there is a contemporary story that looks to the future
Throughout its history, photography has had a conversation with the more traditional visual arts. Sometimes
seeking to be recognised as an equal member of the Fine Art family. Sometimes emphasising its uniquely
different relationship to the world around us: an image captured rather than constructed. But there is another
strand to this conversation in which the traditions of Fine Art and the nature of photographic processes
maintain a more intimate dialogue.
In pursuing this intimate dialogue, some artists use photography as part of a wider creative practice involving
sculpture, installation or painting, while others draw on the visual language of Art History to suggest layers of
meaning that juxtapose the present time with the styles, stories and symbolism of the past. They connect the
individual with a shared cultural memory and, since cultures differ one from another, their meanings change
depending on who is viewing them.
Through the subtle use of lighting and pose the Belgian photo-artist Daniëlle van Zadelhoff recreates the
feeling of paintings from the Golden Age in the history of the Low Countries. This was a time of cultural and
economic flourishing when art in the region moved away from religious paintings for churches and cathedrals
to more domestic art that explored moral and philosophical ideas through allegory and portraiture.
She does not restage specific paintings as photographic tableaux but draws on a shared cultural memory of
this important period in the western history of art. Like the poetry and literature of the past, we recognise the
visual language of another era and associate it with the deeper meanings that those poems, stories and
pictures sought to engage. – What does it mean to be good? What does it mean to be mortal? What is it to
love, to suffer, to despair? – In setting her portraits within the visual language of the past, Daniëlle van
Zadelhoff invites us to look beyond the simple fact of photographic representation to the more profound
questions that have engaged and perplexed the minds of human beings for centuries.
Alasdair Foster / Talking Pictures
Setting and materials
Almost all of Danielle’s images are made in a seventeenth-century mansion. Surrounded by a moat, the socalled
Spokenhof (the house of the ghosts) was the former summer residence of the mayor of Antwerp. It is
here she works and has her studio. Every weekend, she lives, eats, and sleeps here, breathing the
atmosphere of the Golden Age.
Dressing her subjects in fabrics and clothes from the past, using minimal make-up and lighting for a rich
chiaroscuro redolent to the period, she seeks to make contemporary themes more accessible, building a
bridge between the issues of today and the beauty of the past.
Giuliano Gaigher’s glass bubbles framed in gold
While Danielle usually exhibits her images in black frames, the images in this exhibition are framed in gold,
further deepening this bond with the past.
These frames were made in a collaboration with the highly creative and technically very gifted Italian glass
artist Giuliano Gaigher and Louise Gallery. Working in his studio in Treviglio (Milan, Italy), he has created
bubbles in glass that are embedded in different places on the gold frames. They are produced using a
technic called ‘slumping’, a process that uses gravity and which, given the dimensions of the glass in this
case, was very difficult demanding great skill. The bubbles catch the eye, accentuating the detail, and
drawing you in to look closer. This elegant effect was developed by Danielle and Giuliano together as they
decided the arrangement of the bubbles around each work, further enhancing her richly beautiful images.
(Patrick Mulders, Louise Gallery)
The following interview by Alasdair Foster was first published in English at Talking Pictures a famous website containing interviews with many of the best photographers around the world.
Alasdair: When did you start making photographs?
Daniëlle: I began later in life. I was coming out of a difficult period personally and was seeking a way to
express myself. It was a way to explore my subconscious feelings, including the darker parts.
Why do you choose this art-historical atmosphere?
I want to create a bridge between the past, the present and the future. I do not think we can make wise
decisions for the future without considering the experiences of the past. The visual feeling of the image
suggests the past. The models and the act of photographing are in the present. But behind every image
there is a contemporary story that looks to the future.
For example, in the image of the young girl with the skull I am thinking about the kind of world our children
will inherit. We raise our children to love the world, yet we teach them to love material things that have a
terrible impact on the environment. The world we leave them has so many problems to solve: polluted water,
mountains of plastic waste, too much carbon dioxide in the air…
I find I experience your images emotionally. The stories unfold as feelings…
Yes. I am interested in capturing the emotions. What is important for me as an artist is to be honest and
authentic: for the viewer to believe in the story. For me photography is like good theatre. When you see a
stage play, you don’t analyse it as a sequence of acting techniques. You just allow the actors to engage you
as a viewer and make you part of their story. You cease to be aware that you are even sitting in a theatre.
Good actors can convince you that what happens in front of your eyes feels real. The same applies to
photographers. Unfortunately, ninety per cent of the images that I see do not make me believe. I look at them
and think to myself that the lighting is great, the model is great, but I still don’t feel and believe the story it is
trying to tell. All I see is a posed, artificial scene.
My goal is to evoke an authentic feeling, an emotion, the real thing. Therefore my models wear almost no
make-up and I do not use any Photoshop. Real art is like religious faith, you want to believe in it and have no
doubts, because this helps you to understand that there is a meaning, beauty, and a lesson hidden in the
most difficult feelings and emotions.
What is the most surprising response you have had to this work?
I was showing at an Art Fair. There was a big strong man standing in front of my image of a girl with a key on
her back… and he began to cry. He returned two days later and bought the photograph. He said that he
never cried and that this was why he had to buy it, because the image was stronger than himself.
Which artists have inspired your work?
When I began, I had no particular artist in mind. Living in Belgium, I have seen so many works by Old
Masters such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer… It is our cultural background, a whole library of artists
already in my mind.
To be honest with you, I am really not very interested in the Golden Age. What I like about the paintings from
that period is the way they use light to engage timeless human emotions. I always become fascinated by the
light. In it the models transcend themselves and suggest something universal. It is a quality evoked in the
transition from dark to light and vice versa. That is where the story develops, where it is told. Yet, much of
this is intuitive for me. The sole purpose of lighting and pose is to enhance the story, a story that links the
past to the future. And what is beautiful about emotions is that they do not change over the time, through the
In 2016, you made a series of images using a Lazarus Mask that for me amplify that span across time.
It was a collaboration with two other artists, Neri Oxman and Naomi Kamper, the creators of the Lazarus
What is a Lazarus mask?
It is a modern interpretation of a death mask. Traditionally, a death mask was made by taking a plaster cast
of the dead person’s face, which was then used as the mould for a wax likeness of the deceased. The
Lazarus Masks are created using a 3D printer. Neri Oxman calls them ‘air urns’. The 3D printed uses data
recorded at the point of death that map the facial contours and the flow of air in their final breath, translating
these into visual form.
So it is a futuristic take on an ancient idea?
Yes. Neri Oxman and Naomi Kamper contacted me because they had seen my photographic work and
recognised that we are interested in similar ideas of connecting past and future. Of course, visually, the
masks appear very futuristic. It was my task to set them within a context that is more timeless, more human.
What have you learned about yourself in the process of making these images?
For me, making photographic art is one of the few ways to show a piece of my soul. If people recognise
themselves in it, it creates a connection and that offers me consolation.
Daniëlle van Zadelhoff was born in Amsterdam in 1963. As a child, she spent many hours looking at art
books in the family library. In 2014, following a long illness, divorce and the death of her father, she bought
her first camera and, from that moment, became obsessed with photography. She was mentored in the use
of an analogue camera by the retired photographer Leopold Beels van Heemstede, subsequently
undertaking training in digital photography in Antwerp. She started putting her images on social media and
rapidly developed a dedicated following online. A museum director saw her work in an amateur exhibition in
Amsterdam and later invited her to exhibit at the museum. She has since presented six solo shows and her
work has featured in a further seventeen group exhibitions and festivals, in Belgium, France, Germany,
Holland, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
Her photographs are included in a number of public and private collections including Musea Brugge
(Belgium), Centro di Ricerca e Archiviazione della Fotografia, Spilimbergo (Italy), Centro de Arte
Contemporáneo de Málaga (Spain), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA), and the historic church
Pio Monte della Misericordia, Naples (Italy). Her work has been published in three monographs. Daniëlle van
Zadelhoff lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium.
Before 2016: PAN, Realisme, Scope Art Basel, Context Art Miami, Art Wynwood,
solo exposition Persmuseum in Amsterdam.
Publications: Couturekrant NL, Haagse Post, De Tijd
-2016: Vespers project in cooperation with Neri Osman (MIT Boston) and cooperation with art team van
Stratasys, 3 D company in Israel.
“Lazarus, death masks” Exposition design museum London.
A 3D, movie was made for Tribeca film festival New York.
-2017 “A caring eye” solo exposition Sint Jans Hospitaal Brugge.
Publications: OKV, Art Couch, Zinkea
-2017 CAC museum Malaga “Relatos Del Alma” (stories of the soul), a solo show with 30,000 visitors
Publications: Catalogue (CAC Malaga, 2018), El Pais, Malaga Hoy, SUR & SUR, tv, El Mundo, Diario de
Sevilla & Dariosur, Arteporexcelecias, PAC, lavangurdia, Europapress, Artdaily, Dario de Jerez & Cadiz
-2017 “Woman & Photography” Udine Italy
Publications: la cultura, Colori Vivaci Magazine, Qui Uniud, Arte It, Messaggero Veneto, Udine today, Friuli
Venezia Giulia, Media online net, Friuli
-2017 World AIDS Day in Londen in the mayor house London. Photographs of 80 Aids survivors from the
eighties, now held in the National Archive London
Publications: Hampstead High & Ham&high
-2018 Book edition: “Danielle van Zadelhoff” (Stockmans)
-2019 Paris Photo (On the cover of the catalogue).
Publications: L’oeil de la photographie, a shade view on fashion, artsnet, DHC, The favourites of Florence
and Damien Bachelot at Paris photo, elephant art, Paris art now.
-2019 Photo London.
Publications: Elephant GB, Fatmagazine England
-2020 Corona: article appeared in China, and she taught online via zoom at the academy in New York about
light and composition.
-2021 “Of Time and Authenticity” Solo exposition @ Louise Gallery Durbuy Belgium
– Samogitian art museum Litouwen,
– Bond solo show Størpunkt Munchen
– Art Milaan
– solo show gallery VisionQuest4rosso Genua
– MoMA San Francisco: Vesper show in cooperation with Neri Osman
Images: © Danielle van Zadelhoff
Introduction and interview: © Alasdair Foster / Talking Pictures
Special thanks to: Alasdair Foster and Giuliano Gaigher