Femke Teussink paints with her camera.
Femke Teussink (1976) is a photographer. After graduating from art school, she started her own business. She works on commission and on free work. Soon she specialized in portraits. In recent years she also developed a love for nature photography. Whatever her subject, every photo by Femke’s hand bears her signature.
Where an artist uses a brush, Femke Teussink paints with her camera. Trained at the art academy, she became a prominent portrait photographer. But increasingly, people are making way for nature. Especially in her free work. In ‘Artist Featured’ we talk to her about motives and quests, the power of art and symbolism.
Survival Of The Fittest
For the project Kunsthalte, a pop-up exhibition space next to the Deventer Station, Teussink made a series of works entitled ‘Survival Of The Fittest’. The photographs show natural images of a dead landscape. But those who look just a little longer see a vibrant microcosm unfolding before their eyes. The series is about survival under arid and barren conditions. ‘To me, it is a metaphor for the corona period,’ Femke explains, ‘the theaters closed, museums locked, extinct venues. A barren cultural landscape. Yet, if you look more closely, you will see that makers, artists and creatives are also very active then. Without or for a very small audience. But art is always there. It is inseparable from our species. Like life itself, art always seeks and finds a way. That is ultimately something very beautiful’.
Teussink created a furor with her portraits. Whether commissioned or as free work: people are the central subject. Femke: ‘In 2017 I was in Thailand as an artist in residence, that’s where the turnaround came. In my photographs, models often wore unusual and striking dresses. For me, those dresses symbolized my style. I literally said goodbye to them in Thailand by covering those dresses with compost. I became fascinated by the critters, fungi and other natural processes that took over the dresses, so to speak. I began to photograph. Up extremely close and no human in the picture. Very different from what I had done for years. This trip opened a lot of doors, also in my mind, because I am no longer just seen as a portrait photographer. The funny thing is that those photos, despite being so different from what I was doing before, still bear my signature in a way.’
But what makes a photograph a typical Teussink photograph? Femke herself is also looking for an explanation: ‘It is independent of camera, lenses or technique. I work very intuitively. From my training at the art academy, I learned to develop my artistic eye. For example, how to create dramatic, theatrical images with light, perspective and by playing with the camera’s point of view. But I don’t really have to think about that. When I work, I quickly get into a creative flow. As if time and space slide into one and everything seems to happen by itself. I make my best work when I am in such a “state.” Of course, I can shoot a fine picture when I’m not, but something is quickly missing. But what is missing then, it is impossible to put into words. I did learn to trust my feelings a lot more. That is one of the few advantages of getting older, haha!
Teussink shot the photographs for the ‘Survival Of The Fittest’ series on Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands. ‘Just before that I had read the call to submit work for the Kunsthalte project,’ Teussink explains, ‘you store something like that in the back of your mind anyway. When I arrived on Lanzarote I really thought: where have I ended up? Actually in nothing the sunny, bright environment I had imagined and which I so desperately needed after that gray period of lockdowns. It looked like a lunar landscape with all the craters and that dark sand and rock. A barren, lifeless state. But if you looked closer, a cosmos full of tiny plants, mosses, algae, insects and cacti opened up. Naturally, I was drawn there with my camera and suddenly I knew exactly what I wanted to make for the Art Stop project. Instead of a person, nature became my model. Sounds strange, but the cacti are similar to the models I normally work with.’
Dark and light
The past two years have also been difficult for Teussink. ‘Your world does suddenly become very small. I’m a flutterer. I enjoy being outside, being among people, immersing myself in music and theater, going out on a terrace with friends or dancing. And suddenly this is not possible. You’re at home, inside, trapped. Despite being together, I felt really lonely. You notice how much you miss normal life. You gradually get sucked into a dark pit…and now suddenly everything is possible again! That is such a nice liberating feeling. I feel like I’m being pulled out into the world again, into the light, so nice!
Now that the Corona era seems to be definitely behind us, Teussink dares to make plans again. ‘I find myself thinking more and more about the role art plays in life. It is an inspiring question to think about what art actually is. Every few years that question pops up. It sparks your curiosity. This summer I’m going to participate in a socratic workshop in Spain. A great opportunity to find answers. Then my partner and I are going to travel through Italy for a month. We bought a van and are converting it into a camper ourselves. We have been saving and working hard to get away for a while soon. We both want to work, travel, enjoy freedom. And I see it as a nice exercise for my deep desire to travel through Europe and capture our continent. How, what and from what thought, I don’t know yet. Once it was my biggest dream to see more of the world by traveling after my work. During the time I worked from Amsterdam, I succeeded and my work was shown in galleries and exhibitions. Now I don’t want to travel after my work, but to make the journey and the work one. Everything is bubbling and brewing…!