The Allure of Honesty
Photography and Words ANNEMARIEKE VAN DRIMMELEN Illustration JASPER KRABBÉ
When I was little, my mom used to photograph me and my father. She was always behind the camera; her strong hands around her black Nikon, her infectious smile partly visible, her presence provoking a moment of trust, of honest beauty. After my mom died, her camera remained in the top drawer of the cabinet on the top of the staircase. I knew where she kept it and the camera stayed in the same drawer after she passed away. One day I opened the drawer and asked my dad if he knew how this analogue camera worked. My dad had no idea. “I guess you have to figure it out if you want to take pictures,” he said. I didn’t know if I wanted to take pictures, I just knew it had to be used and it couldn’t just stay in the drawer any longer. I played with the camera and figured out the basics so I could start shooting. I took pictures of my dad, my girlfriends, light coming through a window, anything that was just there, in my world. It was my way of keeping a diary in my teenage years.
I never saw myself as a photographer, I just used my mom’s camera. But then as a 19-year-old girl I got scouted as a model and started to be photographed myself. I was never able to shake off a certain awkwardness that I felt when someone took my picture. When my mom shot me as a child I loved it, I posed for her, danced in front of the camera. I couldn’t get enough of it. It was her attention that made it special, the intimacy we shared in that moment. But as a model I didn’t quite know how to behave. I never saw myself as being very pretty, I felt more masculine and different from the other girls. Even though I don’t recall being very insecure with the way I looked, I just didn’t relate to the way I had to transform into a certain beauty that other people would understand.
So I started shooting again, this time the friends that I met through modelling. Not trying to change them, but trying to understand who they were, finding out where that moment of real intimacy lies. These girls and women became role models for me. Shooting them was my entry into what femininity was, who I was. I needed other woman to lead the way as I missed a female figure in my life, I missed the presence of a mom, an older woman being secure in who she was. This way of shooting naturally launched my career, and when I first came to New York I was lucky enough to meet Ivan Shaw, photo director at American Vogue. I had very little work in my book but he gave me a lot of trust by being very honest. He told me that I had the ability to show an intimacy with the women I shot, a realness that wasn’t the trend in the retouched fashion climate of the time. He said, “Don’t ever try to make a fashion picture, but stay with that! Shoot your friends and you’ll be a very good fashion photographer.” For years I did exactly that. My work never had any concepts or themes behind it, it was simple and as real as I saw it, focusing on the connection I had with the women I shot.
"Could the fight to be heard and seen for your worth as an empowered woman also perhaps show the strong sense we have of not feeling worthy?"
But slowly the connection with these women started shifting. I became older than most of the young women I was shooting; they were no longer role models to me, but I often noticed it was the other way around. And even though I loved shooting girls I realised I was still looking for guidance myself. I didn’t have anyone to show me the way in this next phase in my life, of growing up and growing older. But even more than that, I realised I had always looked at other women to guide me in some way, and for the first time I wondered if that was true for other women and, if so, why didn’t we care more about helping each other out as women.
The complexity of this time makes us insecure about growing old. Even though this moment seems to be more focused on female empowerment than any other, it looks to me like many women are actually searching for what empowerment really means in themselves. In reality, I see so many women around me who are desperately trying to stay young and are searching for who they are and will be when they grow older. I realised I was insecure about entering this new phase myself, and the insecurity I felt was perhaps a mirror of this very time and didn’t only play out in me. Could the fight to be heard and seen for your worth as an empowered woman also perhaps show the strong sense we have of not feeling worthy? And wasn’t that insecurity visible in my feeling the urge to constantly look outside of myself for other women to show me the way? I wondered what would change if we didn’t need anyone to tell us or show us that we’re empowered. Would we stop wanting to be something different from what we actually are? Would that, perhaps, come close to actually feeling empowered?
We’re in a time where we want so much. We want to be strong, powerful, compassionate, sexy, wise, successful and beautiful women. We want to be the best moms you could possibly think of, with a hugely successful career, but never seeming to look any older. But mostly we put so much effort into looking effortless to others. Our spiritual growth needs to come simultaneously with a decrease in wrinkles on our foreheads. Becoming wiser and younger is the focus of this time. The denial of becoming older with the urge to be heard in our wisdom. In this confusing time it is so easy to choose a position. We have such a desperate need to belong that sometimes we’d rather choose a position than deal with the complexity of what arises. We like to stand up and say, ‘I have the answers, I can guide you,’ rather than actually knowing we might not have all the answers and realising that life could be a whole lot more exciting if we were OK with that. We have a tendency to look at something that we aspire to be and copy that. Even if it’s just the style. From the outside, we look like we know what we’re doing. But what if we didn’t choose positions, what if we didn’t need society telling us who we are? What if I didn’t need other women standing up, leading the way for me, telling me what to do? What if there was just a brutal honesty about this very moment in time? What could come from that?
“Keep the company of those who seek the truth – run from those who have found it” – Vaclav Havel