Finding a Form for Feelings – On Manon Wertenbroek’s Collaboration with her Brother
A white frame floats in mid-air. A man looks through it, staring into the middle distance. His bodily contours are emphasised by big black lines. He is offset by an ochre and white background, a pink band ties everything together. Of all the pictures in the series Tandem, this one is perhaps the most intriguing. Whereas in the other images the model is still very much a human being, here he is very nearly transformed into a two-dimensional paper cut-out.
Manon Wertenbroek’s route into photography is perhaps a little unusual. She started off her preparatory year at the art academy fully intending to study industrial design, as a result of her interest in objects, materials and forms. However, the required technical understanding of machinery proved frustrating. Photography provided her with a way to continue creating and designing objects. As Wertenbroek puts it: “What I liked about [it] was the fact that I could have a frame. I could create objects, but at a certain point I was supposed to stop [working on them], because they had to go into the frame that I chose with the camera.” Even though her imagery reminds me of that by artists such as Daniel Gordon, Hannah Whitaker and Lucas Blalock, the artist considers expressionist painting to be far more influential on her practice than the work of fellow practitioners.
It therefore comes as no surprise that the combination of material design and photography provides a way for Wertenbroek to process her emotions and experiences. She tries to give form to them, to make them tangible and visible. Her preferred materials are those that can be shaped easily and instinctively, ranging from clay to paper to pigments. She then carefully considers the objects she wants to create and how to arrange them in the final frame. The next step is to craft the actual objects. The production time for each picture can vary from hours to weeks, but on average she works three days on creating and lighting a set. Wertenbroek then generally spends an afternoon recording it. Capturing the scene as she has conceived of it in her mind’s eye provides closure. In the artist’s words: “When I finish the photograph and print it, it finishes these feelings. It’s like I turned a page. If I still had the sculpture I would feel like I am still having that feeling of something that I am searching for. With photography, it is a conclusion.” This need for closure also means that the elements of her images are never reused in other pictures.
I wanted to find a way to express and digest these emotions and also to frame him in a certain way in order to keep him. To make an image of him that I wanted to have. It was almost a personal lie. I wanted to have my brother [back] so badly I was going to do this project and keep him in my images.
For the body of work featured here Wertenbroek collaborated with her brother as model. She initiated this series, because she used to be very close to her sibling during her childhood. However, upon reaching adulthood they quickly grew apart. Teaming up with her brother was a way for Wertenbroek to process her emotions as well as an effort to reconnect. Moreover, as she states: “[As] I had been working on lots of projects with only objects, I wanted to go back to do something with portraits. I wanted to put something real into my sets, something that already existed.”
It was an intensive time. They spent three months creating the photographs. During the afternoon and the evening they could be found in the studio, with her brother modelling for several hours on end. Wertenbroek sees their time spent together as a cathartic performance: “I wanted to find a way to express and digest these emotions and also to frame him in a certain way in order to keep him. To make an image of him that I wanted to have. It was almost a personal lie. I wanted to have my brother [back] so badly I was going to do this project and keep him in my images.” Wertenbroek feels that at a certain point they did become closer. Nonetheless, it remained very difficult to explain to her brother why she was doing this. And when the series came to an end, the distance returned. The artist is satisfied with the results though: “It was a way to replace the weird memories by some new ones, some funny ones. Now I feel less disappointed about the fact that I am not that close to him, because at least we shared something new together after our childhood memories.”
“When I finish the photograph and print it, it finishes these feelings. It’s like I turned a page. If I still had the sculpture I would feel like I am still having that feeling of something that I am searching for. With photography, it is a conclusion.”
Manon Wertenbroek (b. 1991, Lausanne) is a photographic artist who lives and works in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 2014 she obtained her BA in Visual Communication & Photography from écal, the renowned art academy based in Lausanne. Her images have been published in Yet Magazine, Else Magazine and Tank Magazine, and have been exhibited at Festival Planche(s) Contact de Deauville in 2013. She works on personal projects and commissions, including for the Swiss Design Awards. A joint publication of photographs and poems by her hand combined with illustrations by Louisa Gagliardi is scheduled for release in autumn 2015.
This article was first published in Foam Magazine Talent Issue #42.