JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2020 (here). Softcover (22×30 cm), 160 pages, with 73 black and white and color photographs. Includes an essay by Lou Stoppard. In an edition of 750 copies. Design by Merel van den Berg. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: Lotte van Raalte is a Dutch photographer who graduated with a fashion photography major from the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, and has pursued a successful career working in fashion, shooting campaigns for brands like Adidas, Stella McCartney, and Arket. She often photographs her subjects during candid in-between-moments, using natural light and crisp compositions. As an artist, she is interested in exploring womanhood, saying that her “fascination with the female body comes from different angles: the fact that women are dominantly sexualised and unrealistically portrayed in the fashion, movie and music industry”.
Earlier this year, van Raalte self-published her first photobook, simply titled Body. A clear and concise artist’s introduction to the project appears at the beginning of the book. Over the period of 16 months, she photographed 46 women. The book is “an exploration of the diversity and depth of the female body, born out of love.” She photographed friends, family members, and complete strangers, ranging in age from 13 to 94. Van Raalte says that the project “started as research towards the female body” and every photoshoot left her “fascinated, curious and inspired at the same time.”
Body is a softcover book printed on uncoated paper. A tight crop of a black and white image depicting a nude body takes most of the cover, while the title envelops its spine. Inside, there is plenty of breathing space between the photographs, as well as blank spreads, encouraging us to look closer and move at a slower pace. The photographs vary in size and their placement on pages, creating a dynamic, and surprising, visual flow. Occasionally, the pages are colored in light pink or orange, adding a burst of energy. Each image is captioned with the exact date and time of the photoshoot, like “23.10.2018, 10:39”.
Van Raalte also asked her subjects to share objective descriptions of their bodies. These words cover the endpapers of the book, arranged in three rows in alphabetical order: “free”, “boobs like samosas”, “birthmarks”, “fat legs”, “crooked smile when I laugh”, “not skinny”, “majestic”, “my face speaks”. Some of the words appear multiple times: “wide hips”, “soft”, “slim”, “white”, “freckles”, “curvy”, “happy”. These reflections, both simple and sensitive, add an intimate element to the flow of imagery, like a voice over of how the women see themselves.
A back view of a nude woman, placed on an orange background, opens the book. Then, a close up of a woman’s face, framing her eye and the contour of her nose in black and white, highlighting her skin texture. This is followed by a photo of a young woman in a meadow with her arms up in a contagious shriek of joy. As we move through the book, van Raalte’s photographs show essential stages of womanhood – puberty, pregnancy, post-retirement. We often see these women on a beach, or out in nature, always in natural light, with a feeling of freedom and joy. In these photographs, we see both vulnerability and strength.
Each photograph shows how different these bodies are, and it is the imperfections that are often hidden that become particularly important. Van Raalte is interested in a body’s shape, its curves, its scars, its stretchmarks, and its wrinkles – and all of its various colors and textures. There are close-up shots of the curve of a stomach, a back covered with moles, a knee marked by a visible scar, the cleavage of a middle-aged woman. The series of bodies suggests ongoing change and transformation, showing the body as complex and powerful within the cycles of life.
An essay by Lou Stoppard appears at the end of the book, and is laid out with generous spacing, complementing the visual flow. “Today it is fashionable to talk of celebrating the body, to talk of empowerment. How can one ever showcase the body without commodifying, or sexualising, or narrowing it in some way, however, small, however, subtle. Maybe one can’t. Here, we are asked to forget all this, and simply admire this wonderful, complicated, unbelievable instrument. We are asked to look freely.” The process of photographing these women frees both the artist and her models, and invites us to be similarly free as we engage with the imagery.
In the past few years, a number of female photographers have offered their vision of representing and seeing women, untethering themselves from the dominant male gaze. This process challenges common stereotypes in the representation of the female body, ultimately celebrating difference and diversity. In this same way, Van Raalte’s photobook is a celebration, where imperfections and beauty are equally entrancing.
Collector’s POV: Lotte van Raalte does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via her website (linked in the sidebar).