This young photographer was born in 1988 in Maastricht but currently lives in Belgium, where she combines teaching art with her photographic personal projects. In the Instagram era where saturated color reigns, phones are cameras, and pictures tend to be bold and shiny, Julie Van der Vaart stands out from the crowd with disturbing but peaceful black and white analogue pictures, which are at the same time calm and angsty.
What was your first experience with photography? What sparked your love for it?
When I was in high school, I studied Sciences and Mathematics. I knew nothing about photography or art but I collected all kinds of images that were appealing to me. It could be a pose, a composition or just colours that I liked, but I wondered why some pictures seemed interesting and others did not. I also had this urge to do studies where I could make something, instead of just absorbing information. I chose photography very intuitively. When I started, it was a disaster. Everything was analogue and I knew nothing about how a camera worked, or how a “good” image should look like. But I really wanted to learn – for the first time, I was passionate about something! After a while, I remember that I finally made something that was worth hanging on the walls: a portrait of my grandmother. My teacher said that it was either a lucky shot or that I could be good at portraits, so I continued in that direction. That is how it all started.
Who are your photographic inspirations?
I am really inspired by Japanese photographers such as Yamamoto Masao, Mayumi Hosokura and Daisuke Yokota. I am now also reading a lot about quantum physics and space and time for my project Beyond Time. Those subjects have always fascinated me. There was even a moment during my studies when I doubted if I would continue with photography (as a study) or start studying Physics. As I am not the best in Mathematics, I think I made the right choice.
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How come you are so interested in science, cosmic images, and eerie landscapes? What is it you find attractive about them?
I try to understand concepts such as space and time, and the more I learn the stranger it gets. My Chemistry teacher in high school once taught me that if we were to erase all the space between electrons circling a core of an atom, the human form would be reduced to the size of a pinhead. It is funny to realize that we consist mostly of “nothing”.
When I was a child, I tried to imagine how big the universe was. I imagined that the sky above me would go on forever and I could feel myself becoming smaller and smaller. It hit me that it is not just above me but also beneath me, left and right. When I think about space, it expands from my mind, it is not just an image of a space/place but it is as if it can grow past the boundaries of my brain. So thinking about the universe, which is like thinking and imagining infinity, resulted in strange experiences in which I would completely lost myself. This is why I am fascinated by the universe. These experiences are some of the early memories that I remember very clearly.
And how come you shoot most of your work in black and white analogue film? What is it about this format that attracts you? 
I mainly work with black and white images. In my opinion, colour gives more information, whilst I prefer to try to reach the essence. I can work more intuitively and directly using an analogue camera instead of constantly checking my display in an attempt to catch the perfect moment. I am more in the moment itself and much more concentrated. I also like the process of developing my own films and I am now experimenting more in the dark room.
What are the main themes in your photography?
My main themes are nature and the human body. I see the human form as a vehicle of feeling and thought. I am not interested in the literal representation of a particular person, because to me the body stands for humanity as a whole. I like the form of the body and the soft skin. A naked body can be very sensual, but at the same time it shows vulnerability – this for me enhances the feeling of the ephemeral. Nature and sensuality are intuitively combined into fragile, intimate images.
My work is personal and intuitive. I do not make many “appointments” for shoots but just have my camera with me wherever I go. The little things, a form, a structure or a pose, for example, inspire me, or I can be inspired by how I feel, positive or negative, and I try to translate that into my images.
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What do you think about photography in the Instagram era? Do you use this social network? Do you think you could convey your message through cellphone photography?
I use Instagram, but I see it as my diary, I post images from my walks (as I love hiking in nature), from exhibitions or books that I like, my own work in progress and finished works all combined. But for me there is a distinction between my “real” images and my cellphone images: they were made with different intentions. Maybe if I only had my cellphone camera and used it with other intentions as I do now, I could work with it. But for now, I choose my analogue compact camera as my medium, as I like to have something real in my hands to work with.
What are you working on now? Do you always have projects in mind for the future or you start them as they come to mind?
In December/January, I had a duo exhibition with Camille Renee Devid in 44 Gallery, in Bruges. There I showed my latest series, Skin, which is about sensuality. Images of the body are combined with images of flowing water or forms in nature that remind us of parts of the body. What is hidden in one image is suggested in the other. I am still working on this series and I am planning to publish it.
I also had an exhibition in Ciap in Hasselt, Belgium, last month. I wanted to show the project Beyond Time.
It happens a lot that while I am working on a project ideas for something else come up. I see images in my archive that go well together and start to tell a story and that is how I start.
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