Her Instagram bio says it all, “Not for everyone.” Amsterdam based Photographer and videographer Lara Verheijden is for the bold and unapologetic. Her iconic nude photography has pioneered the intimate and obscure aesthetic of photography. Her works explore the natural beauty of bodies and of the very things that make us human. She is well known for her nude calendar series that transforms the mundane household object into a personal piece of art. In tandem, Verheijden is a distinctive videographer, filming shorts such as the celebrated Coco about her childhood friend in the week that leads to the birth of her second child. Her nude calendar is available to order.
How did you get into taking nude portraits? Do you remember the first time you took a nude portrait and how did this propel your career in regard to this photography style?
I think I started this a long time ago, even before I was taking the kind of photos I am taking now. Because I had already been taking photos of myself and my friends since secondary school. Back then it was more in a myspace photo-album kind of way, documenting what we were doing and putting it online. Anyway, it was 2009 or 2010 and I was traveling through Europe with my friend Coco (the same from the movie), we were 19 and we would hitchhike and go to rainbow gatherings and then on this holiday I took a lot of nude photos of her.
That year I had started dating an artist who would take nude photos of me, he made me realise photography could be more serious than just for photo albums online. He encouraged me to continue and gave me an old lens of his. I bought an analogue camera during that holiday. I just added a ‘nudity’ part to the ‘adventures of me and my friends’ part. But it was not until 7 or 8 years later that I started taking nude photos closer to the way I am doing now. By this time I stopped using my analogue camera. Actually when we started with the first edition of ‘The Amsterdam Nude Calendar’ (in 2018) it was the first time that I shot a lot of different kinds of people nude. Before that it really had been mostly myself or my friends, and maybe once my muse Sofie.
In your Instagram bio it says, “Not for everyone”, what does this mean to you and how does your work challenge societal norms?
This just means quite literally ‘not for everyone’. I know that what I do won’t be liked by every person out there. I’ve always had a bit of an issue when people treat art as a consumer or feel like they can demand things from me as an artist. I don’t really have a societal agenda and prefer to not worry about what people want too much and focus on what I like and on the people who like the same as I do.
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You have photographed a wide array of models who were comfortable enough to pose nude and be vulnerable in your presence. How do you establish a safe space with the models you work with?
Well, for the last couple of years I have tried to strictly work with a casting call. So I let people know I am looking for people to pose nude for (for example) the nude calendar project and people can respond to me, via instagram. So I almost never want to ask someone specific, because that brings another dimension to it. Once people apply themselves I know that they know what they want and what they are applying for. They have seen my work and they already trust that aspect of it.
For these kind of photos I think that’s a nice way of starting to work together. When people write to me on instagram I can also check out their profile and try to see if I think we’re a good match. Also during my shoots I am always with my stylist and work partner Mark Stadman and usually no one else, so we are a very small team. Me and Mark have known each other for a long time and have worked together now for almost 8 years as well. He’s very sweet and sociable and we are relaxed together, which also helps a lot for the vibe on the shoot.
Unlike some photographers, you also model. What is it like to be on the other end of your craft, do you prefer photography or modeling more or do they go hand in hand? 
I like to model as well, especially the social aspect of working with another photographer is very fun for me. Because it’s usually with other artists, or people that I know, since I’ve never been a commercial model. Also it’s very nice to have beautiful pictures of yourself of course.
But I definitely prefer to be the photographer. Because when I shoot, I feel like I know what I am doing, I know better how to be good at it I think. Therefore I get way more out of it.
Your nude calendar comes out the end of this month, how was the process of putting this project together and what do you hope people will take from this project?
It was very special and a lot of fun. We shot it this past summer and spent 5 weeks in Berlin for this, we stayed in a house in Kreutzberg and some of my friends and muses that I work with a lot came over as well to visit us for a few days. We did about 17 shoots with different people we casted in Berlin via Instagram.It was our second edition of ‘the Berlin Nude Calendar’ and already our fifth edition of ‘the Nude Calendar Project’ (3 years of Amsterdam, before that) so it really feels like we keep getting better and more efficient. It’s not that I want to teach people something with this project, I just hope to make work they can enjoy and that inspires them. The only thing I can hope for is that everyone keeps an open mind. Something that I do like for the long term: is the idea of nude calendars in different cities and times, so after a few years we get a beautiful time document of a city and its people.
Do you have a project or picture you have taken that has influenced your career the most? If so, how, and what makes it memorable?
I don’t know if it’s that specific. I have a few photographers that have influenced me a lot such as Jurgen Teller, Rineke Dijksra, Helmut Newton and Boris Mikhailov. But that list is actually way longer. I think I can really take something from every photographer that I admire, even though it’s very different from what I do.
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You have done a lot of exhibition work, what is it like to have your art viewed by others in a public space. Do you think this changes the way people interact with your work?
I really love that. I don't know if every artist does, but I really enjoy seeing people's reaction to the work. And also I like talking with them about it or hearing what their favourite photo is and why. Everyone usually has a different reason for liking a work, and it’s interesting to me what those are.
In a similar manner the calendars you produce are works that people interact with daily. What is the significance of pairing your eye-catching work with a mundane daily object such as a calendar?
Good question. That has indeed been a very important aspect of the Nude Calendar Project. Because it’s such a mundane object, it’s really something a lot of people can buy and can actually hang in their house (toilet or kitchen!) and look at it everyday.
I personally feel like this is such a good way to enjoy portraits and portraits of people. It’s like a frame on the wall that you change every month and you can have all your thoughts on it, for 30 days long and then there’s a new one to look at and think about. Not a lot of people would buy a photo print or something, but a calendar is somehow something that is way easier to access and to use. And for me it doesn't matter in what way or shape people look at the photos and the people on them I [just] find [them] worth looking at!
Could you speak to the short docu film Coco? What was it like to make this film and what is it like to dabble in different forms of media when creating projects?
Coco is a short documentary about a childhood friend of mine Coco in the week that leads to the birth of her second child. We talk about her being pregnant, mixed feelings about motherhood and about girly stuff like her boyfriend, her body and sex. The film gives a good insight in our friendship and I think that’s what a lot of people really enjoyed about the film. Also Coco is very honest and funny in a way that is quite special and makes her a very interesting main character of a documentary. It’s not hard for me to dabble with different forms of media. I guess it feels more the same than it feels different. I feel like this film is an extended portrait of Coco. I really enjoy filming and editing a lot. But it’s true that it’s a lot more work, time wise, and also with documentary a subject really has to come to me and that doesn't happen as often as it does with photography. I would like to do more with film and documentary in the future. But all in it’s own time!
What do you hope to accomplish soon, are there any projects or ideas that you have been hoping to get started?
 I would really love to add more cities to the Nude Calendar Project. Tokyo or Seoul or maybe a state in the USA, like Texas or something. Also Paris has been somewhat of a dream of mine.
Then film-wise: currently I am still in the editing process of a new documentary I shot in Pattaya (Thailand) 2 years ago with my boyfriend. It’s a large project, but really promising as well I think. I would love to finish that, but in 2.5 months our (firstborn) son will be born, so I think that will also bring a whole new dimension to everything work-related!
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