Simone Bennett - Still Film
Still Film by Mirthe Berentsen
I’m not sure if I’m allowed in.
Am I interrupting?
Is he homeless?
Did they just have sex?
Were they in a fight?
Is she drunk?
What’s his plan?
A frozen moment in time where all seems possible as everything is yet to happen and nothing is lost to the past. What happened, and what is about to happen? While looking at the images I think about all the possible narratives, and depending on my mood I can see fear, hope, cruelty or kindness in every image. Artist Simone Bennett (1978, Netherlands) does not avoid the confusion; she likes it when the viewer is caught off guard. She says, “In my work I try to stage a very clear story, but one that is still open to interpretations. So it's directing people to really look and make up their own story. It's a fictionalized portrait of someone and I build that into my story, with a specific set and location and certain objects that I really want to be in the picture and I photograph these people in that story.”
Bennett is best known for her films and staged photography. In her work she wants to spark a dialogue about the disruption of everyday life. “When I used to visit my grandmother in the council estate where she lived, you could always hear the neighbours. You could fill in the blanks with your imagination, but you never really knew what was happening in the other flats”. Revealing the possibilities beneath the surface, behind the walls, is what Bennett captures in her dreamlike, cinematically staged images. Within documentation and setting she questions reality as we understand it. What do we fear in the unknown? What happens behind the front doors, windows, walls, where we can hear our neighbours but can’t see them?
Bennett started out as a film-maker and studied at the renowned Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. She states “I was mainly making films but after a while I found that I could make film-scenes into photography and that was a real eye-opener.” By deconstructing a film into one single image she is able to direct the eye of the viewer instead of the film. As she is leaving the viewer to imagine the details of the story taking place amidst the photos' perfect cinematographic atmosphere. “The way I can tell my stories is so similar to filming a scene, I want to evoke the feeling that you have something that happened before and after the photograph. Therefor I also don't want to make a distinction between film and photography, it’s the same kind of storytelling and a way of expressing myself.”
The photos could be proposals for a cinéma vérité film. It is clear that the people in the photos are not professional actors, but that they take their role in Bennett’s story very seriously. “For me it's very important to have the staged element in the works. The staged reality is like a documentation of time.” Bennett creates her compositions with a unique balance: the photographic realism is both natural and artificial. Her work fits into a long tradition of conceptual artists that work in film and photography. Referencing in style of artists such as Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson, Lynne Ramsay, Steve McQueen and Andrea Arnold. “I never felt the need to conform to a set label such as that of ‘photographer’, as for me there is no such line in my artistic work. It is purely about the story.”
Bennett had an idea for a work about spying on your children to keep them in an imaginary form of control; as for some parents, letting go of their children is so hard that it seems almost impossible. Without telling a story from beginning to end, she created a set in a hotel room for ‘The Parents’ (2017). She borrowed some surveillance equipment from a spy-shop that allows you to secretly listen in on people’s conversations, but it was so big and bulky, she could not believe that anyone would actually use it. She elaborates, “I love that sort of ridiculous humour. I have always had a fascination with detective work, and it’s interesting that now, somehow it has found it’s way into the photos.”
Some of Bennett’s works are very personal, such as the picture of a young boy holding hands with a girl in a carpark. The girl is her daughter. “I had an idea in mind for this picture and one day I passed this park and knew that was the place for the scene.
For me the picture resembles the uncertainties we face in life. At this point you are still standing in front of whatever life throws at you and there is so much beauty in the unknown future. The two young friends look unsure, but are there for each other, hand in hand.”
Or the picture of her father, based on the famous painting ‘Standing Nude’ from Dutch painter and poet Karel Appel. “My father is also an artist and I wanted to create something about his work ethic and his way of working. Sometimes people don’t see the hard work that goes into art, and I want to show that; the labor and craftsmanship. I photographed him like he had appeared in a dream I had; down to the clothes he is wearing and the position of his arms. That image is an ode to my father.”
In her work Bennett is attentive to daily encounters and situations that can inspire a particular image. It could be a meeting on the street, a dream, or an encounter with a person or painting. Bennett goes to great lengths to produce the picture and with her background in cinematography the staging element comes natural. Educated as a filmmaker the cinematography is omnipresent in her work. Bennett uses the actors and the dramatic staging to create large-scale images where she exposes disorganization and fear in a suggestive way with a lot of attention for details.
There is a classical calm in both the picture and the composition. But within the staged precision something is at odds. It is hard to pinpoint it down, but the stillness in the images have a slight element of horror, of fear. The stark light and dark contrasts enhances this feeling further. “It is something that seems to come back in all of my work. The moments where someone is for instance stuck or can't communicate or is locked within themselves. I think my handwriting is quiet dark sometimes and I use a lot of dark colours, but within the darkness there is always a sense of hope or a hint of change underneath. Somehow all the pictures have either flowers, sun/bright yellow or bright carpets or wallpaper. For example, the picture of the man sleeping on his couch is for me a very hopeful image. He is an artist and while I was photographing him, he slowly pushed his drawing into the frame while looking up into the sun. That was just beautiful!”
The pictures have a sense of impending motion and imminent interruption. A leg is about to move, a curtain to flutter or leaves to fall. It is the unveiling of movement and the examination of the moment all happening at the same time. “For me the pictures are a sequence of people all singing their own song. But they are locked, locked inside of themselves in that moment”. Bennett’s portraits are a moment caught in time; if it was a movie then it would be the moment in which everything comes together. Locked in are the characters, both in the light and in the story; they are waiting for the camera to zoom out, the surroundings to become visible and the music to swell. It is this zooming into life, into a moment which brings the subject closer to the viewer, and you are subtly drawn into the scene. There is nowhere else to look but to get immersed in the story, the person and your own imagination.
Is she sad?
Where is he from?
Why are they so sad?
>Wait, why am I making that assumption?<
Did she lost everything?
Did he made that himself?
What is she holding?
Is this the end?