Persona September, 8th 2022 by

World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 380 - Wieneke de Leeuw

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World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 380 – Wieneke de Leeuw
In a recent exhibition at Sandvoort Gallery in The Hague I saw special photos by a number of photographers. Among other things, intriguing flower photos in blue and brown. They were still lifes.
It looked like the cyanotypes I had seen before. But it wasn’t, I hear when I visit its maker, Wieneke de Leeuw, in Woudenberg. They are chemigrams, a unique process developed by de Leeuw for printing photos.

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The atmosphere of old herbaria
“There are elements of ‘Cyano-type’ and ‘Lumen’ in it, but I’ve thought it out further,” says Wieneke de Leeuw. It is a process of hours. It starts with collecting the flowers in the field. Then they are treated, a number of leaves are cut off, pieces of stem are cut. Then laid out in a certain way on analog photo paper. Then it is put between two heavy glass plates – briefly – in the sun, then again in the shade. In between, liquids are regularly added, which can evaporate. The result is enchanting.

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The structures in the photos refer to stains on the pages of ancient herbaria. This creates a warm authentic atmosphere. Wieneke de Leeuw is fond of plants and nature. “I was always busy with flowers. As a five-year-old I walked in the woods, in Twente, with the dog. I used to make a lot of herbaria. In the corona time there was room to continue with my plant projects.”

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The search for the lapwing flower
Her biggest project is the search for the Wild Lapwingflower, a bulbous plant from the lily family. It has purple checkered petals. She cycled to the areas where the flower blooms in the Netherlands, the IJsseldelta near Zwolle, and made an inventory of everything that grows in the vicinity of the flower. She interviewed and portrayed forest rangers, conservationists and others.

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How did this flower actually end up in the Netherlands, she wondered. She delved into history and found out that the flower may have come here from Afghanistan via Constantinople and Vienna.

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She spoke to scientists who were concerned with flower still lifes from the 17th century. The old Hortularis of the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden showed her in an old drawing that as early as 1594 lapwing flowers could be found in a flower bed. “I was born in Leiden myself, that rounded the circle nicely.”
“However, in counts between 1600 – 1900 in the Netherlands, the Wild Lapwing Flower does not occur. But the flower was there in the Leiden Hortus.”

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Sudden deafness
After a three-year study at the Fotovakschool in Rotterdam, Wieneke graduated on flower still lifes in chemigrams. This entire development, from the search for the lapwing flower to graduation at the Fotovakschool, would not have taken place if Wieneke had not suffered an exceptional incident in 2017. She became ‘sudden deaf’ on both sides.
That had a huge impact. “I could no longer do my job as an art therapist.” I can still talk to her because she has heavy hearing aids. It also helps that I have a low voice. “I had to take a new path. What am I going to do? I decided to do a basic photography course in Hilversum, followed by Photographic Design in Rotterdam. Of course I had communication problems. That is why I got a ‘writing interpreter’ through the UWV. Thanks to those interpreters, I was able to complete the training.”

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Quests in the personal sphere
She has not only undertaken a quest for the lapwing flower, but also other quests in the personal sphere. For example, her mother – with whom she had a good relationship – told a lot about the war just before her death. She did that on the basis of photos that were in the closet. Wieneke has made a new photo story of it. All those stories are about intimacy and awareness processes. Intimacy is her theme, she says. It is also there in her photo series ‘Shan Shui’. Just before Corona, she was in China and experienced the dense fog in the mountains, which can linger for months. “Fog gives me a different feeling, it covers the landscape and muffles the hearing.” She wanted to translate these feelings and did this by translating Chinese painting (Shan Shui) into Dutch landscapes. For this she took photos in the fog in the Soest dunes, with the characteristic flat Scots pine tree.

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Craftsmanship is important to her. “Working with materials is more relaxed for me than behind the computer. A camera remains a device with which you do tricks.” She shows ‘Herbarium II’, a project made for the Textile Festival in the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden. The reason was the cuttings on shelves in greenhouses. She embroidered plants from the Hortus and made prints of them with cyanotype on wooden planks, which she placed on racks. She got surprising reactions. She made a ‘feeling book’ of the embroidery especially for the blind and partially sighted. She is working on a book about her search for the Wild Lapwingflower and is investigating whether her floral works can be made into wall hangings in Belgium. “Enough dreams.”

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Finally, what is her philosophy? Wieneke: “My main motivation is curiosity. I like to look at things with fresh eyes, so that you look at it from a different angle. Experimentation and further development is the most important. Sometimes it doesn’t work right away, but then I continue until the image feels right. ‘It should be possible’, I think at that moment.” 

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