Dutch artist, Arno Nollen, is a master in conveying the evocative in otherwise overlooked subjects, mainly women. His un-styled and mainly average models are portrayed through his sensitive lens not as objects, but as illustrations of the subtlety of feminine power that surrounds us in everyday life. The result is at once, uncomfortable, and seductive. Here, American model, Corrine Hatch talks with Arno about his viewpoints on capitalism and his favorite obsessions..
CORRINE HATCH: So you’re originally from the Netherlands is that correct?
ARNO NOLLEN: That’s correct, that’s very correct ….
CORRINE HATCH: At what age did you first become interested in photography?
ARNO NOLLEN: In ‘87
CORRINE HATCH: And how old were you in ‘87?
ARNO NOLLEN: In my 20’s… late 20’s to beginning 30’s
CORRINE HATCH: What sparked your interest?
ARNO NOLLEN: (sigh) … It’s so difficult…. I dunno…. I can’t say… [however] later on after something sparked my interest I became obsessed with American cinema from the 30’s to 40’s. This was the transition period from the silent movie to the movie with sound. That period. The period in which movies were recovering from having only one tool [which was] image. You know probably that some actors and actresses didn’t go along with the transition -they didn’t make it. John Gilbert was one big example. He didn’t make it. He was the star of the silver screen in the silent age, but he couldn’t come along; nobody believed him when he started talking. He disappeared. Can you imagine that? Did you hear about these stories?
CORRINE HATCH: Yeah. There were a lot of them, because they couldn’t communicate well verbally, or they didn’t have the right voice.
ARNO NOLLEN: Well, the silent movie was more or less theater. You have a decent set, you have a very strong, very tight, very disciplined… how do you say it… the way a play evolves on the stage, but also what theater is all about- because in a small space of only 500 or a 1,000 people, you have to use big gestures, and it was same in the silent movie, it was about gestures, it was about painting really. It was not about talking at all. So John Gilbert he was one of the biggest, but what they learned… I think that what American cinema was so strong about for me in that period, is that everything was perfect: the lighting, the clothing the setting. Everything was perfect, so if you wanted to make a star, you had the tools to make a star. The only thing you had to do was to find someone who would want to be made a star. That is what this culture is about. Hollywood culture. What I tried, and the funny thing is, many years later I was able to do so, mainly at the Costes Hotel, what I tried was to reinvent scenes. Just parts of scenes, and cast them as [well] as possible. It’s like maybe 6 frames of a second of film. Where you make six photos and what does a girl, or a man do in these couple of seconds. He brings his cigarette to his mouth. That means I have been busy with lights, and how people move and with how the viewer reads the image. The Americans did this fantastically [during that period.] One of the later films of the period is a Billy Wells film double ?, but you have many films, hundreds, maybe thousands, and maybe thousands of actresses and actors, who all disappeared, and in fact only maybe 5 that people can remember. But this is how I learned… where I learned to sharpen my eye from. I just am trying to use my best English to explain
CORRINE HATCH: Yes, I completely understand that you drew from early American cinema and your goal with your photography is to sort of create a story line.
ARNO NOLLEN: Well first it wasn’t how I felt about how to photograph or if I should photograph, I don’t know what that is but, as soon as I got into it, I was drawn to the transition period of American Cinema from silent movie to speaking movie, which really fascinates me. It really fascinates me. And of course there is so much America in our Culture. You have all the possibilities if you want to examine that or research that.
CORRINE HATCH: How do you feel that your culture differs from American culture would you say?
ARNO NOLLEN: Differs you say?
CORRINE HATCH: Yes. Differs from American culture?
ARNO NOLLEN: Well, people are humans here still.
CORRINE HATCH: You feel that you’re more human there?
ARNO NOLLEN: No not more, I say people are humans here, still… It seems that Americans are trained. They are trained, drilled to perform, that’s really what you get everywhere in America. We don’t know that, we don’t know that culture of yours. You’re a huge machine of Three hundred million people, one of the largest countries in the world and why is that? (laugh) because you perform. You go for it… you readily go for it, and of course many people because of that fight will suffer; not being able to pay for their house because someone else took their job; because they performed better. That’s your culture.
CORRINE HATCH: Do you feel art is able to thrive more in a [socialist] culture like yours?
ARNO NOLLEN: Your culture is the ultimate capitalist culture.
CORRINE HATCH: Do you feel that art thrives more in a culture that is more…organic… not as capitalist driven?
ARNO NOLLEN: I dunno, I love Tarantino, and I love Warhol, and I love, well I can go on for half an hour… They evolved from a culture in which competition is so immense, but Europe also brought many thousands of artists, which everyone celebrates so I really can’t say. What I don’t like about American culture is that there is so much focus on money. If you are in a Gallery, if your invited to be in a gallery in America, you [better have your three piece suit on] with… how do you call the how do you call the these things men wear… ties. That’s what I see happening. You’re a businessman. In America you’re a businessman as an artist, in Europe you’re still an artist. That’s pretty much all I can say about it. I think it’s about competition.
CORRINE HATCH: So you feel art is less competitive there? Maybe it is more about just the Aesthetic of art?
ARNO NOLLEN: It’s less commercial. Even as an artist with at first look, less qualities, you have the chance to crystallize to grow. And you will get a second chance and a third chance and a fourth chance, in America that’s …pfft… Second chances in America [are] a tough thing to get. This is the difference between our cultures. Your culture is capitalist all the way. You have to perform so even a gallery is a shop, a store: a supermarket, nothing else.
CORRINE HATCH: You said in ‘87 was when you became interested in your art form, were you in school during that time?
ARNO NOLLEN: I think I was on welfare in ‘87. I’m not sure. (laugh) I was traveling, I was working freelance. I don’t know how you call it in America, when you go into a company and they give you a job for a week or two weeks?
CORRINE HATCH: Yeah, Freelance.
ARNO NOLLEN: Freelance work. Yes o.k. I worked in bakeries, I went on holiday, no not on holiday, I went abroad, traveled, and then in ‘94 I started Rietveld academy of arts, in Amsterdam.
CORRINE HATCH: Did you ever work in film before photography?
ARNO NOLLEN: No…
CORRINE HATCH: So you just draw from [cinema’s aesthetic] with your photography?
ARNO NOLLEN: Well photography is film, film is photography. So if your connecting with the medium photography, you can’t deny your connecting to what is film also.
CORRINE HATCH: Absolutely. A lot of your works that you shoot seem to be of women, and generally a lot of works are nudes. Yes?
ARNO NOLLEN: No!
CORRINE HATCH: You don’t…
ARNO NOLLEN: Well, yes lots, but its only 2%
CORRINE HATCH: Really?
ARNO NOLLEN: Yes of course…
CORRINE HATCH: What is your favorite subject to shoot?
ARNO NOLLEN: I don’t have a subject I have an obsession.
CORRINE HATCH: How would you describe that obsession?
ARNO NOLLEN: That is difficult, maybe you should look at my photos. My tumblr blog.
CORRINE HATCH: I do, regularly in fact. I love your work.
ARNO NOLLEN: Well then you will find it is not so many nude women. Percentage wise.
CORRINE HATCH: Maybe it’s just that they are more what’s…
A: Maybe they attract you more, and you notice.
CORRINE HATCH: They’re more intense maybe?
ARNO NOLLEN: Yeah, that’s what I mean.
CORRINE HATCH: You had said during our correspondence that you didn’t want to be interviewed by a man, because you feel men tend to misperceive your work?
ARNO NOLLEN: Did you understand that or?
CORRINE HATCH: Well, from your viewpoint, why do you feel men misperceive your work, as compared to how women perceive it?
ARNO NOLLEN: I miss some words perhaps while talking, but I will try to explain. Men have a problem with their hormones. That’s all. Their hormones are too active, too often, most of the time. Women basically are socialists. They’re able to contemplate. I mean if your a lesbian you might be attracted to a nude girl, but still then you may be a more sensible partner in talk, in discussion then a man will be. You probably connect with that, you know what I’m talking about. I just want to talk about my work, I don’t want men saying they like my work and then find out that it’s really only about that specific tension. I guess that’s all it is. I get invitations for galleries and I try and find out what it really is about. In one Berlin gallery, in the end told me, “Yes but Arno I love your pleasure girls.” The one thing I wanted to do then was jump on a train and kill the guy, because this is not a compliment. This is putting a knife in my back. Pleasure girls. Do you know what it relates to?
CORRINE HATCH: Yes.
ARNO NOLLEN: Yeah, ok. But, it came out after many emails, many contacts, and finally he showed himself, calling my girls that I photograph “pleasure girls”. It’s sad. It’s sad. I don’t want it. It doesn’t help me. I want the reflection I get… it needs to be, in some way, an opening to a dialogue. To a… yeah to a dialogue, a discussion, whatever. It just makes me sad sometimes. It makes me sad sometimes, these men and their dicks. It’s not what it’s about to me.
CORRINE HATCH: What is it about to you?
ARNO NOLLEN: This, it is a difficult question. It is a question probably the viewer should answer. I think that challenge it is the viewer challenge. And anything I say about it… it will… that’s difficult Corinne. Probably in five minuets we could come back to it.
CORRINE HATCH: That’s ok, you can think about it. I think you’re saying that it is the viewer’s prerogative to analyze the work on his or her own. It’s fair.
ARNO NOLLEN: Exactly
CORRINE HATCH: Personally, I find your photographs to be very emotive, and your ability to capture that emotion is what I like about your work.
ARNO NOLLEN: Yeah, well it’s about communicating. I never photograph, never work with models. This Costes thing was different because it was a commercial assignment, which never happened to me before. Also, the New York Times’ series were friends of mine. In Paris [for Costes] they told me all these waitresses, we can ask them, they’re all beautiful… and so many times it’s difficult to find. Me I have to be able to paint, I have to be able to build, and that building of an image comes only when I can build on something with the one I work with. Only in that contact, the building of an image is possible as people come closer, that’s what made it very difficult for me to do [the Costes] project. I never did it before. It was my first commercial assignment. So then we decided to run into model agencies, we met you for example.
CORRINE HATCH: Did you find the [Costes] project more difficult because of that?
ARNO NOLLEN: Well they gave me a lot of freedom, and a lot time, so in the end it all worked out. Did you see the book?
CORRINE HATCH: I haven’t seen the full book yet. I’ve seen sections of it. I was speaking to Maria, umm Masha, a girl from my agency you shot as well for the book, she said you told her when the book came out where we could go to see it, but we couldn’t find it here in New York
ARNO NOLLEN: Yes Click store wanted to buy it but the transport costs were too much for them. I don’t believe it but she [the buyer] is very fine, she’s very delicate so I think she didn’t like the book, but no problem.
CORRINE HATCH: How do you feel your art has changed over time?
ARNO NOLLEN: I think it’s still the same.
CORRINE HATCH: you think it’s still the same? You feel you still focus on the same …
ARNO NOLLEN: I’m still researching. I don’t for example do projects. That’s not something I know. I photograph if I see something, if I find something I want to put my finger on I create a context for it to be able to come alive, because without a context a photo is just a lousy stereotype. You can either like it or not like it, and that’s all, you can’t imagine a story. So with a context you create a story, and with a story you give your viewer the possibility to imagine. That’s what I do. So something touches me, for example a building, and after I photograph that building, I try to make a story, find a context, what happens around a building how is it related to the culture, to the history to the people around it, how are people related to it, whatever. I make short Novellas, or longer even…
CORRINE HATCH: I’ve seen a few of your Novella’s you sent me a few and you have them on your Tumblr account. They’re beautiful.
ARNO NOLLEN: Female, you saw a couple of my female Novella’s.
CORRINE HATCH: When did you start? Have you always done the Novella’s or is that something you recently started?
ARNO NOLLEN: I did it always. Books, Yes. You talk about socialism and capitalism and your kind of capitalism, which is of course infiltrated by Christians since Reagan came to power and all the Christians were able to be reborn. You have something like national television right?
CORRINE HATCH: Yes.
ARNO NOLLEN: Well, we in Europe have on our national, we have on Belgian national television some kind of porn movie, but it’s an art movie… I mean it’s a porn movie, because everything is visible, but it’s nice. It’s a movie with emotions. So it’s layers, and there is a nuance there. In America there is no… As soon as there is nudity, you can’t show it, whatever, however you want to show it, you can’t. You can’t show it. That’s the big difference. In that sense we are socialists, all though we are pretty much getting to be capitalists because we need America. Because everyone thinks we need money. Everyone thinks we need companies to rule us. I’m a communist at heart. Not a follower of Stalin or Lennon, but I think everyone should be the same, and have all the possibilities they can get. If you take away money, you don’t have problems. The only problem is who is going to direct it. That’s when it goes wrong because the one who is leading the entire bunch will be corrupted by his power.
There are some facts in life that are indisputable: the earth rotates around the sun, the heart supplies the human body with blood, and NJ Governor Chris Christie won’t talk about the fate of Twinkies. The Republican politician who is known for his caustic wit as much as he is for his wily ruling fist, is a rare advocate on the conservative team for climate change, “it’s real and it’s a problem,” he said in 2011. Now almost two years later, even after the destruction that Hurricane Sandy in November 2012 incurred in his state, Christie still stands out as a lone voice amongst his party on the issue. If the deadliest and largest weather event to ever hit The United State’s Eastern seaboard can’t rally support from Christie’s fellow Republicans, many are left to ask what will? “There are a lot of public climate deniers who are actually closeted climate accepters, like Republican politicians who are afraid to lose votes,” says Kelly Matheson of WITNESS, the non-profit started by musician Peter Gabriel in 1992 that creates video campaigns to bring awareness to human rights issues. The organization devised its TRUST campaign to combat the issue by video-taping children’s personal experiences with climate change that are then submitted to their state judicial system to reform environmental policy. Matheson bluntly states, “Kids get climate change because they’re not caught up in the economics and politics of it.” So why then is climate-change a topic still widely dismissed and labeled anti-status quo, anti-capitalist and anti-American?
Matthew Modine, whose fame originated from the movies but who works now primarily as an environmental activist, suggests that a source of the issue lays in comfort zones. “People are more concerned about how they are going to pay their bills than protecting our earthly home. I don’t blame them. Today, we are feeling the effects of the birth of the industrial revolution in the 18th century,” counsels Modine, the self-identified, ‘card carrying liberal’ who has started such initiatives as Bicycle For a Day –a non-profit promoting the environmental and health benefits of commuting by bikes, and Do-One, a video-based awareness organization. “We are continuing to pollute the same way we did 200 years ago, but now there are billions of more people on the planet,” he explains.
The realities of climate change are simple — and yet often ignored. “It’s inarguable,” says Matheson. “The federal government understands climate change and it promised a climate plan 25 years ago and we’re still waiting,” she continues. “Even I’ve stopped trying to argue about the facts of global warming and climate change,” Modine chimes in. Yet, despite scientific evidence and common anecdotal experience, there remains apathy and even contempt on the veracity of climate change’s viable threat. Just take the extreme weather patterns we experience every day. Weather, after all, is how most people interact with nature in a post-industrialized world. Somehow, ‘If it still snows in January and the sun shines in July, climate change isn’t real’, most US conservatives state to justify climate change is bunk. “Many of the scientists are reticent to popularize their information for fear that the full breadth of their research with not be kept intact or they will be attacked for irresponsibly tweaking the story in engaging the general public,” says Sarah DuPont, President and Co-Founder Amazon Aid Foundation and the Co-Producer (along with international award-winning curator James Cavello) of Amazon Gold, a soon-to-be released documentary about the illegal mining of gold in the Amazon basin that has lead to the unraveling of the rainforest. She adds, “With the push for our earth’s dwindling natural resources and the big money associated with extracting these assets, understanding the implications of climate change and the loss of biodiversity can be difficult and isolating and often sad to witness.”
Quantifying the cost of climate change is an important part of comprehending it. Global nations shelled out enormous amounts of money recovering from weather events in 2011 and 2012. According to the NY Times, Hurricane Sandy has cost $72 billion in New York and New Jersey and the costs keep rising. In 2011, Floods in Thailand and Australia cost $45 billion and $30 billion respectively, the recent super tornadoes cost the US $20 billion and a drought followed by a flood in China cost that nation $13.6 billion. But inspiring people to action relies on events resonating on the personal level and, “People have to experience things in order to really get them,” says Yvette Alberdingk Thijm, WITNESS’s executive director. “Everybody knows that there’s a right to life and safety but you only really understand what that means if your house is being washed away.” Unfortunately, the global effect of climate change is indeed being felt in a personal way. 800 people died in central and eastern Europe from the arctic cold wave in late January and February of 2012, Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines claimed 1,300 lives, and the unprecedented Super storm Sandy took 131 souls away from the planet. These are just the top widely publicized weather events that represent a single facet of climate change.
“Much of the information regarding climate change is multilayered and complex”, notes DuPont, “It is difficult to deliver the content in a manner that keeps the integrity of the subject and science intact while distilling it so others can understand the topic.” While the problem includes a broad scope, interestingly scientists, activists and policy makers agree: it’s solution starts with a single molecule. Carbon.
“About 17% of all carbon emissions come from deforestation. It’s quantifiable,” advises Nina Katcheva, a consultant of stakeholder engagement for the United Nations REDD, an acronym standing for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and changes in land use are the single-most destructive component in climate change. WITNESS released a study on “top international climate experts who have developed scientific prescriptions for how to avoid a climate catastrophe: by reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by 2100.” The knowledge about carbon’s effect on the planet is not hidden in CIA files or clandestine scientific laboratories; simply go to the Environmental Protection