This series of twelve images reads like a documentation of an experience in a bustling city, in particular the tendency towards the ‘theatre of life’– we are asked to look at small, everyday moments which are so easily overlooked or forgotten, and instead pay attention to them and imbue them with the significance of their role in the bigger picture.
There is a good mixture in this edit of zooming in and out of individuals’ personal space; in particular image #4 really helps hold the work together because it gets you right into the woman’s space, and otherwise it might appear too distant and removed from what’s happening. The post-processing sometimes feels too overcooked, in the sense that I perceive the post-processing before I can even make out what’s happening in the image – for example, this is most noticeable and distracting for me in images #5 and #8. While there is nothing wrong with the decision for post-processing overall, it should ideally serve the intention behind the work, rather than serve as a crutch to try to hold it up. I see echoes here, because of the processing, of Bruce Gilden’s work (especially #4) or Jacob Aue Sobol, but then the little touch of romance thrown in with #11 reminds me of Elliott Erwitt. It’s nice to see these echoes, but then I also ask myself: what is it that Saskia Jans actually sees? What’s her individual mark, her personal vision of the world which nobody else could possibly show me?
Because I have this question in mind, I would mention something from the personal statement: “I aim to expose people’s real as well as constructed selves, the underlying emotions and basic drives behind their behavior”. This is a fascinating ambition, but I don’t see it represented in the images. The problem, if I can be so bold, is that such an ambition has incredible depth, and is nearly impossible to achieve by encountering fleeting moments on the street. This probably resulted in a frustrated experience, in wanting to achieve something, and being unable to do so with the circumstances at hand.
So, as I look at the images and I read the statement, I wonder which is more authentic to Saskia’s goal: the images, or the words? Depending on which, I would propose different ways forward.
If she would like to delve deeper into the style of images which she produced, then I would suggest writing a new ambition/statement of purpose; and chase these moments of daily theatre with a greater ferocity: too many images reveal her ‘fear’ of the people she’s portraying, they show her willing to capture her subject when they are turned away, or from behind or from the side, essentially when it’s ‘safe’. She shows too much hesitation in chasing her subjects and injecting herself into their worlds in order to capture the decisive moment.
On the other hand, if her words are more true to her ambition, which I suspect they are, because there is more passion revealed there, then I would suggest using the street only as a first sketchbook, in order to attach to something or someone, and then diving deep as quickly as possible. Follow someone, talk to someone. The depth of revealing someone’s true self or underlying emotions involves spending time – not with the city, but with the subject. Or, if you want to use the city space to express underlying emotions, maybe you can take inspiration from artists like Edward Hopper who create deeply psychological spaces (there are a couple of photographers working now to create photographic interpretations of Hopper’s paintings, like Richard Tuschman, and they’re obviously posed/staged imagery).
I don’t think it’s appropriate to take the workshop images too literally as representative of Saskia’s artistic output, but rather, as an indication of the way she ‘sees’ and approaches work, in order to achieve her ambitions overall. Exploring human nature is a big topic, really too big to even hold in one individual’s mind all at once, so what I see is Saskia walking around the city asking, “Is this it?”, “Is this?”, “Does this explain it to me?” And this is completely fine – I think anyone who is taking on such a big topic first has to explore a bit, to find what feels most true. The risk of course, is to think that this is a question which can actually be answered or solved, and to lock oneself into the (impossible) task of finding a bulletproof answer. But to take on a big question means having the courage to go deep. So, if it is Saskia’s passion to pursue the depth of a big question, work first on overcoming the fear of failure to answer the big question. Look at it fearlessly.