As a writer and photographer, I’ve developed a preference for relatively minor subjects that conceal bigger stories. Whether it concerns someone who has already bought and installed their coffin at home, or women who choose to wear a niqab: all of these choices say something about our human side.
They lift the veil on our defining moments. About how we choose to shape our lives, and the world around us. The long and short-term projects I design are intended to explore these and other subjects. My style is fluid; I choose the form that I think is best suited to the subject, without prejudice or assumptions and with a dash of humour if at all possible.
As I am Dutch, most of this website is written in Dutch. Having said this, I’d like to present four of my projects in English:
Until Death Do Us Part | Veiled | And the Waters Were a Wall | Faith to this Land of Mine
My great-aunt Annie did not survive WOII. She died in the Sobibor extermination camp. In my view, the part about her story that is even more touching, is that she had a boyfriend called Hans. They somehow managed to get married in Dutch transit camp Westerbork.
They were husband and wife for 36 days, until death parted their ways. When I first heard about that, I was speechless. How was that even possible? Getting married in a camp?
But it turns out they weren’t the only ones. Friederika married David. Kitty married Leo. Margot married Siegfried. Hundreds of people got married in Westerbork. And never before that part of history had been properly looked into.
When I started digging through the archives I found wedding photos, cards congratulating couples, wedding menues. And I started photographing the former camp site, over and over again, to try and somehow make sense of it all.
I have made a book about it with the aim of honouring the couples of the past and touching today’s readers: Tot de dood ons scheidt (‘Until Death Do Us Part’). See my webshop (Dutch only).
It’s one of the most controversial garments in the western world: the niqab, a veil that covers the entire face apart from the eyes. Laws banning the garment have already been introduced in several countries, and niqabi women who are still allowed to wear it meet a lot of hostility on the streets. Who are the women who choose to wear this piece of cloth, despite all the controversy? What do they find funny, beautiful? What is femininity to them? Would they differ much from me: a non-believing woman?
Driven by this curiosity I spent three years in the search for niqabi women. I photographed them the way I got to know them. Not as the ‘black box’ many people take them for, but as colourful individuals, for instance showing the garments they prefer to wear at home with their families. Gradually I also discovered how much these pictures told about myself. They reveal what had surprised me, and therefore undeniably, what my expectations had been.
* English language interview about Veiled at Lenscratch: http://lenscratch.com/2018/10/dutch-week-saskia-aukema/
As soon as my partner Richard Bank and I learned of the existence of an eruv in Amsterdam, we felt compelled to honour it, put it to good use. Delving more deeply into the subject, we were transfixed by the image of water that had always flowed freely through the landscape, suddenly taking on a deeper significance when rabbis reassigned the landscape. The people who lay down boundaries have been doing this for centuries: drawing imaginary lines on a map, which you cannot see on the ground.
The aim of this particular boundary was to allow the small orthodox Jewish community in Amsterdam to carry objects on the Sabbath, the day of rest. In line with the story in the Book of Exodus, when Moses parts the sea to rescue the Israelites, Jewish law says that water can serve as a boundary to demarcate an eruv.
We were moved by the time and effort that the rabbis had obviously put into creating this boundary, and the good will of the government bodies that had agreed to this highly unusual request.
As well as feeling admiration, we were also intrigued: a boundary steeped in ancient, but largely unknown, tradition – with all the fictive and practical elements this entails. Photographing a 75-kilometre boundary felt like a treasure hunt: if you bow your head and look over the edge of the Amsterdam quays, you see micro-landscapes emerging before your eyes. And the dark water appears to rise up to form a wall.
commissioned by the Amsterdam City Archives.
* Dedicated website (Dutch language only): https://enhetwaterwaseenmuur.nl/
King’s Day is a day of exuberant celebrations in the Netherlands: everyone wears orange, brass bands take to the streets and the beer taps work overtime. Since 1983, this Dutch festivity has also been organised in the Spanish coastal town of Benidorm, a popular abode for thousands of Dutch sunseekers. I went to see it for myself two years running.
(The expression ‘Faith to this land of mine’ (‘den vaderland getrouwe’) is a well-known line from the Dutch national Anthem.)
Saskia Aukema, Amsterdam | email@example.com | 0031 6 387 12551