From June 22 to December 31, the photo exhibition “Girls with Pearls” can be admired in the Vermeer Center Delft. Photographer Carolien Sikkenk shows her modern interpretation of paintings by Johannes Vermeer. The girl with the pearl in 2019. What is the idea behind the exhibition? Where did Carolien find the models? And what about the boy with the pearl?
What is the underlying idea of Girls with Pearls?
Carolien: I wanted to look at today’s society with Vermeer’s gaze. Not in a critical way but in a surprising way. Vermeer’s paintings are more than three hundred years old. But we actually still have girls with a pearl. Only now in the present. The photos are a reflection of our current society. I have photographed people of all ages, cultures and genders.
For example, I also photographed a boy and a transgender with the pearl. It fascinated me that the light and attitude of Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl were so characteristic that you immediately thought of the famous painting. That’s why I thought it would be nice to have a boy in between. I noticed that it doesn’t matter how you dress your subject – it became increasingly crazier – but if someone is placed in the right lighting, you still get that “Vermeer mood”.
How did Girls with Pearls come about?
Carolien: That actually goes way back. During my studies I was already inspired by the old Dutch Masters, and especially Rembrandt and Vermeer. Light plays a crucial role in their work. Johannes Vermeer was always looking for the best composition for the perfect light.
The idea of making a modern translation here has been in my mind for a while. Since a few years I also do free work. My previous exhibition actually went so well that I couldn’t start yet with Girls with Pearls. But when I discovered that 2019 would be the year of the Golden Age, I immediately got started. This of course was the moment!
Once I started, I was completely preoccupied. For example, I was planning to photograph three girls with the pearl of Vermeer, but in the end there were thirty! Then I saw a boy with a trendy cap standing in the train and I thought: I should have that too. And it actually came out perfectly in terms of fashion trends, because the stores were full of ocher yellow garments last season. A color that is often used in Vermeer’s work.
How did you find the models?
Carolien: The people I photographed are not professional models. I found them everywhere: on the street, in the supermarket, in the train or via friends. I have also photographed a number of TU Delft students. And sometimes, just when I wasn’t looking for it, I suddenly came across the perfect person. For example, I was looking for someone with long blue hair. Well, you understand that you don’t just bump into that. I even paid a visit to Kinki hairdressers, because I thought they might know someone. Unfortunately they could not help me further… And then I suddenly saw her walking down the road! As if it had to be that way.
Many were made in Delft. I went to all kinds of places that have a link with Vermeer. I also searched the whole of Delft for the perfect facade or window. Everything to imitate Vermeer’s perfect light use.
What do you hope that visitors to the exhibition will say afterwards?
Carolien: I hope they leave with a smile on their faces through the modern translation of paintings to photographs. I have had so much fun in the entire process: from finding models to taking these shots. I hope visitors experience the same feeling.
The exhibition ‘Girls with Pearls’ can be admired from 22 June to 31 December in the Vermeer Center Delft. Have fun!
René van Dijk is the driving force behind and creator of the Blue Pearls of Delft and responsible for every issue. In daily life he is a cross-media designer at Pixlbar. Get to know more about Pixlbar