Fresh from his undergraduate studies at the acclaimed Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, this budding photographer expertly balances his own coming-of-age tale with that of fashion, honouring his past whilst provoking the future. Acknowledging the shrouded mystery of fashion but never wallowing in it, Martijn Mendel is framing spaces charged with intimacy and fantasy. It is in his clever, polished yet inherently raw stills that the worlds of documentary and fashion photography meet. And in that encounter, an intriguing visual language emerges in the often-stale market of fashion visuals. We got to know Martijn for our Modern Love issue.
How does your work relate to Modern Love?
My work is not so much about love, which is strange since I feel that almost everything I do evolves around love and sex. I’m such a romantic, wanting to understand other people’s conception of love. I’m especially fascinated by how the feeling of ‘love’ is still the same now as it was 200 years ago. But the rules of (modern) love are changing. For instance, my mother’s advice on love wouldn’t be as legitimate in our times, would it?
What does your work mean to you personally, and what does it in mean in a broader context?
I think the stories I tell through my work are really personal and come from true experiences, yet, they can still be universal, especially since everybody can interpret them in their own way. And that’s one thing I learned last year: you can tell people all sorts of things, but as soon as you tell them it’s a personal story, they all get quiet and listen. They will even relate to it in some way.
What informed your photographic interests and your overall aesthetic?
I think it all has to do with where I grew up. I’m from a small town in the south of The Netherlands. At my high school, we still had separate gym class for boys and girls. And you really had to join the local football club otherwise you were a bit strange. Instead, I went to the library and picked up magazines like i-D and saw boys who were just like me—except they were really cool. It invited me to be creative with who I was.
What are some of the themes that run through your work? What made you gravitate to these themes?
I think I work a lot with the theme ‘Coming of Age’, and I look for this nostalgic feeling of how it felt growing up. All these significant and particular moments that seemed so ordinary at the time, but now they tell something bigger.
What impact does fashion have on shaping our ideas of love? And what influence does the idea of fashion bare in your practice?
If I’ve learned one thing it’s that art can really transform lives. It did it with mine, and I’m not saying that my work is at that level. Yet, for me this is the goal. I think the only way I can distinguish myself is to really stay true to myself and keep telling my story. Especially in a world where everything has already been done, the only thing we can do is tell our story.
What was the last thing you found yourself curious about?
How we are all insecure about our bodies.