Everything that is dear to me is on Vlieland. The nature, my friends, my camera.
Interview with David van Dartel
The wind seems to have taken the silence and beauty of the Dutch island of Vlieland to Amsterdam. The Amstel river flows like a calm North Sea today. It’s a sight that might ring familiar to David when he photographs on the West Frisian island. Nevertheless, he is impressed by the view from the Nicemakers Suite at Hotel De L’Europe.
Even though we are nearing the release of his first book on March 15th, 2021, David van Dartel (25) still isn’t used to the international recognition he receives for his work. Photographing is something he “just started doing,” he says. It’s not a regular vacancy he applied for. But ever since he is represented by ElliotHalls Gallery, his name and sales have surged immensely.
David’s book, This Time Tomorrow, is made with almost the same serendipity that made him a photographer. From the first moment we met we were determined that this book had to be made. David’s work feels like a frozen moment of past times. One in which the silence, vulnerability and intimacy of nature and his friends can pull you out of the lockdown and into the beauty of nature. Seeing his images makes you feel as if you are the camera. As if you were always there as one of his best friends.
‘We just go across the island without really knowing what we’ll meet.’
Published and designed by MENDO, This Time Tomorrow almost feels unctuous for the time we’re living in. However, that is not what it was meant for. From a young age, while visiting with his parents and two brothers, David has been photographing on Vlieland. He met friends or brought them, accompanied by his camera from the age of fourteen. The title of the book refers to the sense of freedom he experiences on the island, inspired by the song from the Kinks: This Time Tomorrow. David: “We just go across the island without really knowing what we’ll meet. What we know is where the island ends. That’s what I want to photograph: the island and my friends.”
“The friendship is there, and that’s what I capture. It’s the vulnerability of my friends in the nature. We walk through the dunes, on the beach. We’re swimming. We’re not really looking for anything specific. We don’t have a theme in mind. We’re just there.” “I can do what I do because of the relationship I have with my friends. It’s not about the bodies or nudes, it’s about the total image. I believe clothes can be distracting.”
“I don’t think I’m capable of photographing women. It’s completely different from what I do. I prefer to photograph friends that I know well. I don’t need to have a particular thought to do so, except for maybe that total image. My friends in Vlieland’s nature.”
There is one face that keeps coming back in David’s images. A face that belongs to his friend Sil. Perhaps a male muse? What makes him so special? “We actually never really talk about that, the photography is just part of our friendship, but maybe you could call him my male muse. Sil has a beautiful face, and I simply want a beautiful photo. He has a very natural aura which makes it so nice to take photos of him. He belongs to Vlieland. The waves hug him. He is Vlieland.”
Sil and David’s friendship goes back for almost ten years. “The first photo I took of him was when I was sixteen years old. He was floating in the North Sea, still one of my favorite photos. He has something that works for me. I don’t have to give him instructions. He moves naturally the way I want it. When I’m photographing my friends, I just let them be. Especially when we’re at sea, because I’m usually too busy with myself and the camera. But because I know my friends so well, I don’t have to direct them. I see more than just a person, which makes the images better for me.”
'The friendship is there, and that’s what I capture.'
'The friendship is there, and that’s what I capture.'
David’s work is often interpreted in very different ways, but he doesn’t photograph with a viewer in mind. Is it erotic? Calm? Nature?
“I primarily make photos for myself, but of course I like that people appreciate my work. It inspires me to continue with what I do.” In contrast with his photos, the book does have a specific purpose for David: “I see it as a legacy of our friendship. It’s something tangible. Some people have tattoos to celebrate a friendship, this is my way of doing that. One day we’ll be able to look back on this, with this. That’s also why I want to keep doing this forever.”
During the course of our conversation, I can’t help but notice an apologetic tone in his voice. “Because it all seems so untroubled. Everything is and has been very enjoyable. Raised by nice parents, college, first steps as a photographer, exhibition, and now the book. It has been quite carefree.” That doesn’t mean that it all happened naturally though. Whether he does it on purpose or not, David does set goals for himself that he insists on achieving. He was the one who approached MENDO with a modest but dedicated tone. “My work deserves it. I am ready. So how do we make a book that will make us both happy?” The result is here now: This Time Tomorrow.
David van Dartel
About the book
David van Dartel and MENDO present: This Time Tomorrow, a visual portrait from David van Dartel reflecting his life with his friends in the beautiful nature of the Dutch island Vlieland.
This Time Tomorrow also comes in two art editions that are numbered 1-35 and 36-70. The Art Editions include a copy of the book, a numbered and signed 20 x 25 cm fine art print from the book and a tote bag. Shop the limited Art Edition A here and Art Edition B here.
Sources of Inspration
The photographer Ryan McGinley is a big inspiration for David. “His work breathes freedom, and it’s because of him that I started photographing people with less clothes. Clothing can make a mundane image fashion. So when you take away the clothes, you also lose the distraction. It’s not in a sexual or fully naked way. It’s about freedom. Completely naked also distracts. And we never walk naked on Vlieland anyway.
“Music is my main inspiration source. I listen to songs over and over again trying to find out what musicians mean with their lyrics, and how I can turn them into images. I’ve been listening to Ben Howard’s second album lately. Wondering what he means, how I can interpret his lyrics and turn them into images. That’s how most of my ideas start.”
Besides Ben Howard, David is often inspired by the lyrics from Bon Iver, Paul Weller, John Martyn and Kings of Convenience. When he just started, he even took pictures while wearing headphones. “Now, when we’re on Vlieland, we always listen to Madness by Muse. I’m not a Muse fan at all, but that song has become a standard for us.
Sil (26) confirms that he and David never talk about the photography and his role in it. In regards to being David’s “muse” he says: “That’s not how I experience it. To me the photography reflects our interest in and love for the island. The camera is just an extra friend that takes us there. Wherever we go, it’s being captured. That makes it interesting to be a part of. It brings us closer to each other, which makes you more comfortable every time.”
Sil understands that there are moments in which it might look like more than just a friendship. “We hug each other, but the intimacy is without any second thought. It is what it is: we’re friends. It’s also not something that we regularly talk about. We are sensitive guys and we show that sometimes. But when we’re on the island, David is in control. I am there, we are there, our friendship is there, but he just captures it, without us talking about it.”
“My personality is not on the picture. It’s only less than one second that is captured. But I remain relatively anonymous when it comes to me. But David has taught me a lot. I allow myself to be more vulnerable to my surroundings and my family.”
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