Shelf Sessions: Iebele van der Meulen
Finally, I’ve got a reason to wear my orange t-shirt again. It just happens to be Iebele’s favorite color, and I thought it would be a fun way to connect with him. It’s cold for the first time in weeks; it’s even a bit blustery as I cycle towards Iebele’s home on the Keizersgracht. The canals are still “corona-empty.” If it were up to the two of us, our conversation would have taken place in sunny Sóller, a beautiful town in Mallorca. We learned a lot about each other from recommending spots around the island, though it was never there that we met up.
Amsterdam has been Iebele’s home since his 19th, though he can be regularly found in Friesland, which is where his roots lie. After the fashion academy and an internship at MAN magazine, freelance jobs quickly followed at the same publication, which was the most notable men’s magazine in the Netherlands at the time. This lead to a styling job on a shoot with Erwin Olaf, which was also the first step of an illustrious career as a stylist at MAN, Elegance, Gucci and now as creative director at LINDA.
“Erwin Olaf is a great man, and a good friend too,” Iebele says. “Erwin is a sculptor with light. A story teller. He builds a strong connection with the people he photographs. We had a photo shoot with eighteen nude, non-standard men for L’HOMO. Erwin called all of them personally, to talk them through exactly what he wanted to do. He puts a remarkable amount of energy and preparation in his work which, combined with his incredible imagination and visual intuition, really makes for a lot of very beautiful imagery. And when the work was done, he still wanted to know what you thought of it. I have a lot of respect for him, as a photographer and as a person.”
Iebele thinks his love for images and visuals probably started with his grandmother. She had a subscription to ‘Avenue’ magazine, which influenced him subconsciously. He cherishes these magazines and has kept all of his grandmother’s copies. The pages transported him to a different world; a kind of dream world, one full of imagination. That dream world also lead him to his now-best friend Dirk Jensma, Iebele tells us. “Avenue was very highly regarded in the magazine industry, and in the colophon you’d find the name Dirk Jensma. He did hair and make-up, and was from a small Frisian town called Balk. That really inspired me, and I thought: “See, it is possible. You can break through as a boy from Friesland.” A few years later we met each other on a shoot. Our Frisian roots and a common language were a strong foundation for a good collaboration, and later a great friendship.”
“Being able to make something that feeds someone’s imagination, something that can inspire people, is very important to me. Personally I still want something or someone to look up to. Aspiration. You want to step above the world you’re already in. You want to see a different way of living than how you’re living now, and eventually experience it yourself. That’s the image I want to present.”
‘ Erwin is a sculptor with light. A story teller. ’
And that’s also how he approaches the LINDA covers for which he’s been responsible for the last 17 years. “Linda de Mol is such a wonderful woman to work with,” Iebele explains. “She does everything. Works with everyone. So positive. Linda has featured on all the covers, except one, that one has Michelle Obama. Linda couldn’t be present at that interview.” Iebele and his team try to be daring with the covers, but also insert a lot of self-deprecation. He explains, “that’s what’s so good about the magazine. We look at ourselves quite critically, but we have an accessible tone of voice. LINDA is constructed on a very strict grid, which provides a strong sense of recognizability, but which also gives a lot of freedom for surprising visual exploration.”
How much of Iebele can you find in LINDA’s covers? Humbly, and somewhat reserved, he answers: “Maybe it’s the mix between classy, humorous, self-deprecating, in-your-face, but still a bit edgy?”
It’s those exact qualities which you recognize in his beautiful home. Iebele’s presence is easily recognizable by the orange elements seen throughout the house. Images play a large part in his interior as well. I see a lot of books and magazines. “This is already a classic to me, even though it’s not even that old yet,” he says about the Loewe book. “I even bought two by accident. It’s a beautiful mix of old and new.” But more established photographers are represented equally well. There’s even a whole shelf dedicated to the works of Bruce Weber. “His photography makes you want to be there; to take part in what’s happening, in the beauty, the feeling.”
Helmut Newton is naturally also part of his collection: “A true source of inspiration. His work is still an important reference for many contemporary photographers. Oh, and this is another book everyone should see: ‘In the American West’ by Richard Avedon.”
To the question of which Dutch photographers he would still like to work with, Iebele has his response ready. He lists them immediately: “Definitely Viviane Sassen. She makes such good use of negative space. She gives it an importance of its own, right along with the subject of the photograph. The surroundings, with colour and shade. I would love to work with her one day.” Next he mentions Dana Lixenberg, one of his neighbors; he regularly waves at her when she’s on her rooftop terrace. “Just look at what she did with Imperial Courts. So real.”
‘ Sometimes the shoots improve when I leave. ’
As far as I can tell, a lot of Iebele’s favorite photographers are known for their meticulous planning and extensive preparatory work, while Iebele himself also relies on chance. “Sometimes the shoots improve when I leave,” he says. “It happens. A shoot must be well prepared, but once you’re on set there has to be chemistry. I had such a shoot once, with Dutch photographers Blommers Schumm for the magazine LINDA Mode, where I quickly noticed that it was better for me not to stick around too long. I was getting in the way of the stylist a bit, and so I left. But the shoot was prepared, and they managed to make a much better, and much less “ordinary” result than I had expected.”
But it’s not just photography that has a strong presence on Iebele’s shelves, bookcases and closets. His Frisian heritage is well-represented, with one whole shelf dedicated to Frisian artists. “These painters are ones I have a strong personal bond with. In the dining room there’s two works by Frisian painters: Willem van Althuis and Boele Bregman. Van Althuis started as a street layer from Heerenveen, and developed himself into a fine art painter later in life. He used to eat his pack lunch at my grandmother’s house. Bregman started out a plumber, he’s also from Heerenveen. I was in a party committee with his granddaughter. It’s exactly that personal connection which drew me to these artists and their work.”
Iebele opens a ‘secret’ closet. Among many things, it contains magazines by Louis Venegas, whom Iebele idolises. Venegas is the Spanish editor and publisher of five independent, limited edition magazines: Fanzine137, EY! Magateen, Candy, The Printed Dog, and EY! Boy. He is also a creative director and has worked with luxury brands such as Loewe, Acne, Carolina Herrera, and J.W.Anderson.
‘Butt’ magazine belongs among his favorites as well; and I spied multiple copies in what I have now decided to coin the ‘racy section’. Butt was founded in 2001 by Gert Jonkers and Job van Bennekom, known for their publication Fantastic Man. As a quarterly magazine for gay men it received wide-ranging recognition: in 2005 The Guardian listed Butt among its top 20 magazines, and in 2014, Taschen released an anthology book called Forever BUTT with many of the magazine’s highlights since its inception until its final issue in 2011.
Closing the closet, and looking at what’s laid out on top of it, we seem to have circled back around to Friesland. “For my fiftieth birthday, my mother made an orange box with cuttings from all the magazines I’ve worked on. She saved scraps from all the publications of MAN, Elegance and LINDA., and she and my father had everything cut and bound carefully by hand,” Iebele says. “Real Frisian craftsmanship.”
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