Photoworks beyond reality

Text by Ulrich Rüter
Fotohistoriker (Galerie Hilaneh von Kories)

Schilte & Portielje, who live and work in Rotterdam, are primarily known for their photography of series of unusual and very recognizable figurines. They display an intricate way of playing with and relating to each other: fantastic poetic, dreamlike figures who abduct the spectator into the artists world of wonders and miracles. The figures approach in the middle of a nondescript, plain, undefined room. They offer frontal and back views and grotesquely contorted bodies. They wear costumes adorned with veils and lace, corsages and garters, jewelry, neckties and collars, transparent fabrics and body hugging clothes. All these accessories create different characters in this theatric role play. The game lives of abstraction. How do huge feet go with a delicate body? Which intricacies are woven into the mesh of physical abnormalities? How do these bodies relate to the pieces of furniture that have been added to the decor for the characters to hold onto or lean against? It is the full intention of the artists not to give a satisfactory answer to these questions, they willingly create confusion and force the spectator to focus more intensely.

During recent years, the artists perfected their mise en scene. “Photoworks beyond reality” emphasizes surprising moments in surrealist, erotically charged moments. This creates a scrapbook full of subtle hints and uncertain role play. We can never see the full faces of Schilte & Portielje‘s figurines, mouth and nose are rarely recognizable, the entire head is mostly covered by eclectic hats, fabrics, hairdos or the entire face is headed another way.
Subtle eroticism, demanding poses or the quiet poetry of desire are the elements used in this dark world rich in contrast. Most of the time, female characters appear in his series. „Our work deals with the fundamental aspects of human existence, male or female alike. Sexual identity is not our subject, but ambiguity is important for us because it creates room for interpretation and identification,” say the artists.

Huub Schilte and Jacqueline Portielje collaborate since 1997 under the name Schilte & Portielje. „We prefer to work in absence of a preset theme or subject. We chose fragments of images from our own digital library, and then proceed independently to determine how the chosen fragment could fit into the concept of the new work. Frequently, we exchange the works so that one continues where the other stopped.”

Sometimes their work reminds the viewer of the sought-after Carte de Visite images, in fashion during the second half of the 19th century. However, the subjects of Schilte & Portielje are extremely timely. Their forms and design with historical patterns – like the consistent use of black-and-white photography reference analog role models. But the photographers use a well developed digital collage technique to achieve their trademark figurine, very much anchored in the present. „Most importantly, we look at our work settled somewhere between photography and painting. We love contrast between computer techniques and the slightly nostalgic charm of black-and white photography that enables us to increase the distance between art and reality.” The presentation of their work also resembles the classical medium of photography. By framing their work in historical fashion and protecting the surface with shellac they give their prints the aura of uniqueness, strongly resembling paintings.

Their work has been featured in numerous exhibitions worldwide and has been included in numerous international private and corporate collections. Works by Schilte & Portielje have been publiced in many editorials for national and international magazines, newspapers  and books. The formats vary from 28 x 20 cm to 142 x 119 cm and the large scale prints of 195 x 119 cm.