Nollen, Arno

Born 1964 in Eden, Netherlands, lives in Amsterdam

Anonymity makes externalities a characteristic of the big city. As with buildings, it is people’s facades that shape urban space. Inner lives are seldom projected outwards. Expressionless faces are an indication and signal of an inner, externally expressed boundary. Photographer Arno Nollen breaks through this boundary. He approaches young women and convinces them to come with him. From public areas for the masses such as streets, clubs and bars, he brings them individually into spaces that are somewhere between public and secluded—hotel rooms, changing rooms—and photographs them. Their body language and faces still betray the lingering emotional distance from the public realm, but in these constricted and intimate spaces, it is mixed with a gradual trust in the stranger. With the subject’s consent, the photographer’s voyeurism from the anonymous exterior world becomes a personal dialogue. The photographs reflect the sensitive state of existence between trust and mistrust.

Not least the fact that these women often shed their clothes for the photographs places Nollen’s work in an ambivalent light. This ambivalence pervades his work and makes it so interesting. It contains the tension between the outer and the inner, the unknown and the intimate, documentation and pornography. Nollen’s weakness for young women in hotel rooms wearing semi-transparent stockings is an excellent illustration of this approach. Nollen was long ago discovered by the world of fashion, where this style of chance and understatement, as opposed to the pomposity of staged photography, has been popular for some time. With this snapshot approach, girls of seemingly innocent naiveté are photographed in sexually provocative dress. Nollen’s artistic photographs show that these fantasies of improbable encounters are possible in everyday life. This may be unsettling, but in view of the common online practice of openly baring one’s own sexuality, it is far from surprising. Nollen’s photographs embody today’s tendency that intimacy need not go hand-in-hand with emotional intensity.