In Conversation With Melissa Schriek

Melissa Schriek (1992) is a Dutch photographer who studied documentary photography at The Royal Academy of Arts in The Netherlands. The last year she has worked on several projects like ‘The City is a Choreography’ and ‘ODE: an exploration of the dynamics of female friendship’.  Schriek explores relationships between individuals and their environment through both observation and staging. Her work is often created with a performative approach, aesthetically and conceptually exploring the border between staged and documentary photography. With her sensibility for the body as a sculpture, she aims to create images that challenge our perception of human connection.

The City is a Choreography

‘The City is a Choreography’ explores the contemporary city. The project exists of street scenes and portraits in public spaces that probes the disconnection between the city and the youth that reside within. With special attention to the sculptural qualities of the body and the relationship between space and individual, and between each other, the city always hums in the background of the images. ‘The City is a Choreography’ explores the escape from daily routine of everyday life and how the urban environment can be perceived with both eyes and body.

SG:  What was your inspiration for The City is a Choreography, and how did you develop its vision?

MS:  I’ve always been very interested in the city and how we can relate to it. I’m easily bored with my surroundings. I try never to drive the same route twice (or at least, not right after each other) and try to think of ways to make surroundings that we see a bit more interesting by giving attention to a specific object. I went on a research trip to Berlin in 2018. I created ‘mini-performances’ of myself doing things that are not ‘normal’ on the streets—hanging over a street pole for 10 minutes, lying down on a busy street, and other performative situations to explore the body and the streets. When I performed them, I didn’t quite know why I felt the urge to do it, but I thought that I wanted to challenge myself and my surroundings in a way that I never did before.  After this experience, I went back to the Netherlands and started photographing with a dancer, Jente Hageman, in Rotterdam. I asked her particular things like ‘Dance with a bike’ or ‘How far can you wrap your body around a street pole?’. It was the first explorations of how the city can become choreography. It made sense to photograph with a dancer the first shoot for The City is a Choreography because of the intuitive knowledge of the body she has. With every shoot, I better understand what I’m searching for, direct it a lot better, and photograph a whole shoot in a short time. From the point that I knew how to look with the eyes of The City is a Choreography, it went quite effortless actually.

SG:  How do you communicate with your models? Do you position them, or do you let their chemistry lead the way?

MS:  I feel like it’s a collaboration. Sometimes I position the models thoroughly after writing or sketching it beforehand. Other times I ask models for something quite vague to see how they visualize and perform that. It often feels like a dance to photograph. I’m moving, the people in front of my camera are moving. I direct, but they also direct each other. I like to be surprised, so that’s one reason I don’t want to thoroughly plan a photograph and desire to leave space for coincidence.

SG:  Have you noticed your work on this project impacting your relationship with the people around you?

MS:  I mostly notice how the work impacts the way people look at their surroundings and the streets of the city. I often get images sent to me of bent street poles, strange shadows, or exciting sculptures on the street that people have found and made them think of The City is a Choreography, and of course, because of that also their daily view.

SG:  Do you have a favorite image from your series so far? Is there one you resonate with you the most, or that you find the most powerful?

MS:  My favorite image at the moment is ‘The Supermarket.’ I feel like it’s a subtle moment when staging and coincidence create a scene that reflects the meaning of the project.  How will you know this project is over? Or will it always be ongoing?  I always come to a point in a project where I feel that what I made tells the story I want to tell. From that point on, I try to make the work complete by the shape of something permanent, like an exhibition/book, etc. I also often come to the sudden state of not wanting to photograph anymore for a project, I feel like it’s finished, so my interest becomes less. Quite naturally, I start a new project around that time, gain interest in further exploration, and in that way, keep doing work. ’The City is a Choreography’ is finished right now, and I’m looking at ways to give form to the project. I do think that the concept of The City is a Choreography that could be explored more, and that is something that I see happening. I’m not finished with the subject matter or visuals, but I do feel excited to explore further. I think it’s quite essential sometimes to complete a project because it makes you reflect and edit strictly. It can feel scary to finish you something, so I always remember that I can make a part 2 if, after a while, I feel like something should be added.

SG:  What do you want viewers to take from this series?

MS:  I don’t want to force people too much to see a particular thing in this series. I like to keep it somewhat open for interpretation. I instead ask questions than provide answers. I feel that The City is a Choreography is sometimes contradicting itself. The images sometimes feel lonely while still viewing multiple people. Some people find the photos amusing and see the humor in them while others are deeply touched. The photos seem to be energetic but are also loaded with stillness. Because of those contradictions, I find it quite challenging to want viewers to take something specific from the series, but to speak very broadly: I hope the viewer will question their relationship with (the streets of) the city and with each other within that space.

SG:  What would you like readers to know about you?

MS:  The city is a Choreography will be available as a limited-edition photobook very soon! Stay tuned!

To view more of Melissa Schriek’s work please visit their website.