Dutch artist Ruud van Empel talks about his art, including how to portray black children

About a month ago, we came across the ‘World’ series by Dutch photographer Ruud van Empel. Initially, his art stood out because of the ‘race’ and age of his models, the majority of whom are black children. Since the artist, as we soon learned, grew up in a small and rather homogeneously white southern Dutch town, it seemed unlikely that this apparent preference simply occurred by chance. But it wasn’t just the race factor that got us interested in asking Ruud some questions about his models. There was something odd about the entire style, demeanor and surroundings of these kids. Almost all of them are exquisitely groomed in what looks like Dutch middle-class attire from the 60s and surrounded by an almost perfect scene of tropical nature; quite a wondrous contrast in itself. On top of that, all these different forests seem to breathe a peculiar sort of ambiance. Perfectly ordered yet sinister, the lakes, trees and leafs are inviting and foreboding at the same time. The children don’t seem to be intimidated by it, though. They look at you with eyes wide open. Bold. Innocent. Confident. But there’s something uncanny about their look. Their innocence seems tainted. The reason for this oddness, we soon find out, is because we are looking in the eyes of people who don’t exist and never have. Instead, they are photoshopped into being through a patchwork of noses, arms, eyes and lips. Continue reading