An interview with photographer Merel ‘t Hart

Merel ‘t Hart was born in France and raised by Dutch parents. She took an interest in the arts quite early in life; spending hours drawing and painting as a child. As a young teenager, she and her family moved back to the Netherlands. But a few years later, at the age of 17, Merel decided to move back to France, to study at Nanterre University in Paris, where she graduated with a master in political science and a master in English. Before taking a more serious interest in photography she worked in the publishing world. 

“I always like to observe people. They fascinate me: the way they talk, the way they are dressed, how they hide or show their emotions…”

Merel 't HartMerel 't Hart

Why did you choose photography as a job?

Photography is a fascinating, as well as a complex job. What I like most about it, is taking pictures. That is the actual act of shooting with a camera. However, that is only 10% of the job. Before every shoot, there is a lot of preparatory work. You need to be in contact with your clients, the agencies, the models, and your team. Casting models is something I really enjoy because I get to discover new faces. Furthermore, you need to hunt for and discover new locations. The whole process is really exciting, especially when it all comes together to the point where I can take the actual picture.

Recently my husband and I started working together in our own studio, something we both enjoy. This gives us the opportunity to focus more on studio work such as still life and advertising photography.

Merel 't Hart

Do you find inspiration in other forms of art?

Yes, find inspiration in painting, movies, music, fashion, and street life.

What is your specialisation in photography?

I think I am good at taking portraits, at capturing the personal beauty of people in pictures. I am also good at composing pictures in dialogue with the reality that surrounds us, using colours, lines, and emotions to create something new and striking.

Merel 't HartMerel 't Hart

Your photographs have something very tender and honest. Is that a conscious choice?

I don’t think so. For me, there is just no other way. I work with the models and, although I’m the one holding the camera, it really feels like we’re making an image together. In a reportage situation, people feel that I am not judging them and therefore they trust me. Because of this, we can create and accomplish a lot together. In this dynamic of trust, they allow me to access their intimacy, their ‘secret life’.

A good example of this dynamic is my series about a group of kids being bored in Franière during the summer of 2007. I sent this series to a number of critics and when they saw my work, they thought the pictures had been taken by one of the kids from Franière. It was like the pictures were taken through their eyes, their emotion, their perspective.

Do you have the impression that there is a Belgian style in photography?

Not really, there are very good Belgian photographers: each time I look at portfolio’s, I discover something else, a new direction, a new vision, a new sensitivity but I don’t see a global picture or a Belgian trend.

Merel 't Hart

What is important in your photographic work?

I think that, in the end, I want to stay true to myself and to my way of making pictures. Very often, there is only one way for me to take a picture and I can’t imagine doing it any other way. When I work on commission, it can take some time and effort, to have the client understand that, but in the end, he usually does….

Discover more of Merel’s work


Published by

Timothy Helmer

Designer, curator of Let's Talk Design and founder of Creative Network.