Speaking: Claire Felicie
At the beginning of 2019, Claire Felicie was invited to show an overview of her work at Pennings Foundation. She made her first contacts with Galerie Pennings in 2003.
Claire Felicie (1966) grew up in Breda. In 1988 she moved to Amsterdam. She is self-taught. She works (still) in black and white with an analog camera and has her own darkroom where she prints her photos. Only for large formats she works with a photo lab. Claire Felicie is her stage name.
“In 2002 my work was published as a portfolio in the magazine Pf, with a text by Herman Hoeneveld. And in 2003 I was invited for an exhibition in De Melkweg with the series In the forecourt."
At an early age Claire Felicie lost her mother. “My father was a sweet man, a nice man too, but he paid little attention to the children. When I think of my childhood, everything was ‘dark’. It was a nasty period. I read a lot, to escape from the gloomy reality and to flee into another, more beautiful world. When I raised my own family, I wanted a change. I wanted ‘light and cheerfulness’. The pictures of her children in In the Forecourt bear witness to this, even though there is a hint of melancholy related to her own childhood.
"Suzanne Dechert from De Melkweg said: “You should go and see the Pennings Gallery." I went to meet Harry Pennings and he took my work to Art Cologne. There were plans for an exhibition of In the forecourt at Galerie Pennings, but in 2006 Harry died. When Petra (Cardinaal) took over the gallery, the contact continued.”
"Following my father's death, I made the Moonstruck series, with photos of a girl in a white dress in a forest and in the snow, as symbols of eternity and transience.” With this series an exhibition was organized in 2007 at Galerie Pennings.
“In 2009 I started photographing Dutch Marines. My son was a marine and he and his unit were due to be sent to Afghanistan. However, fate determined otherwise. My son and his unit were sent to Curaçao. A lot of his friends in another unit did leave for Afghanistan. And so did I; that was the intention of the project."
This has resulted in the impressive series Here Are The Young Men in which the marines were portrayed before, during and after their deployment to Afghanistan. Felicie aptly captured the eyes that reveal the mood of the men, from 'expectant’ to ‘facing death' to what many see as ‘traumatized’. This is best expressed with the triptych presentation. With the triptychs of the marines, Petra went to the Fotofever fair in Paris in 2013. Claire had cards printed from the triptychs; they were in great demand. And many visitors took pictures of it.
"Then I made the series Only The Sky Remains Untouched (2015-2016), about soldiers with PTSD." It almost seems like a logical continuation of the series about the Marines. She has published books from both series. The exhibition of Only The Sky Remains Untouched was on show at Museum de Fundatie in Zwolle.
“In 2017 and again in 2018 I went to Iraqi Kurdistan. I was concerned about the fate of the Peshmerga women who, alongside the men, were fighting against IS. I traveled to Kurdistan to meet these courageous women.” This resulted in the series Daughters of the Sun. Some photos were already on show in 2018 in the 'Preview' group exhibition at Galerie Pennings, the first exhibition after moving to Geldropseweg 63. Later that year, the National Military Museum in Soesterberg showed a large selection of photos of the Peshmerga fighters.
Claire made a leporello of this series in a limited edition. It is entirely handmade and the text is also written by hand. That makes it a very special publication.
Recently she is working on the series Beauty from the Ashes, consisting of dark, blurred portraits of friends. "I want to express that death, symbolized by the dark – the ‘ashes’ - belongs to life. By being aware of your own mortality, you live more intensely and more consciously.”
An overview exhibition at Pennings Foundation was planned for the spring of 2019. She gave the exhibition the title Distant Sky. The following text by Claire Felicie was printed on the invitation to the exhibition:
"At an early age I lose my mother. People I am attached to disappear without saying goodbye. It determines my life. The process of loss is the common thread in my work. Loss of loved ones, of illusions and dreams, of innocence and open-mindedness. How do we deal with life-changing, radical events? For me photography is the way to follow the ongoing process of loss and give it meaning."
"In consultation with visual artist Ellen Korth, the idea arose to create a small, intimate space, a box, in the large exhibition space of the Pennings Foundation, and show the works in and around the box."
Walls had to be built for the 'box'. Petra had 'standard' walls built that have since been used in various constructions.
“Large and bright photos of In the Forecourt hung on the outside of the box. On the inside, as a contrast, hung pictures in a small format, often in war zones, but not all.
The works were interchangeable, not chronologically and series were not interrelated. I did this on purpose so that people look better. I wanted a surprising presentation, not do the usual things."
"The photos on the inside of the box deliberately did not hang at eye level but rather lower. People had to bow a little to see the photos. I liked the idea that people should bow. With this they show respect for the people who have suffered. I came up with this idea through the Stumbling Stones (Stolpersteine) that have been installed in sidewalks for a few years now, in front of houses where Jews lived before World War II and in memory of those who died in concentration camps."
At the opening, Arno Haijtema (from the Volkskrant) said in his speech that for years he disliked the military. That changed when he saw Claire Felicie's photos. These made him look more nuanced at UN missions. A number of marines and veterans with PTSD that Claire Felicie had portrayed and with whom she had built up a special bond were present at the opening. That made the opening very special.