Jesse Struyvelt: Women Behind Emotions (NSFW)

Project and words by Jesse Struyvelt. Images used with permission. 


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For over two years I’ve been photographing women to capture real emotion. Trying to reflect my own emotions and feelings towards them. It was my first choice to work with women for the series because they tend to have a higher level of empathy. 

During the project I’ve learned a lot about myself as a person, primarily being honest to myself about what I feel. It was necessary to take that step, to be able to create the atmosphere in the photographs without telling literally what I felt. 

For me, the series is a reflection of my past and present which hold memories, thoughts and deep feelings. It reminds me what I’ve been through and who I am until now. 

The “women behind emotions” project didn’t really start off as a project. At first, it was just an idea of 1-2 shoots and that was it. In 2014, I began taking my first pictures for the series. The series had no intentions, other than trying to surpass some fears about bringing personal feelings into pictures. I wanted to use regular women for this project and no agency models to create a better connection and less “fashion” type of shoot. 

Having shown the pictures to some other photographers and people asked about them what they thought of it, they encouraged me to continue this type of work and make a small series about it. As they said, I just “started” to contact people for the series, explained what I wanted to do. However, I was not sure what to do with the pictures, they helped me a lot to define what I was and who I am as a person now. They gave me a heading, and an opportunity to express feelings and communicate. 

A lot of the communication, is just a conversation with myself, every photo/shoot I did, has some meaning behind it for me. Others may just perceive it as a normal picture. 

But as said, it was a personal project, reflecting a lot of my own and that’s eventually the meaning/reason of the pictures. The pictures were taken at the models their house/appartement. These are meant to be raw and pure, taken in their own environment to create a more comfortable feeling. 

Why black and white?
Easy and difficult to answer. I shoot film, 99% of the time black and white. I never really think about why I shoot b&w so much. It calls me. At first the thought of giving an exhibition with these pictures wasn’t really present, but I had this tiny sparke of hope. Until our local photo community needed one last person keep an exhibition before they move out to a new location where these exhibitions could not take place anymore. 

I’ve never felt attached to my colour photos. I also never made the decision that I wanted to be a black and white photographer. It just happened, I guess it has a lot to do with my feelings and the influence I got as inspiration. I got books from Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, George Holz, Vincent Peters and the Magnum contact sheets.. 

As said, my desire to document the world, draws me to the era when black and white film was the most common thing in the world. It feels like home, both in emotionally and science perspective. 

When you get into the darkroom… black and white film offers so much more possibilities. Developer, sorts of paper, toners, the way you’ve exposed and the silver reaction to the film… It’s unique.