Isabelle Wenzel, born in 1982 in Germany, is not your typical photographer and artist. She’s also a trained acrobat who calls Amsterdam her home. Her journey into the world of art began with studies in photography and fine arts at the Fachhochschule in Bielefeld, Germany, and the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, where she earned her degree in 2010.
Isabelle has showcased her work in both group and solo exhibitions in Germany and the Netherlands. Her talent was recognized with the Leica Award in 2007, and her photographs have been featured in various book projects. In 2010, she secured a grant from Virtual Zoom for a photography project presented at the Virtual Museum Zuidas in Amsterdam.
Isabelle’s vibrant photos are a blend of performance art, sculpture, fashion, and still life, cleverly satirizing the way women are portrayed in pop culture.
Eugénie Shinkle, a renowned fashion photography expert and author of “Fashion as Photograph,” commends Isabelle’s work, saying, “I named Isabelle [as a ‘One to Watch’ in January 2014] because her work is intelligent, imaginative, original, and a lot of fun. She seamlessly weaves together performance art, sculpture, fashion, and still life, with some astute feminist commentary and a wonderful eye for color, making it clear that she doesn’t just draw from these diverse influences but truly understands how to make them all come together sensibly in a photograph.”
Her intentionally faceless subjects often feature her legs taking on a life of their own. Isabelle explains, “I don’t like showing faces; they irritate me as they stand immediately for a specific personality. I prefer looking at a body that, in its absence of a head, becomes its own working organism.”
Isabelle typically places herself in front of the camera and, within the seconds her self-timer allows, assumes an impossible position, holding it until the camera captures the shot. Her photographs center around the body as a physical form rather than the individuals themselves. Taking a photograph freezes a pose in time, drawing attention to the sculptural qualities of the body. To achieve a particular image, these maneuvers must be executed repeatedly. In this way, she conducts her experimental performance in front of the camera, capturing it in a “frozen” form.
Since a young age, Isabelle has been obsessed with defying gravity. She says, “For me, legs are associated with power and movement. This is, by extension, a contradiction since I’m using a medium that freezes everything and turns them into objects.” Her work primarily involves minimal post-production (mainly playing with color and exposure). She reveals, “My main challenge is that my archive keeps growing. I enjoy playing with it and finding new ways to look at it to achieve surprising combinations.”
Isabelle’s ability to dissect the misogynistic core of popular culture with sharp intelligence and measured wit sets her work apart. In the “Positions” series, she dresses in various fabrics, posing as a table. Her buttocks, back, and heels become the table in different positions, always concealing her face. In one shot, she is wrapped in patterned stockings against a checkered background, turning it into a colorful domestic motif. In this case, the artist herself becomes a table, but with the appearance of a woman struggling to break free from the confines of her contorted body.
Eugénie Shinkle comments on Isabelle’s work, saying, “What attracts me to her work is how she cuts right to the heart of female stereotypes in photography, reducing it to its most basic elements – caricature and display – and confronting the viewer with these elements in a truly entertaining way.”
Isabelle’s references are humorous and universal, with color playing a significant role. Various decades are referenced through the image tones, evoking the 1950s through the palette reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, the American painter and illustrator.
Despite the serious undertones, Isabelle’s work maintains a light touch. Shinkle notes that in her work, she “presents the female body as a collection of fragmented erogenous zones – legs, hips, buttocks – parodying the fetishization of these body parts in fashion and advertising images. Femininity is reduced to a group of highly conventional signifiers (skirts, stockings, heels, slips) and stereotyped roles (housewife, secretary, pin-up) and stages it in a way that returns the gaze to the viewer, presenting them with the mechanics of visual stereotypes, without being severe or didactic. It’s excellent.”
In her 2010 “Building Images” series, Isabelle portrays her disembodied self in an office setting, stripping her legs while wearing office stockings protruding from desks and filing cabinets, reminiscent of Guy Bourdin, the French fashion photographer. She even disassembled an entire office to prepare the shooting location and construct her images.
Most of Isabelle’s photos focus on legs and feet suspended in the air, clad in leggings, in perfect acrobatic form. The photographer, who originally prepared her self-portraits in her Amsterdam studio, has recently shifted her work to open spaces. She explains, “I’m experimenting and embracing improvisation and relinquishing control. I enjoy working alone, so communication is instantaneous, and the process becomes faster.”
Isabelle Wenzel’s art challenges conventions, breaks down stereotypes, and invites viewers to see the world in a new, thought-provoking light. Her innovative blend of acrobatics, photography, and social commentary sets her apart as a unique and exciting artist to watch in the contemporary art scene.