Challenging documentary norms, Nolwenn Le Flanchec and Marie Godt artfully capture the German island of Langeoog

While some images are constructed and others more incidental, Haus Am Strand is a visual guessing game between reality and fiction.

Date
29 January 2021

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Haus Am Stand is a collaborative project by Nolwenn Le Flanchec and Marie Godt – a duo that comprises styling, creative directing and photography. In coming together, they’ve compiled a series dedicated to Langeoog, one of the seven inhabited east Frisian islands in the North Sea of Germany. Home to less than 2,000 people and void of any cars, it boasts a nature-rich landscape lavished in dunes and marshes.

Of how this project came to fruition, first here’s a bit of context into their backgrounds. Nolwenn is a Thai-French creative director and photographer, born in Paris and has spent the majority of her life in Singapore. She studied photography in the French city before moving to Amsterdam, where she currently resides. “My practice is centred around femininity and the ways in which photography has shaped ideas about what it means to be female,” she tells It’s Nice That, citing how her imagery treads the line between fact and fiction, the “grey zone” that has become her own distinctive style of documentary photography. Marie, on the other hand, is a creative director and stylist from Munich, Germany, who initially studied fashion design before pursuing an internship in this field in Amsterdam. “That’s where I got fascinated with styling and started assisting various stylists, and I began to collaborate with different photographers and creating projects on my own,” she says. Marie also refers to her work as slightly “unusual” for the ways in which it constantly questions the fashion industry and her role within it. “I focus on telling different narratives as well as challenging stereotypes.”

Nolwenn and Marie both ended up sharing a studio space in Amsterdam and, from the get-go, knew they’d one day embark on a creative venture together. They both share similar values and narratives – not to mention a shared visual tone and a language that crosses genres from the diaristic, street and documentary to the cinematic, fine art and fashion. Imperative, though, is the aim to break down traditional conceptions of femininity, specifically within popular culture. As such, the idea to shoot in Langeoog came about naturally. “Marie would often travel back and talk about the island and her family there,” says Nolwenn. “We decided quite quickly to shoot a body of work there and explore different ways of storytelling.” This involves a characteristic twist of both a documentary and fashion style of image-making, whereby the two would set out and explore the island’s intriguing characters and dynamic visual offering.

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Nolwenn Le Flanchec and Marie Godt: Haus Am Strand (Copyright © Nolwenn Le Flanchec, 2020)

Marie sees Langeoog like a second home. Her mother grew up there and Marie would often spend most of her school holidays at her grandparent’s house, freely riding her bike and benefiting from the island’s independency and lack of danger on the roads. “Especially as a child, the place holds a lot of freedom,” she says, stating how she’s always wanted to work on a project in this unique location. “Being there almost feels like you’re in a different world, in some sort of bubble.”

In Marie’s eyes, one side of the island protrudes with peace and quiet, while the other suffocates her with familiarity. It’s very much acquainted with a small-town mentality and character, where everyone knows everyone and privacy becomes an afterthought. “My grandmother is the epicentre of our big family,” she goes on to explain of her roots. “She and my mother have shaped a lot of my experiences. This matriarchal point of view also shapes the series; we portrayed women that are close to me, including my aunt Susanne, sister Sophie, grandmother Annegret and great-grandchildren Fenna and Sonka, plus my girlfriends who grew up there.”

While working on the shoot itself, the duo cite references like Martin Parr – particular for highlighting the eccentricities of everyday life – Joel Meyerowitz’s Provincetown, and Rineke Dijkstra’s signature way of photographing women through a vulnerable lens. Nolwenn only saw the island in person when arriving on the shoot, referring to iPhone photos of shoot locations and casting sent from Marie beforehand. This has in some ways opened up her mind to the process – free of any preconceptions and prepared ideas. This allowed the duo to roam the island with freedom, shooting the vast landscapes and characters in their story. “It was important to convey the ‘in-between’ spaces, alongside the portraits, hinting at the place where these people lived and casting a quiet non-intrusive eye on the space they occupied,” says Nolween.

The finished result sees a snapshot of a place that’s been passed through a dreamscape filter; the colour palettes are soft and hazy, almost fake in its representation as it depicts the warm, sunny days and, as Nolween describes it, “the stillness of life on a small island.” She concludes: “We used documentary and challenged the norms of that genre; some are carefully constructed while others are incidental scenes encountered, leaving the viewer guessing which are imaginary fictions and which scenes are extracts from life.” We’ll leave you to decide which is which.

GalleryNolwenn Le Flanchec and Marie Godt: Haus Am Strand (Copyright © Nolwenn Le Flanchec, 2020)

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Nolwenn Le Flanchec and Marie Godt: Haus Am Strand (Copyright ©️ Nolwenn Le Flanchec, 2020)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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