Wessel Baarda is somewhat of an obsessive. Growing up, for example, he would collect everything and anything, he could tell you all about the anatomy of bats, and even went “full throttle selling shutter shade glasses” to his classmates. Then, after picking up art in school and finding some like-minded friends, he would document his surroundings through means such as picture-making and zines. His obsessive trait comes mixed with passion and enthusiasm for his craft, and is something that clearly protrudes throughout everything he puts his hands to – including his photography work.
“For me, it’s hard to let go of aesthetics,” explains Wessel on the topic of his artistic style. “I like working with bright colours and harsh light, to the point where it’s crossing over into an almost comical style.” With this in mind, his work is spellbindingly surreal; whether it’s a mountainous scene viewed from a cartoonish interior or a shiny row of hot dogs, each image is endearingly confusing. “I like to address themes within contemporary culture but still give the viewer an aesthetically pleasing image,” he says. “Especially nowadays, I think you have to grab the viewer’s attention in a split second. Once I get the viewer’s attention through aesthetics, the conceptual part comes into play.”
Wessel is in equal parts a photographer as he is an artist. Evident throughout his dreamlike portfolio, each piece perfectly blends a mix of found and manipulated imagery with scenes taken from real life. “Because the images consist of found images, I need to work in an improvisational way, so the detailed theme and overall look usually gets shaped during the process,” Wessel tells It’s Nice That. Taking inspiration from images he finds online, he explains how much of it often gets overlooked, “or even lost”. Giving them new life, he then pulls these pictures and ties them together in a different context, creating “new” and “sometimes absurd narratives”.
For Wessel, storytelling is an essential part to his process. “Narrative has always been a pillar in my work and, when working with people, this narrative can be more difficult to control,” he says. Yet this isn’t your usual “protagonist experiences a life changing-moment and tries to navigate it” story – instead, he presents an account of various objects in otherworldly scenes. “I like telling a story through objects that seem anonymous, but when put together it makes the viewer appreciate or question what is going on. By giving objects a certain context, I try to influence the viewer’s perspective.”
So far, Wessel has blurred the boundaries of what is real and what isn’t. Achieved through a perpetual blend of digital techniques, his work tests the viewer and invites them into a land of the unknown. Next up, he plans to explore the possibilities of digitally built images – “I’m thinking about expanding this idea into moving images and sound,” he says. “I would love to partake in the Adobe Creative Residency at some point to take my work to the next level.”