Features

Raw Intimacy with Berber Theunissen

By Phoebe Barrett - 4 min read

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Primarily utilising analog formats, photographer Berber Theunissen creates personal and intimate work, offering the viewer an honest and raw glimpse into her life, resulting in evocative and emotionally-charged imagery.

In her poignant series, Atomic Punk, Berber explores a very chaotic period in her life; an unexpected pregnancy, a miscarriage, a marriage and a honeymoon. Each photograph loaded with meaning, her work embraces and speaks to human experience.

Interested in the process behind the imagery, we had the pleasure of speaking with the photographer about how she captures these moments of intense emotion and how it feels to share these with the world.

Can you tell us a little about your background and how you began your journey into photography?

When I was younger I found an old camera inmy grandparents’attic. It was a Yashica, tucked in between a bunch of slides. I always played with it but never with the intention of becoming a photographer one day. After secondary school I had no clue about what I wanted to do professionally. I ended up studying at the styling academy. That wasn’t really my calling, taking pictures of the things we styled was more interesting to me than the actual styling. I followed through though, but my graduation project ended up being a photography project, photographed with my grandparents’ Yashica. This is when I decided to study photography at the Fotoacademiein Amsterdam.

You are mostly working with medium format. What first drew you to film?

My first touch was with my grandfather’s analog camera. During my time at the photo academy I started shooting digitally again, purely to reducecosts, until my graduation project,Vagabond, in which I switched to analogagain. I bought my Pentax 6x7, which I still work with. There seems to beso much more magic in film than in digital.

How do you feel using analog formats affects your photographic style and approach?

I photograph everything with my Pentax 6x7. Never with a concrete idea, but from a gut feeling. The camera is large and heavy, in contrast to myself, which is why I usually shoot from a tripod. I can only make ten photos per film. As a result, I am consciously working on my image in the moment, framing and positioning my subject. I can thereby create a kind of peace in my chaos.

“I am consciously working on my image in the moment, framing and positioning my subject. I can thereby create a kind of peace in my chaos.”

Your work has a purity and a softness, often portraying both yourself and your partner together. What do these images mean to you?

I focus my camera on all things affecting me personally. All the things that I love, but also what me makes vulnerable. I documentmoments, feelings and memories in whichintense emotional situations were present or revolving around me.

The photos with Boy or any other self-portraits are sometimes very confronting to look at. Often they also end up in the archive before I’m able to share them. Sometimes I see glances and emotions in our eyes that I wasn’t aware of at the time of the photo.

“I document moments, feelings and memories in which intense emotional situations were present or revolving around me.”

Your series Atomic Punk offers the viewer a very honest and emotive glimpse into your private life, it feels almost cathartic. How did it feel for you to create this series and share it with the world?

I capture the situations I have little grasp of. Through photography, I create my own hold fastview of my life in an objective way. I started this process at the Fotoacademieso it became all natural for me.

Especially Atomic Punk, I found it important to share and to name the goings-onliterally. A miscarriage is still a taboo subject, people are afraid to talk about it. Bytalking about it, people who have experienced the same don’t have to feel alone.

You utilise natural light in a truly beautiful way, perfectly conveying the mood of the moment. Is this purely intuitive or something you carefully plan for?

Purely intuitive. I only work with daylight, so I work with what is there at the moment.

What inspires you to keep creating?

Life.

How would you describe your work in three words?

Associative, intimate, pure.

Do you have any current projects you’re working on?

I’m 5 and a half months pregnant at the moment, so I think, or know for sure actually, that that will lead to something.

To see more of Berber’s beautiful work, follow her on Instagram. You can also find a selection of her photographs available for sale at Open Doors Gallery in London.