Belgium and the Netherlands, born in 1972
“I am interested in bringing about a different vision on how we see ‘the other’ through the world of fairy tales.”
A Dutch-Belgian photographer based in Amsterdam, Knijff’s fascination with the greater allusions of fairy tales has roots in her own nomadic past. Living between Curaçao, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and France, Knijff developed a strong fascination for different cultures and identities, early on. Originally an elite performer in the Dutch theatre circuit, her desire to create scenes, rather than enact them, pushed her to transition her career and into photography in 2003, when she entered the Fotoacademie Amsterdam. It is undeniable that this unique background in theatre is reflected in the photographic universe.
Knijff’s project, “Tale”s was inspired by the dark undercurrent tangled in golden arabesques and jewel toned leather bindings of the original European fairy tales—beautiful objects that often reveal less pure truths about the societies that produce them. The societal aspect of these stories was of particular interest to Sofie. She thus ventured to explore the implications of tales in contemporary society by looking at the people they touched most: Children. On the surface, her project asks questions such as: Why is one tale more popular than another in a certain part of the world? How do two children from different cultures perceive the same story? How are the moral standpoints of the tales interpreted in different contexts of reception? On another level, Sofie found the very nature of fairy tales themselves — categorizing the world into strong and weak, ugly and beautiful, kind and cruel—a fascinating way to open a dialogue about the present-day situation in Europe.
From actor to director, Knijff invites us to explore a world of her making; steeped in the theatrical. She approaches her subjects from behind the curtain, working with children to help them bring out their fantasy for the camera. In line with a long tradition of classical portrait photography her work stands out for its ability to seamlessly meld into one image the documented and the fabricated, the real and the imaginary. Although staged, she aspires to maintain the whimsical spontaneity of her models by inviting them to choose a disguise and ‘play’ their favorite character in her studio. By searching for greater meaning in the masks we choose to put on or in contrast exploring what happens when you take them off when no one is looking, Knijff acutely applies her mastery of dramaturgy to open a dialogue about the veracity of a contemporary portrait. Sopie Knijff approaches spaces as scenery and people as characters.