Al­thou­gh the peo­ple in Ju­lia Het­ta’s pho­to­gra­phs of­ten look us straight in the eye, they’re ethe­real, loo­king like they in­ha­bit a mo­ment in ti­me long, long ago. Het­ta’s cho­sen co­lour pa­let­te is any­thing but 21st cen­tu­ry. Na­tu­ral, mu­ted, ear­thy to­nes of du­sty pink, dull mu­stard, ochre and ash grey, pe­rhaps, are hi­sto­ri­cal – pre-in­du­strial, even. Oc­ca­sio­nal­ly, the­re are streaks of brighter co­lour - red or pa­le eme­rald, for exam­ple - that are like the co­lours you see stret­ching across the sky in a dra­ma­tic sun­set (see her re­cent shoot for Vo­gue Ita­lia on Va­len­ti­no Haute Cou­tu­re SS 18). Het­ta’s use of day­light and long ex­po­su­res al­so crea­tes a my­ste­rious qua­li­ty of light that is re­mi­ni­scent of the Ear­ly Ne­ther­lan­di­sh pain­ters Jan van Eyck and Ro­gier van der Wey­den or of the la­ter Jo­han­nes Ver­meer. This con­nec­tion is no sur­pri­se - Het­ta stu­died at the Ger­rit Riet­veld Aca­de­my in Am­ster­dam and of­ten vi­si­ted the Ri­jk­smu­seum, whi­ch holds ma­ny im­por­tant Ear­ly Re­nais­san­ce works in its col­lec­tion. Like the­se pain­ters, Het­ta’s pho­to­gra­phs com­bi­ne a de­tai­led ‘pho­to­rea­li­st’ ae­sthe­tic with sym­bo­li­sm – they show us eve­ry ti­ny de­tail on a beau­ti­ful pie­ce of bro­ca­de, the way silk shim­mers, the pat­tern of sha­do­ws on a plea­ted gar­ment or the glos­si­ness of a vi­nyl dress. And they of­ten in­cor­po­ra­te sym­bo­lic ob­jec­ts from the na­tu­ral world like po­me­gra­na­tes (whi­ch in­di­ca­te fer­ti­li­ty and mar­ria­ge), ap­ples (sym­bols of kno­w­led­ge and temp­ta­tion) or eggs (im­mor­ta­li­ty and pro­mi­se).

Re­fe­ren­ces to the work of mo­re re­cent pain­ters are al­so to be found in Het­ta’s work – in one pic­tu­re, the po­se of her mo­del mi­mics that of a girl in a pain­ting by Bal­thus, in ano­ther, the ar­ran­ge­ment of jugs and va­ses on a ta­ble, all of a neu­tral hue, re­calls Gior­gio Mo­ran­di’s still li­ves.

Het­ta’s work en­vi­sa­ges an opu­lent, my­ste­rious and be­gui­ling world in whi­ch peo­ple and things are poe­tic, ro­man­tic and ma­gi­cal. For her L’Uo­mo

Vo­gue shoot, Het­ta says: “we we­re in­spi­red by the mo­ve­men­ts of the per­for­ma­ti­ve arts in the 1970s. Per­for­man­ce ar­tists like Ulay and Ma­ri­na Abra­mo­vic and In­stant thea­tre, with its fo­cus on the re­hear­sals pro­cess. And al­so the world of Pi­na Bau­sch, mi­xed with in­gre­dien­ts from the pain­tings of Ca­ra­vag­gio.” When asked if she found pho­to­gra­phing men any dif­fe­rent to pho­to­gra­phing wo­men, she says: “no. All hu­mans. Love them.”

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