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.”