Photos that will transport you to sultry days by the pool

Dutch photographer Sarah van Rij uses her intuition to turn sun-drenched street and beach scenes into cinematic moments.

by Rolien Zonneveld
02 April 2020, 2:00pm

A couple of teenaged boys are gathered around a pool bathed in Mediterranean sunlight -- their bodies casting inky silhouettes against warm ochre tiles. We're observing them through the rails of the steps leading to the pool; one of the boys is about to launch himself into the aquamarine water. In another picture, two people walk closely past one another on the beach, as the sea glitters behind. The photo is so meticulously timed that it almost looks as if the two are giving each other a kiss.

These are two of the many examples of street photography-inspired work that Sarah van Rij has compiled over the past couple of years. The 29-year-old was not always a professional photographer, but what started out as a hobby has become a fully-fledged practice recently. She's never studied photography formally, instead following her own intuition when shooting. This methodology has developed into a precise and well-defined style that makes use of saturated primary colours and a clever way of playing with depth of field. With a keen eye for composition, she decisively captures those fleeting moments that can lift mundane scenes out of the ordinary and turn them into something magical. It's as if she's telling entire stories within a single frame.


It’s no surprise then, given this approach, that she has a strong passion for cinematography. "When I was in my teens I truly had an obsession with Hitchcock's work -- particularly his use of shadows, light and his black-and-white stuff," she says. "After that I started preferring Jean-Luc Godard’s work, but to be honest that was mostly because of his use of colours and settings, not so much his way of storytelling." Other sources of inspiration she cites are Wong Kar-wai's stunning love story In the Mood for Love, the work of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, Playtime by Jacques Tati, King of Comedy by Martin Scorsese and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Much like the pioneers of street photography that came before her -- Brassaï and Henri Cartier-Bresson -- Sarah has an unbridled passion for Paris, which she often pays homage to in her work. From brightly coloured brasseries in the background, to umbrella-carrying men crossing narrow streets, to women wearing pumps and trenchcoats: it's unequivocally French. Havana, Cuba, is also a favourite. "Last year I travelled to Cuba and it was like stepping into a décor dream,” she says. “It's this strange mix of a place that seems to have been stuck since the 50s, with the American influences of that time, combined with a Caribbean flair. Not to mention the beautiful vivid colours of the city and the gorgeous light -- I have never made so much work in such a short time as I did there."

While urban landscapes have been dominating her work, increasingly beaches and pools have begun creeping into her photography. "I really thought that those weren't my backdrops to work with, but I’ve discovered I really enjoy taking photographs in places like this,” she says. “I’m working with just the lines of the sea and the horizon against these human silhouettes and shapes of parasols. I think all these images have such a lovely summer mood to them, where you can tell all that matters is being there, outside with the water, the sun, a book, and repeating that routine. As I sit here at home it's something my mind often wanders off to."



Photography Sarah van Rij

Sarah van Rij