Awoiska van der Molen

The Humanness of Our Lonely Selves

Awoiska van der Molen

Awoiska van der Molen
№ 480-18, 2017/2024

Awoiska van der Molen
№ 594-18, 2019/2024

Awoiska van der Molen
№ 734-18, 2023/2024

Awoiska van der Molen
№ 699-10, 2022/2024

Awoiska van der Molen
№ 685-2, 2022/2024

Awoiska van der Molen
№ 481-13, 2017/2024

In the summer of 2024 Huis Marseille will exhibit new work by the Dutch photographer Awoiska van der Molen (b. 1972 in Groningen). Critically acclaimed for her psychological landscape images, Awoiska van der Molen started out by photographing urban environments in 2003, shortly after graduating from art school. Now, more than twenty years on, she once again presents us with understated black-and-white photos of built-up environments that reveal traces of human presence. This time she zooms in on illuminated windows in the darkness of the evening.

From exterior to interior

The contours of this new direction in her work gradually emerged around 2015. ‘When I began photographing landscapes, there was still the occasional house in the frame. Back then, I slowly had to part ways with built-up areas. Now it’s actually the opposite.’ Departing the wilderness, she ventures into small villages and gazes upon windows behind which lives unfold.

Van der Molen encounters these windows while exploring the southern islands of Japan, where houses are constructed using traditional methods and materials. The walls are thin due to the mild climate. She is struck by the fact that apart from the din of a television, the soft shuffle of socks on echoing floors, or the clatter from a kitchen, she only hears the monotonous hum of air con. No heated discussions, no loud laughter, no sensual sighs. This is the first of her many travels through Japan to discover why she is so intrigued by these windows.

From a distance, the photographer becomes aware of the daily activities behind the windows but without life truly revealing itself to her. Instead, the windows display patterns of shapes in shades of black, white, and grey. At the same time, that shadow play instills mystery into things, since the opaque-frosted glass subtly but resolutely obscures the interior world from view.

The introduction of carbon prints

As she silently traverses the darkness, Awoiska van der Molen captures the hushed world behind and around the windows. Her photographs demand slowness. Slowness during the creation of the image. Slowness in its materialisation. Slowness in viewing the results. The darkroom is where Van der Molen allows her images to slowly appear again. Van der Molen, acclaimed for her gelatin silver prints, chooses a printing process for the illuminated windows that is new to her, the 19th century carbon print. Because the carbon print – a transfer technique – is so complex and labour intensive, it is hardly used anymore. Executed with the lamp black pigment (soot), it is one of the most durable printing techniques. The pigment and gelatin carry the image that lies in a thin layer on the paper, with the thickness of the layer determining the degree of darkness or light. The carbon print has an exceptionally long tonal range, allowing the diverse dark to light shades in the windows to be optimally realised.

Our lonely selves

One could say that these illuminated windows function as a screen between the photographer (or the observer) and the world, between a psychological inner world and the external world of things. Through the windows, we catch a glimpse of the life behind them, yet there is no substantial contact. The windows serve as a barrier to the desire for safety and companionship as well as a glimpse of it. They simultaneously represent the longing for connection as well as comfort with distance. In this sense, the windows symbolise the existential loneliness that most of us must come to terms with to a greater or lesser degree.

Van der Molen’s photographs can be seen as psychological spaces in which the photographer searches for something she only understands in retrospect. For instance, her black-and-white landscape images taken between 2009 and 2021, with their many shades of black, grey, and white, are more than just a record of the physical characteristics of an expanse. During solitary walks in the remote wilderness, Van der Molen attempts to penetrate the essence of a place. Experiencing the return to what is at the core of existence – our deeply-rooted relationship with the earth, its cyclical rhythms, the cosmos of which we are part – is what she visualises in these images.

‘I only take a photograph when all the distractions have faded away and there’s no sense of time anymore. The moment that you’re no longer busy with yourself: experiencing Point Zero’. While this deeper layer of meaning may not be immediately apparent in her images, it is likely still perceptible to many viewers.


Awoiska van der Molen (1972, Groningen) studied Architecture & Design followed by photography at Minerva Art Academy in Groningen and Hunter College in New York City. In 2003, she completed her MFA in Photography at St. Joost School of Art and Design in Breda.

Van der Molen’s work has been shown in several group shows organised by Huis Marseille including Pictures From Another Wall. The Huis Marseille Collection in De Pont (2020), and The Rediscovery of the World (2013). Four of her pieces have also been acquired for Huis Marseille’s permanent collection. Furthermore, her work has also appeared in solo and group shows at venues including Pier 24 Photography (San Francisco), Foam Fotografiemuseum (Amsterdam), the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Photographers Gallery (both in London), Kousei-Inn (Kyoto), Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival in France, FOMU (Antwerp), and Fotomuseum Den Haag.

Van der Molen’s first monograph, Sequester, was nominated for the Paris Photo-Aperture First Book Prize in 2014 and in 2015 it received a silver medal at the ‘Best Book Design from all over the World’ awards in Leipzig, Germany. Her second book, Blanco, was published in 2017 followed in 2020 by The Living Mountain. All these books were designed by Hans Gremmen. In 2011, Van der Molen was a finalist at the Hyères Festival International de Mode et de Photographie in France and in 2014 she won the Japanese Hariban Award. In 2017 she received the Larry Sultan Photography Award. Her work was also shortlisted for the prestigious Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize in 2017 and the Prix Pictet in 2019.

Awoiska van der Molen’s new work was made possible by support from the Mondriaan Fund and the VandenEnde Foundation.


At the same time as the exhibition a publication, once again designed by Hans Gremmen and published by FW:Books, will be available in the museum shop.

Featuring work from our collection by

Awoiska van der Molen