|Jan van Leeuwen was born on February 4, 1932 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He endured the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam from the ages of 8 to 12. He is not Jewish, but his memories of the disappearances of neighbors and classmates have haunted him for a lifetime.
Leeuwen’s first career was as a kitchen wares distributor. He would take pictures of the products, his initial foray into photography and a subtle step toward the still life compositions he would produce in his fine art career. In 1986 Leeuwen started taking serious photographs. By 1994 he had retired from his sales job to produce artwork full-time.
Inspired by the Dutch masters’ use of the camera obscura and other revolutionary technologies, the artist uses a 100-year-old wooden camera to capture images on emulsion paper. He creates a negative by rubbing the paper with paraffin oil and then produces a contact print with a UV-B lightbox. His finished products are murky cyanotypes and kallitypes, ghostly echoes of people and objects that evoke feelings of sadness, mystery and nostalgia.
“I mainly work in the intimate enclosure of my studio,” the artist says. “Every portrait contains elements of the self of its maker.”