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How Beautiful Diversity Can Be

I come from a small village located in the east of Holland. A place where ambition is not very high on people’s priority list. Pursuing a form of higher education was also not really encouraged. I never felt like I belonged there. I was a dreamer, an outsider to them, wanted to get away from everyday life and always dreamt of escaping to the big city. It is there where I would feel understood and start anew.

When I turned 19 I left for Amsterdam. Selected to be educated at the prestigious Amsterdam Fashion Institute. An environment driven by ambition and perfection. I spent every minute I had on my education. What caught my interest were the aesthetics of all things we got to create. Phantasy and creativity were at the core of my day-to-day activities and it suited me. I finally found my footing, and after finishing my education, chose to continue in this field. I went on to work as a Designer for several large fashion publications. Quickly progressed to Art-Director. I was in love with the photography the magazines featured. Fashion is selling a dream, and being on a photography set was magical to me.

I knew for a while that I wanted to be a photographer, but the fear of technique held me back. Due to my job I was confronted with it on a daily base, and I started to take notice of all the different kinds of photography. On the one hand you had the “glamour” photography, and on the other you had the raw “real” photography. Glamour photography featured perfect models, showcasing the dream, while real photography featured people that did not fit the norm and shot in a documentary setting. It made me wonder, what if you would shoot unique individuals in a more stylised setting? People that are beautiful in their own right, but not the standard kind of beauty. Simply because of their special appearance, or a physical abnormality. A little bit of Diane Arbus meets Mario Testino if you will.

Supported by my partner, I quit my job as an Art-Director and bought my first camera. That is now 2,5 years ago. I take pride in photographing special people, often backed by a story of social importance. The key take-away in my work is always to show how beautiful diversity can be.

Silk: Metamorphosis, 2014

Silk is one of my first series starring Tani, an adopted Chinese girl with a hare lip. At the time she was ten years old. Where she comes from, women and girls with imperfections remain hidden and silent, their concerns unknown and their rights overlooked. This is far more likely to happen in the case of a girl-child, as boys are valued more than girls in Asian culture. The girl-child is likely to face discrimination within the family, and have little hope of marriage. Luckily Tani grew up in Western society where she was nurtured into the beautiful girl she now is.

The Outsiders: Soldiers March, 2014

The Outsiders is one of my personal favourites. It features Denise accompanied by sphinx cat Levi. It always creates an interesting dynamic when I add animals to my portraits. They should make sense together and I don’t think I could have found a better match then these two. They break the norm of what is perceived to be beautiful in this world. Through their appearance they stand out from the crowd, both unique in their own right. Like a soldier they bravely march towards the challenges that lie ahead. Obstacles to confront and overcome. I believe that the new generation will see boundaries fade and determine for themselves what is the norm. There is beauty in the unusual. Celebrate different.

Nude: Strength, 2014

There is no specific casting agency that caters to my needs when it comes to selecting my type of models. I often resort to searching through social media, television or street casting. This was also the case with the beautiful Miriam. I first saw her as the star in a Dutch documentary where she told her story of what it’s like to live with albinism. Living with albinism not only means an absence of pigmentation in the skin and hair, but also impairment in vision. She finds herself navigating a world that is full of challenges and prejudice to overcome. Miriam is highly educated, ambitious and very strong spirited. We all fight our battles, but for with the difference being that she wears her vulnerability on the outside for all to see. The series ‘Nude’ explores the duality between the vulnerability and strength within oneself.

The Leftovers: Isa, 2015

This is Isa, a beautiful nine year old with Down syndrome. Down syndrome has been a popular subject on Dutch television the last few years. Several television programmes showed us what it was like to live with Down syndrome in the Netherlands. This fascinated me. Some people with Down’s are fairly capable to function in society, but others are not so independent and require a lot of help. As of late there is the ability for women to predetermine if your unborn has 47 chromosomes, an indicator of Down syndrome. More and more women are using this service, and often abort the pregnancy when the test is positive.

When I learned this, I couldn’t help but wonder; could there be no one left with Down syndrome in our near future? No one wants their child to go through life having to cope with a perceived handicap, but when it happens, the parent can’t imagine living without their child regardless of circumstance. This idea inspired me to create portraits of young children with Down Syndrome.

Jeweled: Anke, 2016 

Often I photograph children. What interests me is that they have an innocence and untainted beauty to them. Although it is a risk working with them due to their inexperience, but when all falls into place the results can be magical. Jeweled is my newest series. When I found Anke through social media I was directly taken by her beauty. After my Nude series that I made in 2014 I learned a lot about albinism. Like as an Albino, the way you are perceived and treated is very dependent on where you live in this world. In western society the fact that albinism is so rare, people often view it as unique and sometimes even beautiful. But in some parts of Africa Albinism is still shrouded in a superstition from the past, where it was believed that the limbs of a person with Albinism would bring prosperity. A horrible thought. But with the ability to share information more easily we see that a new generation takes shape. They revolt against old believes and make up their own mind about what is accepted and beautiful. We should all treasure this kind of unique beauty.

Justine Tjallinks

Justine is a self-taught photographer and takes pride in photographing remarkable individuals, often backed by a story of social importance. These people have a unique appearance, or sometimes even a physical abnormality. The key take-away is always to show how beautiful diversity can be.

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