The work of Antwerp-based Dutch photographer Ingrid Baars is moving. You’ll either love it or loathe it, but there’s something incredibly direct and visceral about it; human bodies revealed in an abstract and sensual way, an effect that’s incredibly powerful and inspiring. Baars treats photographs the same way a sculptor treats clay. She spends hours, sometimes days, reworking an image until she gets it exactly where she wants it. Inspired by the African Arts, Cubism and famous muses, Baars flings open the gates to an imaginary world, rich in nuance, beauty and emotion.

What is your educational background?

I studied illustration at the Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam and took some photography classes on the side for about a year or two.

Were you always into photography?

I was introduced to photography at a very early age by my grandfather, who was a dedicated amateur photographer. My mother was also a model and I started to take pictures of her when she needed some for her book. As a teenager, I started shooting girlfriends, and their friends ended up posing for me, too. What I remember from that period is that I was enchanted by the intimacy I experienced looking at a face through the lens. I was focused on capturing the very essence and beauty of it.

What are your main sources of inspiration?

I always work with the human -and mostly female – body. I have always been fascinated by the beauty of bodies and faces for as long as I can remember.

Are there motifs or themes you always go back to?

When I was a kid, I used to spend hours choosing dolls until I found the one with the right face. I practiced classical ballet pretty seriously until I was 17 because of that same love for the human body and its varied expression of emotions.

Would you say you’re obsessed with the body then?

Of course. I’m fascinated by its form. In my images, I’m motivated by an exploration of bodies that leads to the creation of truly interesting and strong shapes.

There’s a sculptural dimension in your work. How do you make that happen in a photograph?

My work might look like photographs, but photography is only my point of departure. It’s the material I work with. What you are looking at is actually constructed. My aim for a very recent series was to make two-dimensional sculptures. I worked with cut and paste extensively in order to cover up the collage feeling.

What kind of feelings or emotions do your images capture?

Presence, melancholy, power, controlled sexuality and vulnerability. Preferably all at the same time. Usually I find my images less interesting when one of these ingredients is missing.

When do you know you’ve found the right balance in a photograph?

I can usually measure this by the level of excitement I experience. It’s a very clear moment when I know all the best possible choices have been made. I go through different stages when I create an image. There are a thousand choices to be made at first and it’s all chaos. After an intense period of sliding, pushing, cutting, stacking, layering -and moving all parts around- the foundation of the final image begins to appear. From this point onwards, it’s just fine-tuning and making sure that the image is also technically perfect. For instance, I can get very annoyed when I have left an outline too blurry or too sharp.

When I manage to get to the essence of what I want to express,  it’s the moment I love the most in life.

You spend a lot of time reworking your images. How do you find that process in general?

It can be frustrating when I “can’t find it”. I’m not satisfied when I find myself repeating a previous success for example, so I try to stay away from that. I’m always trying to get to the next level and better myself. When I manage to get to the essence of what I want to express,  it’s the moment I love the most in life.

Who are the artists that influenced you?

I’d say Egon Schiele, because of his genius understanding of the three-dimensional body and how to translate it into a two-dimensional form. His art is the most powerful-yet-tender form that I have ever seen. I love Picasso, because of the optical movement and multiple exposures in one image. Erwin Olaf amazes me, too, with his ability to throw images right at you. It’s beauty with a bite.

You’re passionate about the African Arts. What are the aspects you are specifically drawn to?

I’m drawn to the endless variety in forms and shapes expressing the human body. There seem to be no boundaries in African Arts. This forces me to approach the shape of the body from a new and free angle, exploring it in many different ways. I am also amazed by the far reaching influence African Arts have had on the development of Western Modern Art at the beginning of the 20th century.

What sort of reactions does your art create?

It’s love or hate. There’s no in-between space with my work.

Are you surprised by people’s comments sometimes?

I remember once standing in front of a very large image that I had made and an older man said: “Such a nice woman in front of such an ugly image… Do you understand why young children are afraid of these pictures?” Although I find this pretty funny, it also surprised me a bit as I’m such a sucker for beauty and aesthetics.

Which projects are you currently working on?

I’m not done my “L’Afrique c’est Chic!” series yet. I feel like I’ve just discovered a few aspects of the variety of images that I’m about to make with this inspiration. I will be working on this theme for at least one more year. I’ve just started this series called : “The Designer Collection” where I get to choose pieces from designers I admire.

Can I ask which designer was your first choice?

The first designer I chose was Iris van Herpen. I just made two images with her designs. My goal is to keep collaborating with interesting and talented designers and exhibit my work in galleries. I have solo exhibitions planned in Amsterdam, Brussels and in London later this year.