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March 8, 2022


Photography by MG Vander Elst
Interview by Melanie Meggs

On International Women's Day, it's time to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of remarkable women like MG Vander Elst. Originally hailing from Belgium, MG's impressive career path has taken her to the United States, where she attended Atlanta's Portfolio Center and earned a degree in Advertising Photography with Honors. She then moved to New York City, where she has spent the last three decades as a professional photographer.

MG is particularly renowned for her portraiture, which captures the subtle nuances and intimate moments of her subjects. She emphasizes vulnerability and authenticity in her work, and her poetic self-exploration project “How does my body hold me in this moment and time?” is a powerful testimony to this ethos. Through her sustained attention to herself, MG has rekindled the lost friendship she once had with her body and is now accepting it in all its glory.

Today, we're honored to feature MG Vander Elst as part of our International Women's Day celebration. Her inspiring story and remarkable talent inspire us to strive for a world free of gender bias, and her words remind us to appreciate all that we have achieved and all that lies ahead. Join us in celebrating this incredible woman on International Women's Day.

“With significant changes happening in my life I am returning to myself to find answers.

How am I shifting and grappling with the change?
What is the language of my body?
What does this stillness mean?
How does my body hold me?
How do I make peace with myself?

This sustained attention to examine my body leads me to examine myself. By this steady attention to my myself I am rekindling the lost friendship I once had and I am accepting how my body holds me in this moment in time.”


THE PICTORIAL LIST: MG please tell us what the story is behind your project HOW DOES MY BODY HOLD ME IN THIS MOMENT AND TIME? What inspired it and when did it begin?

MG VANDER ELST: I started this project late last fall in a self portrait class with Samantha Box which led me down this path, in this work; the light, the simplicity of the image and the feeling it evokes are all elements that I try to infuse in the the work I make.

TPL: As you stated, "with significant changes happening in my life, I am returning to myself to find answers." Did you find the answers? What did you learn and take from this project? What do you want the viewer to experience and take with them?

MG: As a mother of a teenage boys one heading to college and another one heading to high school, a lot of my time and focus was spend on them, turning the camera on me is a way to rekindle a friendship with myself, appreciating and loving who I am today.

This project is teaching me how important it is to take the time for myself, love the person I am today. I hope this is something the viewer can also take away.

TPL: MG please tell us about yourself.

MG: I grew up in Antwerp in Belgium. My parents loved and collected art and took us on numerous trips to museums. During school outings we often went to visit the Dutch Masters. I feel that all this exposure is imprinted in me and guides me every day when I am photographing. Currently I live in Brooklyn, New York with my family and I am working on my fine art work every day.

TPL: What draws you to photography and art? How did your journey into photography begin?

MG: I was unsure which direction to take in college, I ended up taking a gap year and became an au pair for a family of four girls which led me to take an evening photography class and the rest is history.

TPL: What have been some of your favorite memories or moments in your photography journey?

MG: I think this is because I have been photographing for a while but taking pictures for me is like having my cup of coffee every morning I must have it! With my self portrait project, each week I put some time aside to photograph this project sometimes with an idea or sometimes I am not sure of which part of me I will photograph but the end result is always one of learning or with a great result and leaving me wanting to push further.

This project is teaching me how important it is to take the time for myself, love the person I am today. I hope this is something the viewer can also take away.

TPL: Do you have any favorite artists and photographers?

MG: There are lots of artist that inspire me and I often go to museums and galleries, here in New York we are spoiled. But to name a few, Irving Penn, JoAnn Verburg, Saul Leiter, Josef Albers, Georgia O’Keeffe, Laura Letinsky, Paul Klee, David Hockney and Morandi.

TPL: If you could just choose one photographer to shoot alongside for a day...who would you choose?

MG: Irving Penn, for his mastery but also a photographer Jennifer Pritchard whom I recently discovered, a lot of her work speaks to me, the emotions she evokes in her images how she puts her images together and her practice, I would love to be alongside her for a day.

TPL: Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length? How much post-processing do you do?

MG: I photograph most of my work with a Nikon Z7 and a 50mm lens, I also photograph with a Bronica 645 for other projects. In the future I see myself shooting with an analog Large Format Camera like a 4x5, this thought keeps popping in my mind as I l love the quality of black and white grain which I cannot attain with digital.

I do very little post processing, just the basics. I started photography 30 years ago when everything was analog, I guess I have kept my editing choices as they were back then.

TPL: Is there any advice that you would give yourself if you started photography all over again?

MG: Keep shooting what comes naturally to you.

TPL: What are some of your goals as an artist or photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years? What do you think is your next chapter in your exploration for future projects?

MG: Continue to learn more, I am an avid learner and want to continue to learn more I think there is no end to what you can learn in photography, I currently am photographing a couple of different projects alongside this self portrait one, they both are still life one mainly with flowers the other one is more of table-top setting but in a minimalistic genre. I am curious to see where those two projects are heading.

TPL: When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…

MG: My family comes first and you will find me cooking and baking for my hungry teenagers or escaping the city for a hike with them. Nature inspires me a lot!

MG Vander Elst has rekindled her lost friendship with her body and has created beautiful art in the process. Her story is a beautiful reminder of what we can achieve when we live authentically and unapologetically. Let us take this moment to thank and appreciate women everywhere for their stories, their strength, and their courage. Together, let us commit to creating a more equitable future for all.

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