Mees Peijnenburg: When Two Bodies Collide

Artist Mees Peijnenburg

Words Tom Czibolya

The tenderness in the natural brutality of a kiss – Mees Peijnenburg’s wonderful photo series, Kiss Kiss remains one of our very favorites this year: an almost cinematographic experience around moments of love. In conversation with Container Love, the director & photographer told us about the excitement of working with strangers, the art of learning love’s dynamics and the great beauty that lies within the various stages of lovesickness.

“For me, it’s searching for the right moment. For now, the biggest risk is that I miss it.”

First of all, can you tell us, what is a kiss?

I’m very much moved and magnetized by a kiss. The chemistry that explodes when two bodies collide, when two bodies become one – this is a kiss for me. It’s the fireworks between two people and you can find everything in it. There is trust, there is hunger, there is attraction. To me, there is a very big beauty in it.

What are the main benefits as well as risks of displaying intimacy this way?

Obviously it is very intimate. There is huge trust that is needed and required from two people to share their intimacy with me, as a photographer. This trust is what makes these photos intimate instead of exploited.

Everybody is different, they move differently, have their own rhythm and special attraction to each other. When we are taking pictures, it’s essential that everybody must feel at ease.

If there is a moment when somebody says I don’t like it, I don’t feel comfortable – we stop, immediately.

For me, it’s searching for the right moment. For now, the biggest risk is that I miss it.

How do you choose the couples that you photograph?

It depends. Often I post a search, almost like a casting call for people who want to kiss in front of the camera. Most of them I meet for the first time when we shoot the pictures. I don’t know them before they enter the room. Then we start talking, and start kissing. It’s mainly about enjoying the moment and having fun.

How do you build up this sort of trust?

Some people are very fluid, others have more doubts at first, but as soon as they start feeling comfortable and at ease, these insecurities and buzzling thoughts slowly fade away. Instead of wild scenes, I am much more looking for the tenderness in the natural brutality of a kiss.

What is the hardest part of capturing the dynamics of love?

For me, learning the rhythm of the person. Everybody has their own kissing rhythm. If there is a couple, they know each other, they already know the dynamics between them. But I’ve never seen them. I’m blank coming in, trying to catch the wave.

The hardest part is to catch their energy and to make sure that I celebrate it. Because that’s what I want: to celebrate the people I photograph, not forcing them into a position in which they’re not. There are no preconceptions about how I’m going to perceive these people, if the emotion goes this way, we go there, if it goes that way, we follow it there too. The important thing is that we’re going through this together.

Your photos feel almost like outtakes from a movie. If Kiss Kiss were a film, how would you describe its genre?

It’s everything. Maybe it is more like an opera or a ballet. It goes into high, goes into low, it goes everywhere. And it’s drama of course. It’s love.

I’m always curious, when I enter the room: who am I gonna meet, what’s the tension in there, how are we gonna orchestrate this opera? It’s all about cooperation and spontaneity. We don’t set up anything.

How do you handle intense emotions in your life – whether they are positive or negative ones?

I think, no matter how hard or how horrible or how uplifting they feel, I embrace all these emotions –  but only in retrospect, not in the moment. One can experience things that his rational state of mind just can’t comprehend. There is a beautiful power within us that we have to embrace and cherish. These feelings, they can create so much beauty and change how we see the world.

What are stages of lovesickness that you’ve already experienced?

There are so many. Despair, anger, sadness, melancholy. There is also hunger for something that once was. When you’re lovesick, you’re still in the moment. You’re very much in the middle of something that doesn’t belong to your present anymore.

Do you believe that moments of love are unrepeatable?

No, I don’t think they are unrepeatable. And I don’t think they’re repeatable either. There are moments that will guide me for the rest of my life and I hope that I’ll get close to those feelings once again in the future. Of course, you can’t reproduce the exact same feeling, but I do believe that you can embody it in a different way, in other shapes.