Masters of Photography – Hendrik Kerstens

From museums the world over, to the homes of icons such as Elton John and Alexander McQueen, Hendrik Kerstens’ unique and striking images have combining the everyday mundane and the classic masters since the early 1990’s.

Born in 1956 in The Hague, Kerstens is not a classically trained photographer. In fact, prior to picking up the camera, Kerstens was a wine importer.

So what made this importer of wine exchange the bottle for the camera?

His daughter.

Kerstens began photographing his daughter in the early 1990’s as a way to preserve the memories of her childhood. At first his images were ordinary and captured his daughter’s everyday life – her baths, her sunburn, and her day-today activities.

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Left photo: June, 2001. Right photo: September, 1994 (c) Hendrik Kerstens

That changed one day when his daughter, Paula, returned from horseback riding. When she removed her helmet, Kerstens was struck by the image of the Dutch master painters of the seventeenth century. This marked a shift in the type of portraits that Kersten began capturing. Instead of just the everyday actions, he began taking images of his daughter that reflected the portraits of the seventeenth century paintings.

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‘Lampshade,’ 2008 (c) Hendrik Kerstens

But Kerstens didn’t want to simply mimic the styles of the Dutch Masters, he wanted to create a bridge between past and present, something to keep his images grounded in everyday life. The way he achieved this was through the headgear his daughter would wear in the images.

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Napkin, February, 2009 (c) Hendrik Kerstens

Many of his titles are direct references with the materials he uses to create the classical feel of the images. “Napkin” imitates a maid’s bonnet, while “Bag” uses a plastic bag, something so utterly modern, to reflect the look of a lace hood.

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Red Turban, 2015 (c) Hendrik Kerstens

Other piece are more elaborate, using elaborate looking neck pieces, or combining modern attire – such as a baseball cap – with classically inspired garments. But it’s in the simple compositions – a towel wrapped around the head, or Paula looking to the camera in a hooded sweatshirt – where Kerstens’ most powerful work is found. It’s these pieces that best captures the fusion between simple family pictures and portraits honouring the work of Dutch artists throughout the centuries.