Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego
Model and Muse: photographs by Hendrik Kerstens
February 7 – through May 31, 2015
Article by Cathy Breslaw
Since 1995, Dutch photographer Hendrik Kerstens has been photographing his daughter, Paula. Kerstens’s approach is a mix of painting and photography, borrowing traditional dark background poses, the careful handling of light, and the subtle treatment of skin from the masters of 15th century Dutch portraiture. He blends them together with accessories including a bubble wrap headdress, a plastic shopping bag cap, cloth napkin and towel hats, a carefully arranged aluminum foil head-cover, and a collection of doilies stacked around Paula’s neck mimicking ‘old world’ starched collars. Reminiscent of a Johannes Vermeer portrait like the famous “Girl With A Pearl Earring”, Kerstens’s work plays with a dialogue between photography and early Dutch painting. His work is ‘painterly’ in its sensibility and there is a certain air of humor in the costume-like combinations of hats and caps he creates for Paula’s head in each image. Bordering on the ridiculous, the accessories he uses complement the photos of Paula so much so that viewers don’t immediately see them but are drawn more readily to the dead-pan expressions on Paula’s face. These images are also a serious effort of a father’s desire to document his child’s growth over time, and to maintain those memories in the form of formal photographs. This series of large-format unframed pigment prints express the ‘Dutch Light’ of Dutch Master paintings. They are at once classically beautiful and at the same time cast with an unexpected misplaced absurdity, giving Kerstens’s images an excitement and contemporary context.