Milestones of Monumental Proportions
Photographs by Hendrik Kerstens (1956) bring to mind the paintings of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). Both portray women in everyday settings. Measured, dedicated, serene. These images are intimate genre pieces, with no anecdotal or symbolic elements. Both artists demonstrate their mastery in the control of lighting, with a scrupulous eye for the subtle expressions of materials. This focus on a life-like rendition infuses their work with poetic qualities.
Whereas Vermeer had several different women to pose for him, Kerstens concentrates on a single person: a five year old girl, whom we witness becoming a woman over the years, and whose physical changes can be tracked in detail. What remains is the ever-present examining gaze. The setting in Kerstens' photos has been reduced to the absolute minimum, drawing all the attention to the subject's expressive face and eyes. Her staring, fathomless eyes unblinkingly seek contact with the camera and onlooker.
None of Vermeer's models have ever been identified with certainty, including 'The Girl with a Pearl Earring', whom critics believe to have been Vermeer's eldest daughter Maria, who was twelve or thirteen at the time. With Kerstens, there is no doubt about his muse: his daughter Paula. Since her birth, he has been fascinated by her expressive personality and recorded the major and minor events in her life. A dedicated chronicler and a caring father who sees his child grow into adulthood. A man who wants to stop the passing of time and keep his daughter with him forever. We see her bathing, soaked with rain, with made up face, with braces, crying, or sunburnt. All ordinary, everyday things.
You could call Kerstens a ‘family photographer’. He uses photography as a private diary, to register the ordinary and exceptional events in the life of his daughter. In that sense, his work differs little from what we do with our snapshot camera: while photographing in and around the house we are also writing our own history. But with his controlled lighting and balanced compositions, Kerstens transcends this memorabilia to a masterly level. In this way, the minor and ordinary events in Paula's life are blown up to milestones of monumental proportions.
©Pim Milo, 2006