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April - Hans van Ommeren.

Capturing movement on film When he was a boy, Hans van Ommeren liked to sit at the waterside and watch the way light played on the swell of the waves. He often wondered how he could capture this movement on film. Nowadays he still finds a challenge in capturing movement and the dynamic play of light. But he has moved on a stage from simply portraying existing movement. Now he concentrates on bringing static objects to life. “A cherry, for example, has to tremble, otherwise nothing’s happening.”

Quest to learn everything about photography

When Hans was nine years old he was given his father’s old camera. “This looks like something for you,” said his grandmother. So began his quest to learn everything he could about photography. He read books about the various photographic techniques, practiced seeing the right subjects, talked to many photographers and experimented with his camera. He quickly also learned to make money from his photographs. “I used to save the last shot on each roll so that I could photograph someone in town. Once I had printed the photo I found the person and sold it to them. That way I could afford to buy more film.”

Hans built his first enlarger from plywood, a lens, a piece of glass for a diffuser, a bellows and a bulb. His first enlargements were 18x24 cm, which was enormous in those days. Eventually he graduated to an Ilford 6x6 Sportsman camera, and later a second-hand Rolleicord 6x6. And then suddenly it all got very serious. “I wanted to make a real go of it and I was totally convinced that a Hasselblad was the only camera for me. But in the beginning I just did not have the opportunity to buy a body, lens or even a magazine. I worked in a photographic shop in my spare time and all I could afford was a magazine slide. But I wasn’t put off; I knew that the rest would come with time. I worked hard to develop my photographic skills. During that time I learned to get by with very little equipment and realised I could still take fantastic photographs. Eventually I bought my first A12 Magazine, a 500C camera body, a Planar 80 mm lens and a couple of other lenses. The square format fascinated me and my Hasselblad was truly a boyhood dream that came true.”


Driven to explore new avenues

Hans van Ommeren is constantly driven to explore new avenues and keep on experimenting. His motto is: if there is a different way of doing something then that is what you must do. “I used to prefer photographs that were pin sharp. Now I am attracted by lack of definition. I see lack of definition as the dream in a world where sharpness is the reality. My technique is based on moving the camera and making multiple exposures, four to six exposures at a time, each with different light sources. The lighting is often very simple and is centred around ambient lighting. I really like strong contrasts in light and colour, and often study the way that light is used by film directors and painters, such as the impressionists. Sometimes I use a pocket torch to add a gentle glow and often move the light source in unison with the camera. My style involves using ambient light with long exposure times and a very selective focus. If I want to freeze a moment by adding some flash from my Broncolor I often use the fill flash with coloured gels in front of the bulbs.”

Blurring the boundaries between analogue and digital photography

At times his photographs look as if they are created digitally, but in fact almost everything Hans does is grounded in conventional photography. “For me, photography is about telling a story, and I do that best with camera and film. Then I scan in the images, manipulate them if necessary, and finally burn them on CD. But the boundaries between digital and analogue photography are becoming increasingly blurred. I love working in my digital darkroom. I scan in photographs with a Flextight 2 and print them on an Epson 9500 inkjet printer. This gives colour prints up to 112 cm wide with excellent image quality and high colour and grey-scale saturation. I don’t have a digital camera yet, but I’m waiting for a true “one-shot” camera with a memory of around 40 Mb. Then I will really be able to exploit my photographic potential to the full, with long exposure times, multiple diffuse light sources and movement during exposure. I’m not interested in digital photography for its speed, but because I can see the results immediately. Although it is possible I might lose some of the excitement between taking a shot and seeing it in the lab. Did it work? Has it turned out as I planned?

“But I also work a lot with my Hasselblad, partly because of the square format and partly because the equipment is so beautiful and reliable. And of course the Hasselblad brand is a big bonus with my customers. There is no doubt about it; the Hasselblad with its wonderful lenses is still my favourite camera.”


Doing many things well

Hans van Ommeren does a lot of work for advertising campaigns, annual reports, child fashion reporting, books, etc. He has worked on commissions for Ernst & Young, Bristol Meyer Squib, Yamaha, the IT-world, Bosch & Keuning, Dutch universities, RABO bank and many others. He believes that a good photographer must do many things well. “Apart from having the technical skill you have to be able to visualise what the customer wants. When I am working I follow my intuition. If it feels right then it will often be right. More and more advertising agencies and art directors are attracted to my artistic images and it’s not unusual for them to form the basis of entire campaigns. It’s exciting to know that this type of image can be used in a commercial context.”

Constantly searching for new subjects

“Taking photographs is like dreaming. You capture unusual subjects, freeze beautiful moments and use them to create a fantasy world. I enjoy visiting museums and photographic exhibitions at home and abroad, and I’m greatly inspired by photographers such as Lartique, August Sander, Irving Penn, Ernst Haas and Sarah Moon. There is a sort of restlessness within me, an urge to look further, to find even more beautiful subjects, colours and compositions. It’s an urge that absorbs me totally. When I’m not taking photographs I feel rather dejected. The fact is that photography is the only thing I truly love. Sad isn’t it?”

Kerstin Fiedler