Self-taught photographer Hendrik Kerstens’ inspiration is his daughter and muse Paula, who has been his primary subject for over two decades. Photographing Paula in a single space, Kerstens freely explores her as a subject. His early portraits depict the everyday, her standing on a chair ready for swim practice or with a sunburn, which emanates from his paternal need to capture the fleeting essence of her childhood.
Struck by the vision of Paula coming home from horseback riding in a hairnet along with her appearance, luminous skin, and Dutch features, his photographs began to reflect the craftsmanship and lighting of seventeenth century Dutch painted portraiture. With a witty twist, his images create a dialogue between the past and present by utilizing atypical contemporary props that suggest antiquity. In the photograph Bag Paula wears a plastic grocery bag on top of her head; combined with her poised expression and gesture, the lucid quality of the image, and the unmistakable "Dutch" light, the bag instantly becomes a traditional lace hood. The balance and play Kerstens forges between contemporary photography and historical painting, conventional motifs and modern topics, the model’s serious expression and her quirky garb contribute to the dynamism of his work. Kerstens’ images are widely known, influencing other image-makers and artists. The late Alexander McQueen’s Autumn/Winter 2009 collection paid homage to Bag, and the image was used on the invitation to the fashion show.
Kerstens has exhibited at acclaimed institutions around the world including: the National Portrait Gallery, London; the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA), San Diego, California; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California; Erarta Museum, St. Petersburg; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto; and the Whangarei Art Museum, New Zealand, among others. His work is in major public and private collections such as: the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; the Museum of Photography in The Hague; the Sir Elton John Photography Collection, London; the Caldic Collection, Rotterdam; and the Alexander McQueen Collection, London. Kerstens has won multiple awards, including: the Silver Portrait Photography of the Year Prize, Lead Awards, Germany, 2010; the Second Prize Winner of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, National Portrait Gallery, London, 2008; and the PANL Award, Netherlands, 2001.