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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Robert Van der Hilst

Dates:  1940 -
Born:  The Netherlands, Amsterdam
Contemporary Dutch photographer whose work is often used in magazines. 
Artist statement: 
I have trouble talking about my photography - good photographs talk for themselves and I am always surprised to read write-ups about my photography - the things people can see in my images!
But I can say one thing - I am looking for total silence in my photographs, immobility, there where nothing moves anymore, all is serene and still - the so called "decisive moment" is a term that I do not understand. Especially, now working for the past 4 years on "interiors", my images are very much composed and as if being set up, arranged.Using the inhabitants as my "actors", their habitat becoming a theater, I try to cross the threshold of their inner selves. In these series of "Cuban interiors" and now "Chinese interiors" I try not only to photograph the interior of the room but more importantly, the interior of man.
(November 2006)

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Robert van der Hilst

1940 Born in Amsterdam.
1957-59 School of Photography in The Hague
1961-63 Travels and works throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East
1963-65 Works as a photographer in Paris.
1966-79 Moves to Toronto/Canada to live and work there as a photographer.
1970-71 Travels by car from Toronto to Rio de Janeiro / Brazil, photographing Latin America over a period of 18 months.
1972-78 Spends 5 long winters photographing Mexico and Guatemala.
1979 Settles again in Paris with an exhibition of his Mexican and Guatemalan photography in Paris Gallery and starts getting photo assignments from magazines like VOGUE, STERN, GEO, MARIE CLAIRE, ELLE, PARIS MATCH, SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE and others.
1981 Exhibition in Paris of his “SAN FRANCISCO-HOMOPOLIS” series.
1986 Exhibition at the Amsterdam Canon Gallery of his World photography and receives a grant from the Ministry of Culture of the Netherlands, to work in Cuba.
1987-88 Lives and photographs throughout Cuba during one year.
1988 The Cuban photography is exhibited in Paris during the Month of Photography at Maison de L’Amerique Latine. In Tokyo at the Bunkamura Museum. In Amsterdam at the Canon Gallery and in Toulouse at the Chateau d’Eau Photo Gallery.
1990 Back to Cuba for German magazine MERIAN and considered "perona non grata" in Cuba.
1990 First visit to Shanghai for VOGUE magazine.
1992-94 Returns 6 times to Shanghai and exhibits his works in Perpignan’s VISA pour l’Image Photo Festival. The exhibition goes to Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou sponsored by the French Embassy in China and in Nov 1994 exhibits “SHANGHAI-PHOTOCOPIES” at l’Institut Néerlandais in Paris during the Month of Photography in Paris.
1998 March: exhibition of Asia photography at La Maison de la Chine in Paris.Part of the exhibition entered the collection of the Foundation for Photography of Amsterdam “Huis Marseille”
1998 Nov/Dec: allowed back in Cuba again, for STERN and for Figaro Magazine.
2000 April: co-exhibition with the German film director Wim Wenders of Cuban photography at the Foundation for Photography/Huis Marseille, in Amsterdam
2000 Jul/Aug: Invited to Fukuoka/Japan by the organization “Japan seen through European eyes”. The Fukuoka series is exhibited at FNAC Paris in September 2000 and throughout Europe
2001 Spends 3 months in the small town of Baracoa, Cuba, concentrating on interiors, on a project funded by l’Institut Néerlandais. The book “Les Cubains” is published by Vents de Sable with a text by well known Cuban writer Zoé Valdés and considered "persona non grata" again by the Cuban government.
2002 April/Aug: photographs "Cuban interiors" in Miami
2002 Nov/Dec: exhibition of “the Cuban Interiors” series at l’Institut Néerlandais during the Month of Photography in Paris, with the publication of a book.
2003 Exhibitions of "Cuban interiors" in Biarritz, France, Fondacion Carlos de Amberes in Madrid, Spain, Centro Cultural Espanol in Miami, USA
2004 Exhibition of "Cuban interiors" at the World Museum in Rotterdam and at the PingYao International Photography Festival in China. In May Van der Hilst starts his new photography project "Chinese interiors"
2005 Exhibition of “America, America....!” at the Pingyao International Photography Festival and continuation of "Chinese interiors"
2006 Pursuit of the major project “Chinese Interiors” with travels to Xinjiang, Yunnan, Hubei, Anhui, Zhejiang, Shanxi, Guizhou, etc.
2006 Van der Hilst takes up residence in Shanghai and plans to continue on the project throughout 2006 and 2007. RABO BANK from the Netherlands is his sponsor. Publication of the book "Chinese Interiors" as a corporate gift, RABO BANK.
Van der Hilst works with the Mamiya 7 camera, film size 6x7 cm. using KODAK PORTRA 220 roll color negative film.
All prints are made in Amsterdam by lithographer and printer Henk Pothoff using Fine Art Inkjet printing by EPSON Stylus 9800 on German etching Huenemann paper.
Shanghai (November 2006)
Communicating through the eyes, feelings and emotions.....
When I started working on my "Chinese interiors" photography project in June 2004, about a year after having finished my "Cuban Interiors" project, I believed that I could take the same approach in China as in Cuba.....photographing people inside their homes, meeting them, getting to know them, positioning them as, I, the photographer, saw them, inside their homes. And most importantly, speak with these people in their language and blend into their lives for a short period of time.
It did not turn out like that at all in China. I do not speak the language and to a large extent I am ignorant of their culture. Soon after embarking on the project I realized that I would not be able to blend into these people’s lives as easily. Their reactions upon seeing a tall foreigner at their doorstep made me realize that this was not going to work. I felt like an alien arriving at these people’s doorstep.
Here I was, a Dutch photographer, wishing to get inside the homes of these Chinese families, but unable to communicate with my subjects. I asked myself ‘what am I doing here?’
But my curiosity to find out more about the people and their behaviour towards me drove me to pursue my personal mission even more relentlessly. I started working with an interpreter who helped to explain who I am and what it is that I wish to do. Once this critical hurdle was overcome, I could communicate with my subjects, through the eyes, emotions and my feelings. Soon after, I found myself blending into these people’s homes, just like in any country where I would speak the language, and capturing these moments of quiet communication with my subjects.
I spent most of my time taking photographs in the rural areas of China. The daily lives were revealed through the bodies and faces of the people I met, sometimes instantly, sometimes through interaction over a period of time. It was a glimpse into each person's private human realm.
While working on this project in China, I was particularly struck by the enormous curiosity, hospitality and kindness of the families I photographed. Once inside their homes I could also feel the determination, the courage and the willpower these people possess. For them there seems to be just one way to go: forward. I recalled images of Vermeer, the 17th Century Dutch painter who has inspired my work in many places. I also saw how in their homes I could capture the spirit of these people, the quietness, the pride, the serenity, the austerity and togetherness of their lives. I now feel extremely confident regarding my subjects and find immense pleasure visiting many villages and towns throughout China.
My gratitude naturally goes first to those Chinese families who so spontaneously and whole heartedly opened their doors for me, invited me to sit down and to share a cup of green tea with them; I shall always remember their insatiable curiosity about me as a person and of course their delightful and genuine hospitality.
I would also like to mention that after having exhibited my photography in The Pingyao International Photography Festival in 2004 and in 2005, I was able to make many Chinese friends, mostly photographers from all over China. These photographers, once they came to know about my project, invited me to visit them, and accompanied me during my travels in their province, guiding me to small towns and villages to photograph the "Interiors". In particular, I am deeply grateful to the photographers like, Chen Haiwen from Shanghai, Wu Jalin from Kunming, Wang Hanbing from Xinjiang Province and Wang Zhongwen from Taiyuan, who have helped me tremendously in my project. I have traveled extensively with them to places such as Guizhou, Yunnan, Hubei, Fujian, Zhejiang, Xinjiang, Shanxi and more and have completely enjoyed their insights and deep understanding of rural China.
I also wish to thank Rabobank for their support in this project. When in March 2006 I showed my first photographs of "Chinese interiors" to the China management team of Rabobank, I was met with great enthusiasm and warm encouragement.
A special thank you to Ms. Elizabeth Priester, who introduced me to Rabobank and to Jean Loh, who, when I was in doubt about this project, encouraged me to go on and to never look back.
Shanghai (September 2006) 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Bauret, Gabriel (ed. and text) 2001 Color Photography (New York: Assouline) [Includes example color photographs by Robert Van der Hilst] 
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