Hendrik Kerstens, more than 15 years photographing his daughter in the style of Vermeer

Hendrik Kerstens, more than 15 years photographing his daughter in the style of Vermeer

We cannot underestimate the strong connection between photography and painting. Many photographers draw inspiration from painters, and vice versa. Just the other day, my colleague Alfonso introduced us to the fantastic work of the portraitist Pierre Gonnord, whose photos evoke the spirit of Velazquez’s paintings. However, Gonnord is not the only photographer who draws from classical traditions. In Holland, we find Hendrik Kerstens, whose portraits bear resemblance to the works of Vermeer and Rembrandt, whether through the use of lighting or composition.

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The Remarkable Journey of Hendrik Kerstens

Kersten’s work is astonishing for two compelling reasons. Firstly, in 1995, at the age of 39, he made the courageous decision to leave everything behind and pursue a career in photography. His muse for over 15 years has been his daughter, Paula, chosen not only for her beauty but also for her intriguing, expressionless face. It’s the unchanging countenance, bathed in the exquisite light employed by Kersten, that gives his photographs an aesthetic reminiscent of the Flemish painters of the seventeenth century. In the words of the photographer himself:

“It was never my intention to merely imitate the masters of the seventeenth century, but I suppose you could say it’s in my Dutch DNA. The atmosphere of Rembrandt’s studio, an appreciation for art, has profoundly influenced me.”

Secondly, what sets Kersten apart is his creativity. He uses anything and everything as props for his fantastic portraits, whether it’s a simple shopping bag or a roll of paper. Moreover, it’s impossible not to admire the lighting in his photographs. Initially, he worked with natural light streaming through the windows of his home, but he now employs professional lighting, perfectly suited to his large 4×5 format camera, used to capture his daughter’s portraits. With minimal resources, he creates true masterpieces, showcasing the power of imagination.

The Endless Captivation of Kersten’s Portraits

For over 15 years, Kersten has captured the same photograph: his daughter adorned in different outfits in each image. The dark backdrop serves as a stark contrast to his daughter’s fair skin, creating an air of mystery intensified by the carefully orchestrated lighting. Yet, in the artist’s own words, it’s a gaze that “refuses to speak.”

The Legacy of Hendrik Kerstens

Hendrik Kerstens’ work has left an indelible mark on the world of photography. His dedication to capturing the essence of his daughter in the style of the Dutch masters is not only a testament to his artistic prowess but also an exploration of the enduring connection between contemporary art and classical traditions.

What makes Kerstens’ approach unique is his ability to fuse the past and present seamlessly. His use of modern photographic equipment and lighting techniques, combined with a deep appreciation for the art of the seventeenth century, results in portraits that transcend time. Paula, his daughter, becomes a timeless muse, her enigmatic expressions echoing across centuries.

The Power of Minimalism

Kersten’s work also underscores the power of minimalism in photography. With a simple yet effective backdrop and a focus on his subject’s expression and attire, he demonstrates that elaborate setups are not always necessary to create compelling imagery. It’s a lesson in the art of restraint and the ability to find beauty in simplicity.


In conclusion, Hendrik Kerstens’ journey as a photographer and his remarkable body of work centered around his daughter Paula serve as an inspiration to both photographers and art enthusiasts alike. His ability to channel the spirit of the Dutch masters while embracing modern technology showcases the timelessness of artistic expression.

Moreover, his commitment to capturing the essence of his subject with minimalistic elegance highlights the enduring power of simplicity in art. As we gaze upon Paula’s enigmatic visage in Kerstens’ portraits, we are reminded that the connection between past and present, between photography and painting, continues to evolve and thrive.

In Engadget Photo | Pierre Gonnord: Renewing the Spirit of Velazquez

Bibliography ►
Phoneia.com (October 13, 2012). Hendrik Kerstens, more than 15 years photographing his daughter in the style of Vermeer. Recovered from https://phoneia.com/en/hendrik-kerstens-more-than-15-years-photographing-his-daughter-in-the-style-of-vermeer/