Hans Withoos’ career spans more than twenty years, during which he combined his commissioned work with his own projects. After graduating from the Arts Academy, he started a firm with Jolanda Cats, specializing in fashion, photography and commercial video. Their clients range from large corporations to non-profit organizations. Although highly successful in his commercial and international fashion work, he also is prolific in his independent work, making many photography series over the years, mostly situated in romantic and highly recognizable sites and cities around the world. Hans Withoos’ photography is set in the world of abundance and artifice-- the smell of decadence wafting towards the viewer. It is a world that is both familiar and different.
In Withoos’ exaggerated scenes, the figures crowding the images become archetypes, and the viewer is overcome by a sense of alienation. The work is full of layered, staged images with idiosyncratic aesthetics. At times, the photographs evoke emotions related to suffering, sensuality and hidden oppressiveness; at other times, the images depict the complete opposite and are deliberately emotionless. Hans is a true storyteller. Sometimes his story is already carefully crafted, but often times it grows as an organism. Most of the stories he tells have a romantic veneer to them, but underneath the façade lies a gritty theme. His images don’t aim to show any particular critical perspective but, rather, they leave it up to the viewers to make their own interpretations.
Does your approach to fashion photography reflect your personal style?
The main answer is yes. The only difference is that with commissioned work, I have to listen to the wishes of a client and work with their particular products. But most of the time, I am invited to fashion shoots because people are familiar with my personal work and they like the idea of storytelling. Sometimes the clients like for me to organise the entire shooting. I make suggestions in the choice of models, themes, locations, and so on, but in the end, the client always has the last word.
There is an interesting story concerning the series “Lady with her Golden Toys”. Fernando Silva, a Brazilian fashion designer, asked me to do a shoot with the theme “The Golden Age”. He really wanted to have at least one frontal nude shot in this campaign so people would be shocked in Brazil. I told him the public might anticipate the male-female association. In my opinion, it directly refers to the couple, to family, which for me is all too familiar and boring, so I suggested creating a different story.
Central in this series is a young, beautiful and bored aristocratic young woman. Men are her toys to be played with and discarded when she gets tired of them. She is portrayed as “a double-edged sword”: she possesses innocence and cunning, passion and apathy, she is both attractive and repulsive. Most importantly, she is endowed with breath-taking beauty, having Medusa-like qualities: a beauty that petrifies. This is how the name “Lady with Her Golden Toys”came to be.
How do you choose your locations?
Sometimes I choose a location and sometimes the location chooses me. I have a great memory for beautiful places: when I see one, I put it in a location-map on my computer. Sometimes when I travel, the location chooses me. I mean, that special place wants me to tell a story. So I do. On the other hand, if the fashion needs a special theme or location, I will go and find the right place. Every location can surprise me. They all deliver a lot of possibilities and I try to use the elements the locations give me. For the photo “Hotel de Nice”, the initial idea was to portray a vulnerable guy, miserable after a terrible date. But then I saw a Holy Cross on the wall, and immediately the man became a symbol for Jesus. I love to put a lot of hidden elements in pictures, so the location creates the image.
What is bad taste to you?
To me, bad taste has to do with arrogance, lack of interest or passion, resulting in a poorly-executed photo series or campaign. If you’re referring to creativity, I don’t believe in bad taste. There are so many different tastes and every taste creates something and tells a story. What is beautiful to one person might be ugly to the next person. It all truly lies in the eye of the beholder.
Aside from photography, do you have any passions?
My work is my love and my passion, my eyes, my head, and my body… It is something that fulfils all the needs in my life.My work makes me travel around the world. All my movements are related to my work. I love to discover the undetected, unseen things in life. Sometimes it just happens while I am working behind my computer, sometimes while exploring my backyard. On the other hand, it happens while I travel the world, meeting the most interesting people and places. I create my own world out of everything I see and feel. Perception forges my reality.
- Meet Hans Withoos in Normal Magazine issue 4 & 7 -