Portrait: Minimalist Photographer Hans Hiltermann

This is a repost of an article I wrote for Minimalissimo.

The Dutch Hans Hiltermann (1960) is a former advertising photographer. After many years of creating artificial scenes packed with interestingness, Hiltermann embarked on a new quest: to find out what is the minimum needed to tell a story.

In 2001, after seven years of experimenting, he finally found his form: hyperreal portraits of people looking right into the camera. He simply called it YOU.

Over nine years that have passed since, Hiltermann realized over 400 portraits – all exactly the same.

Stripped to the very essence

No makeup, no jewelry, no hairdo, no visible clothing, no preference. No smile, no seduction. No reaction.

What’s left is a person without a facade. Someone who has completely left his guard down. There is nothing between you.

This is amplified by the amazingly detailed, hyper realistic photography. Every little detail is exposed – no hiding.

Top that with a 3D effect, and you almost immediately lose the sense of looking at a photo. And actually, you’ve probably never looked more directly into someone’s soul.

That’s the paradox of minimalism: by removing everything, you see everything.

That look

Hiltermann has a rather unique way of working. Through a meditation exercise and visualization he helps his models to create a mental focus, key to the look he’s after.

He asks his models to visualize a person they love and trust. This helps to put them at ease for the shoot, but also to let their guard down.

Interestingly, as a viewer you are actually looking into the eyes of someone who is looking at a person they love and trust – you.

Who is she?

Looking so directly at someone is a rather unique and strange experience. In daily life, staring at someone is regarded as inappropriate, even an act of violence.

The work of Hiltermann invites you to do the opposite. You get the chance to examine someone closely, without the fear of a negative response. The trust in the eyes of the model allows you to.

It gives you complete opportunity to think about the person you’re looking at. Is she beautiful? Is he kind? Is she smart?

You can judge the person without feeling guilty. But be aware: your judgment may say more about you than about the model…

All photos © Hans Hiltermann