Interview with Hans Bol

One can say I dropped the ‘Cartier Bresson doctrine’ (whole negative only) in favour of what I call the ‘Ed van der Elsken approach’: everything is allowed as long as it results in an interesting image.

When making a book, nothing stands out as more important than something else. Every aspect of the whole process is of equal importance. That goes from typeface to the selection of your images to the paper the book is printed on. Over the years I have come to like the cahier form, a kind of notebook rather than a full-blown, serious book. It is less expensive to make, leaves room for experiment and play and may therefore be more creative.

In 2018 I made a book called God’s Allies, designed by Willem van Zoetendaal; the present 2019 version is called God’s Allies – revisited, designed by myself, in close cooperation with Margot Wolters (Arnhem). So, as you can deduct from the title, I returned to the same subject as last year, which is crows and ravens. One of the big differences however is that the revisited version shows the actual prints, made in the darkroom. I photographed my darkroom prints digitally, including sometimes a shadow below and on the right side of the print which I made part of the image in the present book. I constructed the book on the basis of these reproductions. That led to an entirely different book than in 2018. In many cases though, I did not use the same negatives used in 2018 because I had many more images available that were never used in 2018.

Another important thing that triggered me was that I wanted to return to the darkroom in order to make silver gelatin prints again, see grain instead of pixels and use all the darkroom knowledge I have acquired over 40 + years in the darkroom. I spent as much time as I could physically take in the darkroom (because of my bad knee), finding entirely different ways to print this new body of work. I also allowed myself the freedom to use anything I could think of, provided it would lead to an interesting image. It led to the use of solarisation, pre-exposure, toning, chemical experiments and the use of goldleaf on the print-surface. One can say I dropped the ‘Cartier Bresson doctrine’ (whole negative only) in favour of what I call the ‘Ed van der Elsken approach’: everything is allowed as long as it results in an interesting image.

When I started to photograph, around 1982, I travelled to cities most of the time, using 35mm black & white film. Later I became more interested in the (urban) landscape shifting from 35mm to 4×5 inch, followed later by 8×10 inch, 6x17cm, 11×14 inch, 12×20 inch and finally 8×20 inch. So, mostly large cameras, tripod, under the dark cloth, practically all black & white, darkroom. But I never entirely skipped 35mm black and white, using my Leica rangefinders and Tri-X, a system I have practically used my whole life, and still do. Around 2008 I started to use my first digital system and from then on colour became part of my expression. Over the last two or so years I have a renewed interest in analogue capture – back to film, back to grain instead of pixels. But not in a dogmatic manner. I have the feeling I can take any camera and make some work of interest. In other words, it is not the machine, it’s the ideas behind it all that count more than anything else.

Inspirational books

I have an extensive library that I consult on a regular basis. I live with these books, so to speak. I may look in certain books because of the typography as much as because of the photography, the binding, the colours, the cover, the colophon. So, many books are a source of inspiration. One book that has had a definite influence is éby Masao Yamamoto, published in 2005. Small prints spread over the pages loosely, unmistakably made in the darkroom, dreamlike, refined.

The other book I treasure in this context, I recently found, half a year ago or so, also of Japanese origin, called White Egret, by Tokutaro Tanaka, published in 1961. It is of a more documentary origin, but definitely also with a very poetic mood; it shows the beauty of following and repeating one subject, in his case the white egret.

Knowing that every detail is important, could you mention some technical detail that was of special importance for the realization of the final product? Like cover design, paper selection, printing technique …

My work is represented by Gallery Caroline O’Breen (Amsterdam). She will also show my present work at Unseen this year. When that became clear I first intended to make one folded, printed sheet filled with crow-images. That idea grew into what is has become now: an A5 booklet, 64 pages, in an edition of 500 copies.

The cover has a black image in silkscreen print, title and name of photographer in hot foil letterpress. The book has six gold-coloured pages that have a text on the white backside of the page (English/Dutch), which I wrote to accompany the images, called Mindshift.

All texts are set in Legato typeface, designed by Evert Bloemsma, a good friend of mine who died totally unexpectedly in 2005. A small token of appreciation. The paper used is Lessebo Smooth Natural,115gms, the same paper used for the 2018 book. The book will be put together by hand by myself, page for page; binding is a simple cahier stitch. The money I save this way is invested in the printing process. I decided to have the book printed offset by printing house robstolk in Amsterdam. They also printed the 2018 book, which they did really well.

Like with the 2018 version, I will also this time make a Limited Edition. It comes in a black, handmade box (made by Brown Cartonnages/Arnhem) and contains a signed/numbered book and two signed/numbered handmade Toyobo Chine-collé prints (of crow-pictures), made by Eric Levert/Amsterdam; edition of 35.

God’s Allies

God’s Allies (2018) regular edition is practically sold out (€27,50 + postage); that also goes for the Limited Edition (€145 + postage).

Gods’ Allies revisited (2019) regular edition and Limited Edition will be available as per 20 September 2019 (Unseen/Amsterdam); prices to be announced then.

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