Auke Hulst interviews Toni Hafkenscheid, one of the photographers whose work is being exhibited at the 19th edition of the International Noorderlicht Photofestival, Terra Cognita.Toni Hafkenscheid: ‘Nature almost always comes across to me as artificial.’
The Dutch photographer Toni Hafkenscheid (b. Rotterdam, 1959) studied at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, but decided shortly thereafter to emigrate to Canada. Although he later returned to The Netherlands again, his work is still much better known in North America than in the land where he was born. Noorderlicht chose one of his landscape photos for the poster for TERRA COGNITA.
It would seem you are a real city person – born in Rotterdam, studied in Amsterdam, lived for years in Toronto. Yet you also do lots of nature photography.
I’m absolutely an urban person. Out in nature I get bored very quickly. But landscapes can make an enormous impression on me. The first time that I was in North America I drove from British Columbia to the Grand Canyon. The immensity of nature in North America has nothing at all in common with the planned, artificial nature of The Netherlands.
With its extreme handling of the depth of field, your landscape photography has something unreal about it. It is as if you are looking at a diorama.
Nature almost always comes across to me as artificial. It’s as if it has been transplanted directly from the model railway I had when I was a kid. When I drove through British Columbia a number of years back, I had constant associations with the trees of cotton wool and cardboard mountains that my miniature trains ran through. I remembered how I could almost imagine I was God when I looked at a model railway like that from a reasonable distance. If I looked from very close up, then it was treacherously real.
Can you tell us something about your technique?
What fascinates me about photography is that it sticks so close to reality. I try to play with that by making my pictures in such a way that, however real, on the other hand they look artificial. I use a camera with Tilt Shift lenses. Normally lenses like that are used to get everything in a photo in sharp focus; I deliberately use them in the ‘wrong’ way, to get only a very small bit sharp. That’s what gives you that artificial effect.
The world is urbanizing rapidly, but nature photography is still a popular genre today. Even more than ever, if you go by the number of submissions for TERRA COGNITA.
Of course, it is a classic subject in the history of photography. Think, for instance, of Ansel Adams. Many photographers, as they are starting out, are aware of this history, and begin by photographing landscapes.
What does it mean for you that one of your photos graces the festival poster?
I’m deeply honoured. It’s wonderful that my work is being brought to people’s attention more in The Netherlands.
For more about Noorderlicht, visit the Noorderlicht website.