Ode aan de Meester - Hans van Manen

'Ode aan de Meester' (or ‘Ode to the Master’) is actually a title of modern dance performed by 'Het Nationale Ballet'. In 2017 this programme was paying tribute to master choreographer Hans van Manen on the occasion of his 85th birthday. Today, 20th February 2019 it was performed again and I went to see it because I did miss it in 2017. I'm a big fan of modern dance and I've seen many performances and many choreographies by Hans van Manen. Today he was there as well, very pleased to see him.

I want to share this picture with you which I made on 16th July 2005, almost 14 years ago and it has never been published. It was a very memorable experience for me and if I don't share the story here it will be lost in my memories only.

Hans van Manen, 16th June 2005, 15:25 h.

My story begins like this. One of my great inspirations to become a photographer was Robert Mapplethorpe. A few years before I took this picture of Hans van Manen I found out that he had known Robert Mapplethorpe quite well. Robert would sometimes stay at Hans' place while visiting Amsterdam, that was before 1989. Very interesting!

Time is, as always, slowly ticking away and I decided I wanted to meet Hans van Manen to talk to him about Robert Mapplethorpe and also (second on my list) to make a beautiful portrait of Hans. I was a bit shy but I was, and still am, living in the same city as Hans and Hans is getting older and I didn't want to miss this great opportunity to get so close to my 'hero' Robert Mapplethorpe. It felt like a waist of opportunity if I wouldn't do this.

Not sure how, but very easy I found the telephone number of Hans and I phoned him, guessing it was going to be a difficult quest to get an appointment with him. I phoned him, got him on the phone straight away, I was shy, and I explained I wanted to meet him to talk about Robert Mapplethorpe, about photography and explained I wanted to make a portrait as well. Hans was very pleasant on the phone and to my big surprise he said yes straight away and we made an appointment.

A week before July 16th I went to his apartment in Amsterdam Zuid, with my camera. I walked up the stairs, he opened the door and we talked a little and he said 'You want some wine?'. 'Yes' I said. We talked and talked for a long time. On one wall there was a huge photo by Erwin Olaf (who has a big retrospective exhibition coming up) beautiful of course.

I had many questions about Robert Mapplethorpe and Hans told me what kind of guy Robert was, a quiet guy, how he worked, how he would take pictures in NYC and also here in Amsterdam where he took some pictures of flowers (of course...). Hans stood up and went to get a beautiful Art Deco vase to show me. This beautiful vase is in one or more of the pictures of Robert Mapplethorpe. Then he put it back on the shelf but it fell and shattered to pieces on the floor. That day was the end of the famous vase. I really felt sorry for Hans! He cursed short but heavily and then we continued our wine and conversation about photography, the history of photography, about Robert Mapplethorpe, about Roberts' nude black guys which were quite shocking those days, about the time that Hans van Manen was also taking pictures himself, about getting to know Erwin Olaf, about his work as a choreographer. So, time went by and we finished the bottle of red wine (or did we have more? I don't remember).

Well, red wine on a kind of empty stomach has a certain effect and I felt quite tipsy that afternoon. Hans asked 'Oh time flies, you want to take the picture now?' And I said 'Oh...uh please no... I can't, we have to do it another time because I had too much wine’. Hans was very relaxed and said: 'Fine, let's do it soon.' We made another appointment for the 16th and I left the apartment with my head full of stories and a buzz of wine. I think we talked at least a two or three hours. Very nice, what an afternoon!

At home I did more research to find out more about Hans van Manen to get a better idea how I wanted to take his portrait. I'm a bit dyslexic so that took some effort. I found an article of somebody who wrote 'Hans van Manen is the Mondriaan of dance' (Piet Mondriaan is a famous painter if you don’t know). I found this to be true, the pieces of Hans are usually very organised and simple. Simple as in the opposite of chaotic, less is more. This gave me the idea to make a graphic kind of photo and since I had been in the apartment already I knew what I could use to get my photo. Also, I remember, I was very impressed by the silver blinds Hans had in this apartment.

The 16th came, I cycled to Hans again in the warm afternoon. We talked again a while, we didn't have wine and I explained the picture I wanted to take. He sat down, I measured my light, set up my flashlight, moved some stuff around so the table became neat and simple. I asked him to assume his position at 15:25 hours, to become a straight diagonal line in my photo. I remember it took him some effort because, of course, it took a few minutes to get everything right. Behind him you see the silver shades that made a big impression on me. Today and already for many years I have, yes, I do have silver blinds as well. :-)

As I left I told him I would bring him a copy of the photo, I remember he made me promise I'd keep my word because he was definitely interested in the result. Probably a few weeks later I went to him a third time, I gave him the picture and he said 'Yes I think it is really beautiful, yes I do like it a lot!'

I'm very pleased I had to guts to organise this all, it was a very interesting experience which I will remember the rest of my life. This picture is my 'Ode aan de Meester', for his choreography AND for his time to tell me all the stories about my hero Robert Mapplethorpe. Life is fun when you make something out of it.

Harrie de Fotograaf