Alex ten Napel
born in 1958, Alkmaar, the Netherlands
lives in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
I began my water project in 2004. At first, I portrayed Dutch people. It was a sort of a photo documentary which illustrated the transformation of the Netherlands into a multi-cultural society. I photographed men and women, young and old, fat and thin, black and white, and all shades in between, in water in exactly the same way. Men and women, almost naked, wearing bathing suits, did not seem to have any ties to their real lives. They became human beings in a natural state and in perfect harmony with water. This work was shown at the Epson Photo Festival in Naarden in May 2005.
Shortly after this photo documentary, I started part two of my water-project. I began to portray little kids and babies. In order to capture them, I asked their mothers to hold them and to be portrayed as well. Most of them refused because they didn’t like the idea of having their photo taken in a bathing suit. However, they loved it to have a unique portrait of their precious little ones. Their doubt lies between vanity and the love for their kids. How to solve such a problem?
A possibility was to photograph the father with the baby. And how could a father refuse the mother of his child? Fortunately, most fathers agreed and set themselves up as models in this new project. When I saw the Polaroid photos, I was won over. This was even better, and I started part three of the water portrait series.
Having two kids, I am familiar with the special relationship between a father and a child. And as a photographer, I wanted to show it in my portraits. After the first try-outs, I began to observe the fathers with their children in the swimming pool. There are not many places that enable you to have a good look at them and see them totally relaxed and at peace with themselves. Sometimes, they can be so close with each other that it looks as if they had transformed into one human being and were physically connected. Maybe fathers want to recover the physical bond between the mother and the child which would tie them during the pregnancy. In this perspective, the swimming pool is a good replacement because of the presence of water all around you. The fathers, virtually naked, are as close to their children in water as mothers during the pregnancy. This creates unique emotions.
Water itself evokes a special feeling of relationship as well. Being in water, feeling how it flows over your skin and how it covers your body, makes you feel comfortable and allows you to dream. Water washes away the daily presence and all connections to the real life – it turns you into another person.
I was struck when I saw all that in the pool and in my nautical studio.
The set-up of the photographic equipment was just right to express this in a portrait. The white background, the water, the square format and central position of the figures, are all practical solutions meant to show the strength of expressions and emotions of fathers and kids. Wet skin, hair, eyelashes and eyebrows help to make facial expressions more intense. As a result, feelings also become more visible and vivid.
I am interested in human emotions and the feelings that can be read from a face. It is my work to bring them to life. Capturing feelings and showing them in portraits is my art. Immortalization of life as it manifests itself in a fleeting instant is what I focus on.
Setting of the studio in water creates a more expressive portrait and enables us to focus on aspects hidden within the picture. What we see is a portrait of two or more human beings, what we get is a story of their relationship.
Amsterdam, 9 February 2010,
Alex ten Napel