Natural Red Hair

As every first-year art student knows, red and green are complementary colours and combining them produces huge optical impact. Put a red dot on a green plane and something special happens: the image starts to move and vibrate.

In 2004, Hanne van der Woude eyed the landscape around Nijmegen (a city in the east of the Netherlands, near the German border) with this knowledge in mind. She stood in the floodplain beside the River Waal and thought how she could make the green washlands look even greener. Her mind turned to redheads.

It was the start of a quest to find models with red hair. To begin with, it wasn't easy. She started to hang around outside primary schools and go up to people in the street; the search gradually turned into obsession.

After reading in an English newspaper that people with naturally red hair are a vanishing breed, Van der Woude got the idea of photographing as many of them as possible and producing a book of the photographs.

Unlike the photographs in earlier books on this subject, such as the famous Redheads by the American photographer Joel Meyerowitz (1991) and a book with the same title by German photographer Uwe Ditz (2000), Van der Woude's pictures are not simply straightforward portraits of people – often children – with red hair and pale, freckled skin; Hanne van der Woude remains true to her second love: the Dutch landscape.

She adopts a narrative, almost cinematic style that is very different from the 'straight photography' of documentary photographers. Each photo-shoot is carefully planned and prepared. Van der Woude travels far and wide in search of the right setting. And during the shoot she uses artificial lighting to bring out "the flamboyant qualities of redheads", as Joel Meyerowitz puts it in his book.

— Wim van Sinderen

The pictures of 150 redheads throughout the Netherlands are published in the book MC1R – Natuurlijk rood haar. (MC1R is the gene that controls skin and hair colour). The accompanying texts are by Wim van Sinderen and Erik Sistermans.

Hanne van der Woude was one of three photographers chosen to represent the Netherlands this year at the nightlong projection of photographs from 27 European countries at the Rencontres Festival in Arles. Wim van Sinderen served as curator for the selections from the Netherlands.