Jan Hoek: The artist you love to hate

The combination of images and text delivers an intelligent body of work in which Jan Hoek hits the nerve: with his model, with himself as a photographer but also with you, the viewer.


The first time Jan Hoek visited Addis Ababa, he saw a man standing in the middle of a roundabout, looking up to the sky and shouting unintelligible things at it. In each nostril he had placed a cigarette, he was wearing 1970's aviators and his outfit consisted of many layers of ragged and worn out pieces of clothing. The man turned out to be a so-called 'Sweet Crazy': the local nickname for the many mentally ill vagabonds who live on the streets. Hoek was fascinated by those who pass for crazy people in Addis Ababa, but could easily walk down the catwalk in Amsterdam with their outfits, self-made, scraped together and shaped by time. This was the start of Hoek's series Sweet Crazies (2011) which made him return to Ethiopia and Africa several times.

Hoek, together with his local friend Solomon, tried to befriend the sweet crazies and take their picture. He decided not to portray them surrounded by rubbish, but to give them a star like setting in one of the many typical Ethiopian photo studios, filled with extravagant golden thrones and Roman columns. The resulting photographs are raw, unpolished, overexposed, straightforward and not beautiful at all. But at the same time they are poetic, original and empathic. Just like his subjects.

You either love Hoek's approach or you hate it. There is no in between. Sometimes Hoek’s images make you want to turn your head away. This is where it gets interesting.

Left: Kim Supermodel - Motor (because we both think that motors are cool). Right: Kim Supermodel - Animal print (because Kim loves animals. She owns a rabbit, a gold fish and two birds)

His series Supermodel Kim (2012) was the result of an encounter in the supermarket with a homeless female addict who was begging for money. Hoek took her to his home and photographed her. Later he organized a 'real' photo-shoot and with that fulfilled a long-cherished wish of Kim. The photographs were published in the Dutch newspaper Het Parool.

New Ways Of Photographing The New Masai -1st choice of Godlisten

During a three-month stay in the Sex Bubble Pattaya in Thailand in 2014, Hoek explored the world of sex tourism. Hoek was interested in the young Thai boys and ladyboys who ‘voluntarily’ have sex with older men from all over the world. In a ten-zine series he examines all possibilities that customers and providers use to put the sex world of Pattaya to their benefit. Again the photographer continued to be in the midst of the action. Hoek made a mermaid costume for one of the ladyboys because he thought that much more money could be earned by posing on the beach than providing sexual services. He also took nude photographs of an older man who needed pictures for his dating profile. During this process, Hoek did not hesitate to ask the man to take poses that were interesting for himself, the photographer.

Written words are often incorporated into his work and are an essential part of it. Whether the words come from the artist or the model: they characterize the complex relationship between the photographer and his model. This is the overarching theme in the body of work by Jan Hoek. It was especially the combination of these spot-on written texts, with his unpolished photographs, that grabbed the attention of Foam when first encountering the work of Jan Hoek at the Graduation show of the Rietveld Academie.

Installation shot of Jan Hoeks exhibition in Foam. He 'wrapped' the room with paper and placed hand written comments with each series. Comments about the shoot, the conversations and misunderstandings he had with his models or small, but valid facts about their encounters.

Jan Hoek himself says: ‘I believe there is always a certain degree of ethics involved in photography. It is almost impossible to take photographs of people without consciously, or unconsciously, crossing boundaries and with things happening that you don’t want or expect. I feel this is often covered up in photography, while I would like to show it...'

In this respect Jan Hoek is closer in mind to Boris Mikhailov. This well-known Russian photographer is open about paying his homeless models after which they pulled their pants down for the photograph. Working methods used by a photographer can sometimes go far: endless gossip, little white lies and occasionally sex but also patience, intensive commitment and compassion. However, where Mikhailov explains his methods in interviews or articles, Hoeks texts are an essential part of his work. The texts outline situations, raise moral dilemmas, give the model a voice and address the viewer on his own responsibility in the act of looking. The combination of images and text, and sometimes drawings and sculptural interventions, delivers an intelligent body of work in which Hoek hit the nerve: with his model, with himself as a photographer but also with you as a viewer.

'The difference between a commercial, opportunistic photo and an integer piece of art can sometimes be as small as a handwritten note of the photographer' wrote De Groene Amsterdammer, following Hoek's first solo museum exhibition at Foam in 2013.

About Jan Hoek

Jan Hoek (1984) is an artist and writer. At the age of 12 he published his first text. He wrote for Spunk, Mister Motley, Club Donny, NRC Handelsblad, nrc.next, Parool en Vrij Vrij Nederland and Vice. At the age of 24 Jan Hoek started at the Image and Language department at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. In 2012 he graduated with the film Me & My Models. This was also the title for his first solo exhibition at Foam. Hoek made several publications: Me & My Models (2013), New ways of Photographing the New Masai (2014) and The Sex Bubble Pattaya (2015). He is represented by Ron Mandos Gallery in Amsterdam. In 2015 he was selected as one of the talents for Platform at Museum Winterthur in Switzerland.

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