Hanne van der Woude’s (b. 1982) exhibition MC1R – Natural Redheads focuses on the aesthetic attractions of people with red hair, but also reveals their vulnerability. When Van der Woude read in a newspaper report that red hair might be dying out in the population, her existing admiration developed into something approaching an obsession.

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 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 dying breed, Van der Woude got the idea of photographing as many of them as possible and producing a book of the photographs. Thanks to the newspaper report, Van der Woude discovered the biological cause of red hair: a dysfunction in the gene that controls skin and hair colour, MC1R, produces a mutation in favour of a pale complexion and red hair.

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. Hanne van der Woude’s book MC1R -Natuurlijk rood haar contains 100 photos of redheads, taken throughout the Netherlands over the last few years. The accompanying texts are by Wim van Sinderen and Erik Sistermans. The book is designed by Anthon Beeke (ISBN: 978 90 891 003 75, price: € 39.95).

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