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Meet the Cast & Crew – Hans Tibben: A chameleon on set as absent presence

Hans Tibben might occupy the most contradictory position on the set of Who is Alice. He was present on several days of shooting in the Netherlands, though behind the scenes. As photographer it is his role to be part of the crew, but at the same time he has to position himself outside of the group to be able to capture each and everyone on set. This seems like a tough job – and it is, but no job tough enough for Hans.

It’s Wednesday the 11th of may when the crew is stationed at theatre ‘De Lievekamp’ in Oss, where the filming of the award evening is about to happen. A huge number of extras was called upon for this evening, and the dresscode is: Black Tie. Like a true chameleon, Hans manouvers himself through all the  filming gear, slick suits, and graceful dresses. In between he makes pictures of the crew in action. The evening has only just started, but already the camera is doing overtime.

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Hans (on the left) experiences, looks and captures the moment.

Passer-by
It has been two months after this hectic evening that we talk to each other. In preperation to this interview, I have looked at all his pictures of the Who is Alice set. One of the many thoughts I have about his photographs, is that I find them razor-sharp and appealing. Hans however, remains very down-to-earth: “On the website I am mentioned as setphotographer, but I am more of a passer-by, than that I am present everyday.” In fact he is right, but it does not make his pictures any less appealing.

By the way, Hans isn’t just ‘another passer-by’, as he is acquainted to co-producer Paul Smit, and Hans also cooperated on All About nothing. “Patrick Kicken who, together with Paul, is owner of the Dutch website for nonduality, once asked me for an interview about nonduality”, the photographer explains. “The interview was taken at Paul’s house, and like that, we got into a conversation. We share the same fascination for life, and since then we kept in touch.”

Eerst neemt Hans de ruimte waar, daarna de mensen die erin aanwezig zijn.

As a photographer, Hans first observes his surrounding, then the people in it.

Idiosyncratic
What that fascination is about, is complicated to express in words, and it’s not necessary to do so, as Hans prefers to watch and listen: beside photographer, he is a coach for people who get stuck in life. Sometimes he combines these practices, what turns out to be an excellent combination. Photography is a way to zoom out to be able to look at a situation from a different perspective; it relativizes. “As photographer, also on the set of Who is Alice, you are present yet at the same time absent, which is a very unique experience actually.”

Hans explains: “I developed that insight while I was in photography school. We had to show our pictures, and a teacher discussed our work in class. When he got to discuss my pictures, his remark was a question: ‘Where is the photographer in the picture?’. It struck me like lightning; an insight that suddenly got to me: as photographer you are always the absent presence”. This would become his idiosyncratic vision on photography. Already after three months, Hans quit his education.

Duality
“As photographer, I observe the room. It’s the first thing that I perceive, and it is only subsequently that I look at the person standing in that room. The experience is seperateness: duality. Even when I am not in frame, I am the one picturing the whole, which means also myself.” With this, Hans suggests that the seperate observation is an experience. In fact, the observation and the observer are one experience, thus: nondual. Something like that is difficult to understand, and actually impossible to put into words. Photography presents itself as an obvious solution.

Being photographer and coach, Hans feels very comfortable at the set of Who is Alice. “A good example is with director Ismaël Lotz. After a long day of shooting, I saw how tired he was, and how he seemed less focused. In such a situation, I approach him, I lay my hand on his arm encouragingly, and ask how he is doing. He appreciates that and that is what he renders. An additional consequence is also that this approach produces beautiful, and especially relaxed pictures.

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Hans during the award filming at theatre De Lievekamp in Oss, only this time in front of the camera.

Stratification
Hans is interested in this sensitivity. “I’m sometimes puzzled how as photographer I become so sensitive for atmosphere, and it has to be that way, as a camera cannot function without a sensor. Ismaël is also equipped with the same artistic sensitivity.” Another noteworthy feature is Hans’ special bond with main actress Ali Bastian. When she was exhausted, I would comfort her. It was amazing to see how she’d be able to turn her ‘frustration’ about it into a fabulous scene in which she had to show anger.”

It is exactly that what makes Who is Alice so interesting according to Hans; all those different layers of being and meaning. “The film is a beautifully constructed mirror, as it makes you think about yourself and about what it means to be ‘enlightened’. It’s a wonderful addition to All About Nothing, in which nonduality was mostly explained, which makes it more of a documentary about the subject. However, Who is Alice is a real fiction feature, which addresses feeling, rather than it would address thought, which brings you in a state of mere perceiving”, Hans says. Which is exactly what the film was meant to be.

Interview: Jeroen Schalk
English translation by: Judith Boeschoten
Photography: Hans Tibben