The product of close friendship spanning six years, Kim and Paul is an eponymous part-documentary part-editorial series by Dutch photographer and visual artist Jan Hoek, celebrating a power couple who’ve provided him long standing inspiration. Kim and Paul’s unique chemistry paired with Hoek’s unforgettable aesthetic of refined sensory overload, is as perfectly over the top as it is personal. The couple’s past struggles with addiction are reflective of Hoek’s ongoing interest in humanity and real-life; true defiance through difficult issues that for him signal heroism at its purist.
What sparked your curiosity in people that informs both this series and your other work?
As a young kid I was fascinated by the outsiders of this world. I remember sitting on the back of my mother’s bike when I saw a homeless man in a box that he’d customised with porn pictures and Christmas decorations. He himself looked quite impressive as well, with cigarettes in his nose and many layers of different clothing. Immediately, more than any Superman or Batman, this man was my superhero. I think it was because I always felt a bit like an outsider myself, and that I see the most extreme outsiders as my role examples. Even though I know they have lives that are quite rough, there is a certain part in which I am just jealous about them living so free and according to their own rules.
How did you first meet Kim and Paul?
I met Kim in front of a supermarket. By then she was still an addict and she asked me for twenty euros, I said “fine, but then I want your phone number”. By that time I had this superficial plan to photograph people struggling with addiction in my own home, because everybody is always so afraid of addicts. At first Kim was more afraid of me to come to my house; she thought I wanted to do sick shit with her, so in the end she brought her boyfriend Paul. When she was in my house I found out that she always dreamed of being a supermodel. A year later she stopped using drugs. We kept in contact and we are good friends now. She is my all-time muse.
Even when it’s stylised, the images feel really personal and idiosyncratic. How has the collaboration between you three evolved over the time you’ve known each other?
It goes natural. Sometimes I see them and I don’t take any photo, just to see how their new house is, or I come by to talk. We even went on holiday together, with a big ‘Kim Mobile’ that I made for her. That was Kim’s first holiday. We went to a five star hotel at a beach in Belgium. Sometimes I come up with an idea for a shoot, like we did for the [most recent King Kong issue], but then she could choose her own superhero. The most important thing is that I really try to listen to Kim and Paul and what they want. If they really don’t like something we don’t do it.
But now also sometimes designers approach us saying that they like to work with Kim. In this [series] it’s Nada van Dalen, a Rotterdam based fashion designer who thought that Kim and Paul were the perfect supermodels for her new series.
The bedsheets and other props in each photo are amazing. Where did they all come from?
The bed sheet and the van with Kim’s face on it are made by me. In the other fashion series with Kim and Paul they’re wearing clothes made by Nada van Dalen. Some of the props were brought in by the stylist Inez Naomi, but also some by me and some by Nada. And all the backgrounds are created by me. Some of them I got from an Ethiopian photo studio.
You have a really unique and consistent signature aesthetic that feels truly modern, regardless of whether it’s more documentary style or a more abstract editorial. Is there a common link or greater intention across your work or should each story be viewed as completely separate?
Well in all my work I try to show that the outsiders, the people that choose to not fit the standard, are the real superheroes of this planet.
And then I also have some other themes in my work, such as the relationship between the photographer and the model, and I always try to break certain stereotypes about certain groups of people that have to deal a lot with them.
I feel like storytelling is another big component of your work, regardless of the specific form. Is this something you artistically arrange in advance or something you develop later?
Well in the end I’m much more interested in the stories from all the models I work with then in taking good pictures, so I guess if you put the story first it develops sort of automatically – well not really automatically, I do put a lot of effort in developing it with the models I work with, but it’s at least always at the first place. That is why I also use a lot of texts next to my work.
What for you are the most important things we can understand about Kim, Paul and their love for one another in this series?
Kim and Paul prove to me what we say in the Netherlands ‘elk potje heeft zijn dekseltje’, which in English is known by the uglier expression ‘every Jack has his Jill’. For me, someone who is chronically single and sometimes thinks he will stay alone forever, it’s encouraging to see that even people who were in the most difficult situations (Kim and Paul met when they were still addicted) can find love. Other times I’m just really jealous of them, I just want to have a cool, good relationship like they do that can survive anything!
Nada van Dalen