Jan von Holleben: The Photographer Who Likes To Play


Sometimes, people tend to forget to have fun with photography and take it all too seriously. But not Jan von Holleben whose series "Dreams of Flying" has inspired many others to play-shoot whimsical scenes with kids. Find out more about the artist—plus his installations at the John Radcliffe Children‘s Hospital in Oxford which will be completed today—here.

We recently caught up with Lennart Siebert, lieutenant-slash-assistant to German photographer Jan van Holleben, who spoke to us about the motivation behind Jan’s wonderful and wildly popular work, _Dreams of Flying_.

Photos courtesy of Jan van Holleben

Firstly, Jan is a firm believer of homo ludens or the theory of man learning through play, based on his own childhood memories.

“Jan does not work with kids. He plays with them, and that is crucial. He never takes a kid as a model – he takes them as companions and involves them in every part of the image production. From beginning to end,” says Lennart. “There is a huge amount of respect involved – from both sides! Jan can only work with kids who respect him for respecting them.”

Couple that with the influence of his cinematographer father and child therapist mother, it’s no wonder his work ethic is so kid-friendly!

Photos courtesy of Jan van Holleben

Dreams of Flying began in 2002, inspired by classic children’s books as well as modern superheroes, as Jan called on kids from his local neighbourhood in Southwest Germany to join in on the fun! All his productions with children become educational photo adventures where the tykes and their ideas are just as important as his own.

Because it’s such an enjoyable endeavor, admirers of Jan's work have recreated their own versions of youngsters in capricious and comical set-ups, which just goes to show the success of the project and the artist.

Photos courtesy of Jan van Holleben

When we asked about Jan’s shoot set-up, Lennart told us that, despite having a trove of 20 different cameras, Jan keeps things simple

“Jan used a Nikon Lite Touch from 1997 which fit into his pocket and gave him freedom to play with kids at the same time. He has more than 15 of those cameras (which he bought on eBay over the years) as they sometimes break and repair makes no sense,” Lennart adds. “They’re all very basic, with a built-in flash, etc. but super practical and charming and, most of all, analogue!”

“For film, he used standard Fuji Superia which has good strong colours. Most special is the lighting which Jan used. He uses all his energy and forces to direct the clouds in front of the sun in order to get a very flat and super soft light!” quips Lennart.

In 2011, Jan got busy with Lily & Jonathan, a series that shows the twosome in various settings in outer space and underwater and they become galaxy riders and deep sea divers.

Photos courtesy of Jan van Holleben

He was then chosen by the Oxford University NHS Hospitals Trust to develop new artwork for two long corridors leading from the wards in the John Radcliffe Children‘s Hospital to the operating theatres as well as the ceilings of 14 anaesthetic rooms and 8 recovery bays. The project has been entirely funded by charitable donations for art projects by Firefly Tonics, the Fund for Children, the League of Friends and supported by Kwickscreen.

Since hospital visits and trips to the doctor are not exactly a favourite activity of children, the aim of the artwork is to distract and engage them, as well as to help reduce the stress and anxiety of the experience for them and their parents.

Today, March 30th, Jan will be completing the installation of Lily & Jonathan which we’re sure will bring smiles and laughter to anyone who sees them.

“This was by far the largest and most rewarding project to date for me. Working with an enormously varied group of people from doctors to patients and porters who push the beds down the corridors made this a complete commission. Being able to incorporate so many different ideas and fusing them with my personal storytelling is an incredible experience!" says Jan of this project. "I am utterly proud having created this work for such a tragic and emotionally loaded environment. I hope that anyone – and particularly the kids – walking down this corridor will be able to dream a little bit!“

Great work, Jan! And a special thank you to Lennart for sharing this truly inspiring story. Find out more about the artist at Jan von Holleben.

The Fuji Superia 200 35mm is a good all-rounder. It is easy to use and offers enhanced colour reproduction and sharpness. See the whole range of colour negatives in our Shop.

written by denisesanjose on 2012-03-30 in #news #jan-von-holleben #art #nikon-lite-touch #john-radcliffe-children-s-hospital #oxford #lennart-siebert #germany #dreams-of-flying #analogue-photography


  1. emilios
    emilios ·

    great pictures.

  2. elletra
    elletra ·

    these are awesome!

  3. superlighter
    superlighter ·

    Great job! ...Nikon Lite Touch! I can see quotations increasing on ebay now...

  4. guanatos
    guanatos ·

    great idea behind an awesome photo project!

  5. wolkers
    wolkers ·

    I've seen those shots more than a year ago and I never knew who was the photographer behind it. :) Great great work

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