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The story behind that picture: "The Hans Blix Portrait"

By: Thorsten Overgaard    Danish


There are some portraits that I continuously get asked about, and this is one of them. The Hans Blix portrait done on the Faroe Islands in 2007

The story was that Hans Blix and Bill Clinton visited the Faroe Islands to do a paid lecture. Television producer Emma Brumpton and I were the only press who had booked a room in the same hotel as Clinton and Blix. The rest of the press was on the other side of the security-perimeter around the hotel.

Hence it was easy to make an appointment with Hans Blix about a videoed interview for Sky News, as well as a portrait session. The video interview was set up in the hotel lobby, and while that was being done, I went looking inside the hotel for a spot for the portrait.

Doing video interview with Hans Blix for Sky News downstairs in the lobby with Emma Brumpton

On the 1st floor in the restaurant, where tourists, assistants, security-people and bomb dogs were having breakfast, I found a spot with a black door as background in the very end of the room. Hans Blix would be sitting comfortable in a Danish Wegner arm-chair facing a long room with black walls and a black ceiling, and with one long panorama-window to his left. Soft morning light streaming in.

When doing a portrait - and any photo for that matter - the most important thing is the right light. Quality of light is not the amount of light but the size of the light source. In this case a big panorama window with very soft and gentle morning light streaming in was perfect for the mood I was looking for. Not strong light, but beautiful light. I might also have done a setup with the film lights we had used for the interview, but for practical reasons I decided for the natural light.

5 minute portrait

When the interview was done, I asked Dr. Hans Blix to come with me upstairs and sit down with his book. I simply asked him to sit straight in the chair, place his hands casually on the book. Then look straight into the camera, thanks! Then look out the vindow, thanks!

I did a few shots with the Leica R9 on film, then a few digital files with the Leica Digilux 2. And I used a monopod to stabilize the camera as the light was so weak that I was down at 1/30 of a second. Right behind me sat a table of four Danish policemen and enjoyed the show.

That was it, it took 5 minutes, including for Hans Blix to give me a signed copy of his book. The picture I choosed was the digital file from the Leica Digilux 2.

Hans Blix
Former weapons inspector Dr. Hans Blix with his book, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Faroe Islands, September 2007. Leica Digilux 2, 100 ISO, 1/30 sec, f/2.8, 28mm, manual.


What is intersting is that it is a 5 MP camera with a splendid lens. But the image looks as if it was a very high resolution setup because of the details and sharpnes. But it's the light that create sharpness, not electronics. Always, which is why light quality and lenses to capture light rays are more important than megapixels, nano-coating, image-stabilizing and all that jazz.

How does Swedish integrety look?

As for the portrait itself, I did have an idea about the personality and the tone I thought would be right. Hans Blix was the United Nations weapons inspector who continiously for years reported "there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq" upon which he was ousted in the world press by the American President Bush and the British Prime Minister Blair.

And here I met him some years after it had become known that he in fact was right; the American President Bush and the British Prime Minister Blair (and a few others) were wrong. How does an experienced politician like Hans Blix (who has been Foreign Minister of Sweden amongst other posts) look like after his career has been destroyed and history has turned him into the one person who stood tall and was right all the way?

"With an image one can express something that words can't" the Danish painter Michael Ancher (1849-1927) once said.


Thorsten Overgaard, November 23, 2011
Thorsten Overgaard, January 6, 2013



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Portrait: Former weapons inspector Dr. Hans Blix, Faroe Islands, September 2007.
Leica Digilux 2, 100 ISO, 1/30 sec, f/2.8, 28mm, manual.



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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.

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