Viewers empathize with photos taken from the heart
My interest in photography started early. When I was 13, I would buy photo books with money I got from distributing folders for the grocer in our street. I was attracted to black-and-white social documentary photography. The books introduced me to the grand masters. I never lost sight of social documentary photography. It’s part of my work.
45 years ago, when I was 22, I bought a camera. I took pictures of people in their own space. Later, I took portraits of faces which I thought were striking. I had a self-made daylight studio, which consisted of a cheap black sheet which I’d toss over my subject’s laundry line, or fence. I’d install the subject in front of the sheet, then I’d wait for the subject’s psychological state to reveal itself, and for the right light. Sometimes I’d direct some light with newspaper or white cardboard. And then the shutter went click, that’s how simple it was. At the time I was working with a 6x6 camera, which I occasionally still use. Soon I had a darkroom of my own, and managed to learn the art of developing and printing. I still work with pure natural light.
In photography, it’s content that matters. The meaning of content, which is to grasp the essence of the image, is something I discovered back in the days I was studying the works of my masters. Content is my passion. The technical side, like the transition from analog to digital photography, is just something that can be learned.
Over the years, my collection of photography books has grown significantly. It happens that I get one out, and leaf through it. What has also taught me and opened me up during the last forty years are exhibitions, lectures, portfolio assessments, articles in photography magazines, my membership of a small photography collective and constructive criticism of my work.
My theme has always been people. It’s people that I’ve been digging into all these years. I often thought I’d got down to the bone, but every time I realized I wasn’t there yet. After all these years, still so much to learn. People is an endless subject, with lots of ups-and-downs, which I never allow to get in the way of my love of the work. I’ve tried to unify the social documentary aspect of my work with the fellow human beings aspect.
The kind of photographer I’ve become has been a journey in which I’ve been able to gather knowledge and inspiration, as well as the ability to create from out of my heart, to create very much my own work, to find my own particular thumb print.
The conclusions of this long search lie in my five books, which include two educational works.
2003 Beautiful People
2014 Behind the Great Wall
2015 On Street Photography (English-language)
2019 101 Tips for Street Photography * (Also published in English as E-Book)
* Co-authored with the Belgian photographer Piet Van den Eynde
Beautiful People, Timeless, On Street Photography and Zuiderburen are no longer available.
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