week 1 | 2012

2012, Photography, Project

I am on a journey and have no clue where it will end. Like I mentioned in my last year’s post, in the previous decade I used to do primarily landscape photography. And sure, it was possibly different from the mainstream, since it was mostly black & white and I used a small sensor camera for taking these photographs. But to me it felt like my journey was still just beginning. I went from color work in the nineties to predominantly black & white in the first decade of the 21st Century. I made the transition from film to digital and had to familiarize myself with the very specific look, possibilities, and limitations of a compact camera with a small sensor.

Since the nineties I had the strong desire to add a human touch to my photographs. It took me over 10 years to change my photography and actually search for that touch. As a result street photography felt like a natural goal to me. In landscape photography the moment is mostly defined by the light at a particular time in combination with the composition. Generally these composition tend to be a lot more formal based on the rules of thirds or the golden means. These aspects seem so logical that it alters your perception. It becomes like driving a car. You don’t have to think about it when you take a photograph, but unconsiousely you kind of always apply these means to capture a moment. Street photography forced me to look and shoot differently.

While so many things can have benefits, there are also traps right around the corner. One of those traps, and likely one of the biggest too, is that everything starts to feel and look the same. Maybe not so much to the viewer, but certainly for the photographer him or her self.  Because you might still get recognition for your photography, you can easily be tempted to continue with this kind of photography while it slowly drags the creativity out of you. It is your comfort zone and even when you would like to break or at least bend it, the feeling of appreciation for what you do and the fear of failure keeps you doing what you might actually want to stop or change. And when you try to wait for a chance to change, you might likely be too late. And this can occur to anyone who does something creative professionally or as a hobby/passion.

So I jumped on the street photography band wagon and I know that not everyone preferred me doing so. And while I enjoyed it and was very thrilled about the adventures in street photography, I learned too in the last few years that it is most certainly not my end goal. That human touch in my photography, that I was looking for, was probably not the touch from the unknown person I photographed in public. No, I felt it was getting much closer, closer to me. I still feel kind of uncomfortable photographing on the street, I still feel uncomfortable taking portraits of people I completely not or barely know. But I gradually start to loose the fear of photographing myself.

In an exchange with another strucked photographer we talked about what really matters in photography to re-enjoy it completely. Mostly in photography the subject is the centerstage of all the efforts you make. Be it landscape, portrait, street or whatever kind of photography. Because it is the subject that really matters you need to make time to get out to places. When the rare time available needs to be used for so many things like family, work, and many others stuff, freeing up time for your photography can become a drag. You loose interest and kill your creativity. To counterbalance everything I personally believe it is important to start appreciating the process of photography again. Everything can be a subject and that doesn’t necessarily have to be the subject of your main interest.

I still have the absolute feeling that what I do now is just a piece of the journey. In fact, I shouldn’t be surprised that I return back to landscape photography, but the lessons I learn in this “in between” period will possibly change my perception of what I see and feel again. And that will reflect too on my photography.

One of the things I will try to do more often this year is to tell more about one of the weekly photographs I post. Some background information, my intentions, and whether I think I have succeeded with that or what I would have preferred to be better or at least different.

As promised above I want to share my thoughts with you about one particular photograph. In this case it is the second, Monday January 2, photograph of the lonely old man standing beside the parked bicycle at the train station. In my hometown, a typical commuter town with approximately 65,000 inhabitants, life seems primarily focused on work, family, and for many also church. Diagonal from the Southwest to the Northeast of the Netherlands there is the bible belt and I live in the center of it. Live is grey and somber. Since it is a commuter town it lacks the buzzling streets of a larger city, making street photography a lot harder. Still there is one location in particular where I often try to make photographs and that is at the local train station. Only at this place it is a come and go with people. I admire street photographers that can photograph multiple people or groups in a single photograph, but I personally prefer to photograph the lonely figures.

This train station built of boring concrete is a cold and rather unpleasant place. And it is this combination with the lonely, often waiting, people that I try to capture. Underneath the station there is a passenger tunnel and while I climbed up the stair I noticed an older man walking nearby. Since it was getting dark I dialed up the ISO to 800 and set the aperture to f/1.7 to make sure I would get a reasonable fast shutter speed. The man was on the left of me. I quickly turned to the left, tried to compose and pressed the shutter. It happened too soon and I knew I missed the first change to photograph him. He walked towards a wall and looked down an passenger alley that leads up to the tunnel beneath the train station. He provided me a second change, but this time I could only see his back. Another click, he didn’t hear me. I briefly saw 1/100 sec in the viewfinder, but I knew in that light it could well be enough. Still I thought I gave the exposure too much light. I decided to underexpose a one-third stop. The man slowly turned to the right in my direction. All of a sudden I noticed the light on his shoulders and the outlines of his glasses. Funny, when I took the first photograph I really didn’t see that. I didn’t need to change my position or alter my framing. A split second, before he would look at me. I pressed the shutter and it felt like I had my photograph.

Why was I connected to this particular moment? The day had been busy. Lots of work to do and I really needed a bit of time to calm down before I would go home to my family. I find it absolutely fascinating how the elder try to survive in this ever changing world. The modern, somber, train station, the dark scenery, pretty obscure and cold lightning, and the strange graffiti (provokingly mentioning peanut butter in Dutch). It is a place where people come and go, but some never seem to leave.

Regarding the fourth photograph it might be interesting to know that a modern Inter-City Express train from Germany passed by at 120 km/h, while the travelers were reminded of an exhibition of the Jewish history in a Christian church in Amsterdam.

In the top menu of my blog there is a link to “My projects“. I have kept this project section running the past year with all photographs from my 365 project. Maintaining two websites though meant a lot of work for me. Since I decided to continue my photography a day project I was really excited about updating two websites. Therefore I will discontinue posting my photographs on the project website. I will redesign that website and post more projects and re-edit the 365 project. I hope to update it in February.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma


16 thoughts on “week 1 | 2012

  1. Thank you Wouter for explaining how you captured the older gentleman walking by. I have a lot to learn and I am still trying to find my way but your explanations as to what was going on in your mind as you shot this will help me as I practice my own photography.

    1. If I complain that too little photographers take up the challenge to give more insight in their work, I know have to come up with an example. Writing about photography is one thing, but writing about your own and what decisions you make is something completely different.

  2. Strong start of your second year. And I can relate to your observation about photography being a journey. And as in traveling, the “voyage” is often more interesting and enjoyable than the final destination.

    Just finished the first week of my own photo-a-day project. So far, so good 🙂 Main pitfall: taking too many pictures during the day, ending up with 3 or 4 shots you really would like to use. But that’s probably gonna change fast enough, when taking pictures every day becomes more of a “struggle”.

    1. You started strong too Robert in your first week. And one question, Robert. In know you use your cell phone for your PAD project. Do you process your images in-camera (and just curious what apps do you use)?

      1. Yes, I use in-camera processing only. After experimenting with a few apps, I chose Vignette for Android as my default shooting mode. Its settings are highly customizable, and – unlike many iPhone or other Android apps – it doesn’t overdo the effects. The faded colors are just the way I like them.

        And although it’s possible to apply the effects afterwards, I actually shoot with my customized preset. For me, mobile photography is a new form of instant photography. That’s why I prefer the what-I-shoot-is-what-I-get technique. Nothing I can change about it afterwards. It sort of simulates the instant photography concept.

        1. I really like these muted colors and I think they work really well in combination with the clean and simple publishing platform. I will advice a fried to check out Vignette for his Android phone.

  3. Excellent beginning Wouter, explanations are indeed an interesting part of this entire process. Cheers

  4. Hello, Wouter:
    I enjoyed reading about your search for a fulfilling direction for your concentration. Your understanding of the feeling of self-repetition is one that all artists have to come to grips with, and solve for themselves. Your periodic change of direction is a healthy approach, to keep your personal interest as high as possible. I like all of your pictures, and that’s from an admirer of possibilities–I see you as wide open to them. After Jackson Pollock finished one of his early “drip” paintings he asked his wife, Lee Krasner: “Is this a painting?” He didn’t know whether to consider it valid or not. This is a constant question for us all as we try new things. By the way–have you ever considered still-lifes–just things around the house?

    The very best to you in 2012!


    1. Best wishes, John! Last week I saw a documentary about U2 recording their Zoo album in Germany early Nineties. The band was on the edge of collapse and unhappy and unfulfilled with creative directions after the Joshua Tree album. In the end it became a completely different album that lead the band into new directions.

      And John, I haven’t considered still-life photography. Although I sometimes photograph one of my older cameras.

  5. I deeply understand your journey of thoughts, Wouter. Something I felt the same. I’m always amazed how my focus & the obvious subjects changed the longer I photograph. After years I found out that no matter what I capture there’s an over all theme: Lonesomeness. That even happens while photographing a crowd.

    When I’m out on the streets there’s lonsesomeness around me even in the crowd. When I’m photographing highways with no one riding on it there’s lonesomeness. When the night comes & I’m roaming the streets for the invisible city with it neon lights & advertisement while nobody is out to watch it there’s lonesomeness.

    Thanks for your thoughts & to let me know that I’m not alone. Thanks for these great frames that alongside with your words are something more felt than just seen. They are brilliant, my friend. And thanks for taking me on that journey with you through the in betweens & the ever changing. It feels good. Damn good, man!

    All the best & safe travels, Fritsch.

  6. Thanks for your excellent post. I wanted to say that I find your photo art and narrative inspiring and provocative, but also steeped in your honest humanity. I read a lot of stuff on the net, and most passes me by like one passes bill posters on a train journey. You have made me want to get off and look again and harder.

  7. Wouter, this is still great stuff…you may have your misgivings, but that is only normal ( and very artistic) the way I see it, the main strength of your pictures have always been the same: they are more about you than what you are actually photographing. Wish you and your family a healthy and happy new year.

    1. We all need our misgivings, don´t we Roni? Misgivings are there to learn and realize that nothing is perfect and filled with our own human limitations. All the best to you, Roni.

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