Looking back in the past

2016, Photography

I don’t try to make a habit of looking back to what I have done. It is the end of the year and many will come up with their best …. of 2016. Yeah, 2016 was such a productive year. I did so many things. Crazy things, awesome things. Tried so many new things, failed sometimes, learned so many things. Things to keep doing, things not worth repeating. Just check my selection.

I’m goofing here, but you’ll likely recognize these posts. Instead I’m making an effort to look further in my past. I’m taking you back to the years 2011 and 2012. I started my first photo a day project that lasted 72 weeks. I know that some will tell you that taking less photographs might in fact help you get more inspired and motivated in photography. Others will tell you the opposite. I guess they mean it right, but honestly all they want is to read their blog posts. I for god sake don’t even know why I started. I guess, because I can. And I just did so. No expectations, no intentions, but I did go deep. It was to become an emotional roller coaster.

The beginning felt easy, but the second month was difficult. The following months my back started playing games with me. I photographed tons of barbed wires, I photographed many shadows. I mean, I’ve seen shadows. It felt shadowy. I kept photographing though. Seven days a week. I went past 365 days. That felt like a gimmick, it was a part of me. So I continued. I don’t know how many photographs I took. I don’t even care.

It drained everything out of me, but when I ended it after 72 weeks it felt like it needed to be ended. When I look back, it all felt like a big experimentation. Despite the 504 selected daily photographs I don’t think I produced anything really good and consistent. I tried too many cameras. Experimented with forms, color, post processing, but really had no glue what I was doing. Maybe therefore my last photo a day project felt so differently.

I don’t care what others say about a photo a day project, but I don’t regret doing it. Twice, in fact. The first project helped me to start all over again. Learn from the mistakes I made and the failures, many, I produced. From the 504 finally selected photographs I think only three made it really worthwhile to me (these are the once in this blog post). In the end, that and the experience I gained is what I take with me into the next year.

There are so many things I don’t care about anymore. I don’t give a damn about gear, I try to spent a minimum amount of time editing and post processing. I try to care about small things, non photography related. We complain that there are too many photographs posted on online sharing platforms and yet all we care for are camera reviews. Nowadays I only get 1/5 of the traffic on my blog that I got in 2011. Even this year the best read blog posts are camera impressions I posted in the past. That is photography. Only a small group really cares about photography. So think about the reason why you started to photograph. Bring the honesty back into photography.

I have no intention to turn my blog into a traffic cow again. I only use it for sharing my views, my photography. I try to keep things simple and brace myself for what 2017 will bring to us. All the best for the next year. Peace!

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

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Detached

2014, Photography

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In December I promised myself to not immediately ingest and edit my photographs. To let it “marinate” for a while. For the sake of more conscious editing and objectivity. Sound advice, sounds logical too. Also to keep these photographs more for myself. I’m just having a harder time with my photography. And sharing is making yourself vulnerable too. Even more so when it still all feels one directional. Uh, funny that we still call photography a form of communication though.

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Okay, so marinate them. Strange word. We marinate food to flavor it and to tenderize tough meat. Marinating food may last seconds or a couple of days. But my photographs? Really? I hate it, I so deeply hate it now. Do we have any idea what we all suggest as good advices? A project, one camera one lens, a book, prints, editing by others, get out of your comfort zone, Canon, Nikon, believe in film! Did I forget the Fuji X-series? We can all make lists, easy peasy. You wanna hear a good advice? Stop listening to others, but I admit that even I fail to do so. You can’t marinate food too long before bacterias make it impossible to consume safely. And when we try to preserve food for much longer we just pickle it. And it starts to taste salty or sour. I don’t want salty or sour photographs, do you?

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Back to that marinating thing. Last weekend I went through almost 2 months of photographs. A first edit, post processing…………. It did nothing. It really did nothing. There was no added flavor. And it didn’t tenderize it at all. It was hard to chew and swallow. I got detached from my own photographs. No excitement. Oh sure, too much excitement is a lousy advisor for a photographer. It is just a lot bunch of crap. Or at least for me. I killed the excitement, I forgot the moments. It is all gone. Almost 2 months of photographs. And all I feel is detachement. So much for that sound advice to marinate your photographs. It is all salty and sour now which sounds like pickling to me.

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But what about your older photographs? You know, the ones from say a couple of years ago? You feel detached from those? No, simply stated. No! I still remember I took them, when I edited and processed these and when I decided to share them. All that makes a photograph for me. I still know what I saw and felt, because I kept those moments alive. Right after the moment I took them. Exactly that excitement that everyone warns you for. That overexcitement that should be your worst advisor. Or at least the lists tell me so.

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Now I just feel numb. I try to remember these moments again, but it doesn’t come easy. Bringing back moments. Sure I care that my photographs are good. Good for me, so I don’t really care that my photographs are really good. I rather have garbage I feel emotionally attached to than “marinated” photographs that sucked my life out of it. Just for the sake of being really good. Does that all makes sense? It does somehow to me… I think.

It doesn’t make sense to me to rationalize photography. It is passion, it is all about feelings. I just need to convince myself to listen more often to my inner voice. Avoiding this detachement.

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All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

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Time helps

2013, Photography

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I can drive 80 km/h, look down deep, but it helps to take time. Time to breath, to think, to rest, to continue.

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After my previous post I gave it some extra thoughts how I want to proceed with my blog and what I want to do with the older blog posts. It is certainly tempting to host the blog myself outside the wp dot com environment (thanks Jorge for your thoughts on that subject), but I don’t really have the means (especially the finances) to do so. In the last week I also had several discussions with others on how I want to continue with my blog, and what is happening in the blogosphere. Also I had some good exchanges on photography with fellow photographer Josh White.

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I find it interesting that other bloggers try to figure out what to do with their published stuff. Much gets covered by new posts and images, and what we did gets easily forgotten. I think it is not about rewriting our past, I truly think a blog often echoes a personal diary, but more about restructuring it and make it more easily accessible. Even if I would decide to migrate my blog to a self hosted platform, the restructuring would allow to reduce the number of posts and stored photographs.

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The brief moment of reconsideration in the last week also helped me forward in photographing every day again like I did in 2011. While that may seem clueless at first, I found that particular time after all one of the more liberating periods in my photography. Completely unlimited by gear and techniques (sure they are relevant, but became irrelevant through experience and knowledge at some time) only restricted by my personal feelings. I mean, after 72 weeks consecutively photographing I couldn’t remember taking photographs until I reviewed them later on. At that time, last year, it was a shocking experience. The results however have become quite unique documents to me after struggling with that shocking feeling for some time.

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In essence, that is for me my stroll photography. My first photo book, Saudade, was about reliving that. I want to work on a similar book for next year though. Some of my blog posts will turn in one form or another into that new book. I’m pretty excited to work on that and it really fits with how I described my feelings in my previous post.

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Don’t forget your work, let it breave and remember that time helps. Time and looking back, helps appreciating the road forward.

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All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

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Thought(les)s

2013, Photography

Almost two weeks passed by since I mentioned that much in my personal life – work related – would change. Knowing that in a year, at most two, I need a new job to support my family and pay the bills it made sense to thing thoroughly about my near future. To what extend could photography help me with that? What other valuable options are available? And what is really my relationship with photography?

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I love to work, I need to work. I work hard and I wouldn’t mind working for myself. I am pretty good at what I do and have over 10 years of experience and gained knowledge. It may not be the most beloved job, but I am passionate about working hard. I love my job. It might not be as glamorous, but it allowed me to be a photographer too.

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And I love to photograph, I do my best to become better and learn every day. In fact I am very passionate about it. So passionate though that I decided it is not worth it to me to become a professional photographer.

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There are over 15 professional photographers in my home town, a town with 65,000 inhabitants. Most of them do weddings, portraits and corporate photography. Probably commercially the most attractive genres, unless everyone tries to succeed there. You need to work really hard to get there. Following your passion won’t make difference.

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To me however, that passion drives me. Photography is my personal outlet, my therapy. It helped me when my son was diagnozed autism. It forced me to get out when I was recovering from my back problems. And it will likely help me next year when the going gets tough. That passionate outlet is there for me as a person, not a money maker. For me it is an emotional ride and with that my expectations of quality may vary. Sure I could deliver always, but I don’t want to.

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What next though? I want to work on some long term projects covering the region I live in.  Also a lot more urban photographs in the darkness (like these in this blog post). I will for sure do more landscape photography. When I am calm and patient (or in need of) I prefer landscape photography. For anything else I stroll the streets and cover it. Bringing it all together is an amazing feeling. That is what matters to me. And these landscape photographs? They look amazing printed large, especially on someone else’s wall.

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Photograph by Wouter Brandsma

week 16 | 2012

2012, Photography, Project

Since two years I am member of a local photography club. I appreciate the conversations, the interactions with others, and the diversity. This year, the club exists 50 years and the year will be full with celebrations, lectures, and an exhibition. Last Wednesday the members were provided a change to show their general photographic development from their start till now with at max 5 photographs. It was quite fascinating to see how people developed their style, preferred genre, and vision. Some where resistant showing their photographs when they became member of the club. Too scared for critics. Others where excited when they learned about getting a mentor.

Last year I gave the members an introduction of my work in a 20 minutes presentation. Most of the preparation time was filled with organizing and selecting photographs and thinking about an accompyning story. Since I already had my retrospective work of like 20 years of photography (20 years since I feel work became a bit better to show others), this time I had more time to think about the changes that evolved in my photography.

Even though I still have no clue whether I am on the right track or doing things properly, I have learned though that everything has been my own effort. I have never asked advices, I never got directional advices either. I am totally self taught and not technically trained or art educated. While I love photography, as a teenager I actually preferred to draw, to make sketches. And for long I searched for something similar in photography. Part of the reason why I like compact cameras.

The first time I shared my photographs with my late grand father, a former professional photographer, he felt the need to tell the horror stories of his photographic endeavours and business failure. He accentuated the negative sides. And I don’t blame him and I fully understand it too. He started photographing for completely different reasons. His father became a professional photographer in the early 20th century and my grand father was trained to take over the business. It was hard working and when cheap film development appeared on the market late Seventies he lost a lot of his customers. Photography was not a passion. It was a job.

Maybe I took photography too serious and maybe I tried too hard to be good. I too much wanted to change, forced my photography in something else I wasn’t. With the turn of the millenium I almost gave it up, until my son was diagnozed autism. I know I have said it before, but it was a changing moment. What mattered to me was photographing the things in my own life. My family, my daily routine, the mundane, the ordinary. Sketchy, like a scrapbook.

Photography, like any art form, is a powerful tool to express yourself and to reflect who and what you are. Becoming aware of that is probably one of the most significant things to learn and can finally add meaningful substance to art.

It brings me back to last Wednesday night when I started my introduction with a Agfa Click that I got from my grand father some 15 years ago. I played with that camera way before I started photographing thinking Agfa was a toy brand. These were the times that everything was simple. One of the reasons why I still like to simplify some of my compositions underneath the multi-layered personal context. One of the reasons too why I still focus mostly on the mundane, the ordinary, ’cause the ordinary is often not so ordinary after all.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma