I write this introduction straight from the heart, no editing, no preformed thoughts, just pure heart felt words. Wouter Brandsma is one of the best things that have happened to my photography so it is with great pride and I feel lucky to call him a friend. Not only a friend, but a teacher and a source of inspiration. As many of you know Wouter is a Stroll Photographer who documents his surrounding with an amazing eye which pierces through the lens and captures indelible images that leave us thinking, wanting more, asking questions, and in the end deeply enthralled in his view. Wouter Brandsma epitomizes what can be done with dedication, deep thought to one’s imagery, and off course a compact camera. So it is a great honor to have Wouter join the Togs Series. Ladies and gentlemen without further ado, I present you Wouter Brandsma, Stroll Photographer from the Netherlands.
Jorge: Wouter thanks for accepting my invitation. I’ve been long time viewer of your site and this is certainly a true honor. I have always admired work its not only emotional, cinematic, evocative, but its ridden with imagery, a true joy to watch and learn. Wouter tell me something, why do you photograph?
Wouter: Thank you Jorge for this opportunity. I have been photographing most of my life, but the last 5 years so much has changed. I did mostly landscapes and started to get the feeling during the mid Nineties that I seriously missed something in my photographs. At first I thought I missed human presences (still one of the reasons why I do street photography), but since my son was diagnosed with autism a lot of things changed.
And again that took some years before I realized it. I mean, you consider growing up and raising a child as something obvious and all of a sudden you learn that it just doesn’t work that way. I realized that really nothing is obvious. It resulted in subtle changes in my photography. You mention emotional and evocative, and to me that is really it. In the end these subtle gradual changes, became bigger and bigger.
I am very visually oriented and photography provides me with the opportunity to express myself, to understand what we take for granted, and to display the complexity and beauty of common life.
Everyone’s photograph evolves in some way or another, but we usually won’t see the bigger picture. At times it is really good to take a deep breath, sit back, and try to understand what you are really doing. I think my photography became very personal in the last 5 years, which I consider the biggest change in my photography.
I used to use film in the past, both negative and positive film. And most of those years I used color film. The change to black and white in my photography happened gradually 5 or 6 years ago. It helped me better to understand how communicating can work. You know, we have our verbal and non-verbal communication. When we communicate and try to understand each other it is important to understand the broader context too. Now if it is very difficult to see that context, because you take so much information that you can’t distinct the bread from the butter. It becomes a lot harder to understand and to express yourself. And basically that is one of the biggest problems my son faces.
By stripping off color I basically get rid off an additional peace of information. For me, it is not a thing of black and white is better then color. I believe color is very powerful, one of the reasons I started to experiment with it again this year, but it can deceptive too.
Jorge: Excellent responses to kick off this interview Wouter. I often have very similar thoughts when it comes to black & white versus color. I mean, photographers can do both but b&w has a certain allure, its hard to put into words sometimes but suffice it to say its extremely gratifying to me as well.
Wouter, you’re widely known as the small compact photographer, what led you on this path?
Wouter: In the 90’s I got this huge bag with cameras and lenses. Instead on focusing on subjects I got more occupied with all the gear. At some point I got totally fed up with it. This all happened when more and more manufacturers started to produce high quality compact cameras. I wanted to have something that actually provided me limitations and was small and unobtrusive to use. When I saw the Ricoh GR1 I knew this was exactly what I had in mind.
It is a very liberating feeling to know that you can challenge yourself with some consciously selected constrains. Creativity is within us, not with more and better gear in my opinion.
Jorge: Very well said Wouter. The gear proliferation, well not the gear proliferation but what some photography forums call “Gear Addiction Syndrome” otherwise known as “GAS”. This addiction is some people is a very real thing, I can’t speak for other togs but I certainly went through a phase. Glad its over now but I can honestly say it affected my creativity. Wouter, let’s shift gears a little bit, tell me about your city and how it inspires you? Ever since becoming a fan of your site I’m always taken back by the stunning compositions despite them not being filled with people. How do you get into that “zone”, you know that zone where you simply view through your viewfinder(LVF1) and just find those composition, please take us through that vision, that process.
Wouter: Honestly, I believe GAS has really nothing to do with photography. It is just the freaking temptation to constantly buy something better. Pure consumerism in my opinion.
My city? There is nothing really inspiring about my city. It is a typical suburb in the Dutch bible belt, where the most memorable moments are when the sunlight triggers something within me. Light is different in Florida I guess, but up the northern hemisphere there is no better season then the autumn or early spring. The sun doesn´t get so high anymore and the shadows scream for attention. Since I just love this light I have absolutely no problem finding that zone. Almost anything is interesting for me then. The summer is different though when the light is flat and everything turns green.
My town is bit like a room full of ordinary stuff you normally wouldn´t want to have or look back to. But the longer you stay there, and because I have the desire to photograph, you start to notice more and more interesting subjects. Not specifically beautiful, but interesting enough to be noticed. Life is full of ordinary happenings and objects, but in photography we still mostly focus on the things we normally hardly see. By shooting everyday it becomes really difficult to ignore it.
But I think there is not just one zone. It is divided into lots of segments and these are for me closely tight to my feelings, my mood. When I am happy, relieved, free, and open minded I have learned that there is just so much more light I feel and want to see. And when I am in pain (and I unfortunately have been for quite some time with my lower back and left leg) or deal under a lot of pressure I focus more on deeper shadows and generally darker scenes. But also more and more on self portraits.
Recently a photography student contacted. She was working on a project to give shape to here “artistic family”. People who inspire her. I was kind of surprised to learn I was one these members if here “artistic family”. When she asked me who or what inspired me I told her that my doubts about my photography are in fact the most important reasons for me to photograph. Like I try to counterbalance my drive for perfection with a small compact camera, I fight my creative and photographic doubts with photography.
I think my photographs are not specifically focused on a particular subject. My streets are mostly empty or filled with passing by cars. A lot more important to me is a flow, a state of mind. I prefer not to photograph with a project or subject in mind. Open and free. I am trying to be myself, not a street or landscape photographer.
Jorge: On the reference to GAS I can totally agree with you, although I must admit myself that I sometimes battle the urge and have even put myself on a self imposed moratorium on purchasing new gear. So much so, I recently sold/gave all my gear away and just kept one — the GF1. Seeking the light and just trying to be yourself is perfectly ok and quite respectable.
As a matter of a fact I dare to say its part of what makes your photography so attractive to your readers and I include myself in that bunch. Photographing things that are sometimes ordinary and in a different light often times brings out something special in them.
Wouter, shifting gears into the more technical aspect of photography share with us please you’re love for small compacts and how that ubiquitous tool has given us the Wouter Brandsma we all know.
Wouter: Now I could tell you that I thought my SLR set was too cumbersome to carry anywhere with me, and the truth is I really thought so in the Nineties. Therefore I moved to compact cameras in 1996 and pretty much never looked back. Image quality for me has nothing to do with sharpness, details, noise, and pixelpeeping. Captured emotions doesn’t become better or more expressive when I use a larger camera.
One very important other reason for me is the sort of instant sketch look these small compact cameras provide me in B&W. Especially when I was younger I made a lot of sketches and drawings and I am still largely influenced by that.
Ultimately I decided to use compact cameras to provide me limitations that triggers me creatively. Just like a pencil and paper is all you need to create imagery. You really don’t need much to excel.
When it comes to the seven photographs I selected I find it quite hard to describe what makes these images. Mostly I am not so fond of my photographs, but some just seem to work. If I at least make one photograph a year that even feels special to me, I can feel succeeded.
Jorge: Well Wouter, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions and share with the readers of this blog valuable insights into a photographic mind which truly shines. Its been my pleasure. Also, I wanted to publicly thank you for your tutelage and insights into my own photography which as you know you’ve been a source of inspiration, Dank je wel (thank you so much).
I think Wouter’s imagery is without any doubt one of my favorites. Here are some photographs I’d like to showcase which are simply amazing and powerful for their depth. Ladies and gentlemen make no mistake, photography is a visual art and one which Wouter Brandsma so eloquently masters on his day to day. It is simply amazing how far his images take us. They show us a world never seen before, a world full of mystery in a quotidian fashion and if nothing more, it causes to realize something I always keep talking about on this blog and that is that, photography is all around and Wouter takes that to a whole new level.
All images in this interview are photographs by Wouter Brandsma with their respective copyrights. This interview started on October 11, 2011 and concluded yesterday March 4, 2012 and it was conducted via Writeboard. Wouter Brandsma’s photography can be followed on his self titled blog “Wouter Brandsma” and also on Twitter.