Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a 33 year old photographer based in Maastricht. I finished at Maastricht Art Academy in 2009 and I am a full-time working photographer since late 2011. I run a beautiful studio in De Brandweer alongside my girlfriend Carla who owns an international modeling agency (CJ Models). We have a daughter called Luz (Spanish for light), which is now 2,5 years old. My main focus is on creating portraits–both cultural and commercial- and I also work extensively in the fashion industry, providing designers and models with look-books, portfolio’s and high-end imagery. I like switching back and forth between the psychological depth I can put in a single portrait and the illusive fiction which often feeds fashion work. I am not a fan of smooth, superficial beauty but like to look for raw vulnerability in my subjects. Next to that I have a love for still life photography and personal projects, which I’m trying to maintain in-between my work on commission, which can be difficult at times, but very necessary.
What do you consider as your distinctive achievement?
Over the years I’ve had numerous professional milestones. It would be easy to answer this question with ‘this or that award’ – I’ve won or was nominated 18 times both local and international since 2009-but i’d like to take it to a deeper end.
Certainly, the exhibition ‘Lezen met a zachte G’ (2012-2013, Centre Ceramique, 65 portraits of famous Dutch persons with their favorite book) was a highlight which opened many doors the years after. I am still grateful for that, but it was a strong start and not the magnum opus of my career. For example, last year I shot the MAFAD graduation catalog in collaboration with designer Boy Bastiaens and others. That wasn’t a huge assignment, rather very intimate, but it made me feel just as good as having a large exhibition in a public place. I enjoy working together with a team that is on the same frequency. In many cases the people involved are just as important as the budget, maybe more. Money is just a way of trading and doesn’t feel emotion or give feedback. It will never become a friend.
Maybe my biggest achievement is being able to do what I love most, full-time, with the creative freedom and mental space that you need to be creative. I see loads of people working jobs they don’t like because they think or feel ‘that that is the way it is’. Realising your own life is absolutely make-able with your passion, talent, and signature is truly an eye-opener. All you need is one decision/a lot of guts/a little vision to quote the rockband Placebo (‘Slave to the wage’).
I think that is also what entrepreneurship is about: to see beyond ‘production’ and truly follow your heart and soul to give shape to your dreams. If that sounds very Disney, sorry. It’s a cliché. But it feels different when you are living a dream you build yourself then listening to somebody else’s. Photography for me has many meanings.
Over the past few years, the commercial meaning has grown, because that is an effect of your own development. It’s my daily bread. I cannot afford to give it away for almost nothing, and also feel that the energy and effort should be rewarded. But most of all, photography saved me many times. It gives me a way to express my point of view, to document my world and people in it. It also got me through some dark days, for example a period of depression, alcohol abuse and broken relationships, and more recently my father’s death. Too soon to put that event into a series, but I’m sure I will find the right moment for it. The medium is like a beacon at sea. It’s always there and ready to listen. Many photographers say that every portrait is a self-portrait, I feel the same way. If something creative is disconnected from It’s maker, it becomes shallow and replaceable.
One single thing I’d like to mention is one of my works being purchased by British fashion designer Sir Paul Smith for his private collection of artworks. That is a cool thing!
What are you looking forward to?
I am looking forward to the unique places my profession will take me in the next 10 years. Also, I am looking forward to the way photography will develop itself. Growing from a method of reproduction to stepping out of the shadow of fine arts, becoming an accepted art form and shaping our visual information-filled world, to the digital mass-embraced medium of today. I think photography has only begun to grow up, as you will. I am also looking forward to the day that people will discover that selfies are pretty useless and add nothing to the landscape. (Although i can’t deny taking them myself sometimes). Our world is totally oversaturated with images on a daily bases and many of them have absolutely no added value, at least not to me. I’m trying to create a visual moment of stillness and not be part of the ongoing frenzy.
Which advice would you give to other professionals?
Here we go 😉 I like to give metaphorical advice, so it can be interpreted in different ways. It’s good to realise that you are never alone in what you do – unless you’re Karl Lagerfeld or the late Prince. Look around the creative industry and there are 1000 people doing what you do, making what you are making.
Whether photographer’s, designers, writers, the creative industry is overcrowded and counting heads. Remember that what makes you an entrepreneur, is not ‘just’ delivering the product with a nice prodent-smile, but everything that has anything to do with you. Your visions, your way of communicating, your style, your energy.
In short, your personal branding. The more you control your feet, the better you can dance. Get over your shy-ness and connect with the people you respect. At the same time, stay humble enough not to lose your common touch (I’ve seen that happen quite a lot). Succes can be a blessing and a burden. Always stick to creating as a goal, don’t run for the money. Also, confront yourself with your darker inner depths. Fear, doubt, rejection are very valuable in a creative process. They add a rough edge and are unique.
Personally, I’d like to make a link to the music industry, especially hiphop. Artists are often talking about the music business as the game, and the artists as players. In the end, that brings in some humour,right? You are part of a movement, a sport, something dynamic. What you have to do is find your place to score. Claim your spot. This doesn’t mean you should run around calling other creatives your homeboys and your girlfriend a bitch, but find the fun in what you do. Never avoid some healthy competition. To quote Black Thought (rapper from The Roots, ed.) saying ‘I deal with the real/ so if it’s artificial / let it be’ in the song You got me feat. Erykah Baduh. I interpreted this as ‘Be authentic’. Know where you stand, and if others think you are fake, that’s their problem’. Macho? Maybe. But creatives who take themselves and their work too serious are seldom fruitful to be around with. Entrepreneurship is a way of life, more than a day at the office.
What are the challenges that we need to overcome to facilitate cultural entrepreneurship?
In people’s minds, and also in many creators minds, there is still this borderline between ‘art’ and ‘commerce’, which is totally a waste. Pop-art in the 60’s and 70’s already ridiculed the idea that art and commerce are two separate things. If a concept is strong and it appeals to many people, why not mass produce it? Most iconic artists (Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and more recently Erwin Olaf, Annie Leibovitz) had the chance to create their best work because they got payed to make it! Next to the personal growth you get from working for a client, with a team, instead of on your own. If we simply accept those two worlds as one and the same, we could make more things happen and more young entrepreneurs wouldn’t be scared of the idea that ‘art is for grown up’s’ and so on. Plus, you have to live. The art world revolves around economic laws based on exclusivity – have you ever been to TEFAF?
Create something authentic, don’t be afraid to sell it. Act artistic, think commercial. Let things blend in like they eventually will. Another challenge on local level, is to promote diversity and competition. I feel there is too much of the same being made by too many people. All these creatives share a small city like Maastricht. I have never been afraid of a healthy form of creative competitor-ship, not to crush someone but to grow in your own skin. The upcoming fashion house might be good breeding ground, for example. But hey, Maastricht will never be a New York City in terms of photography or a Milano in fashion-let’s be realistic. We’d better focus on what we CAN become.