I had long wanted to write this blog post, in fact I started to write it quite a few times and every time another topic drifted to the top of my mind thus taking the place of this essay. It would have started as follows:
"I have a dear friend, a friend who is as modest as the mountains he spends his life photographing, a man who is humble, yet more passionate than anyone I know, whose energy and enthusiasm are infectious and whom I have admired for many years. I was fortunate to meet the photographer I looked up to, I loved his work, because above all else, the passion for his surroundings was tangible in all his photographs. When we met up he was courteous enough not to laugh at my attempts to keep up with his swift climbing. This man is the kind of photographer that I would like to be, not because of how his work looks, but because he is grateful and satisfied, he does not have the ambition to travel everywhere and nowhere to find something better. He is convinced that there is nothing better than his surroundings. I asked him to come to The Netherlands and he laughed saying that he had not desire to leave his area and that The Netherlands appeared very flat to him, which was a correct assumption."
This is how the story should have started. I was going to visit him this year, but after we booked a stay in a cabin in the mountains I received startling news....my friend had passed away. I am more determined than ever though to tell you about why I think he was such a shining example of someone who cares deeply about not only his surroundings, but also about creating. He was not a professional photographer, I don't think he ever considered it. He considered himself " un chasseur des images". To my utter surprise he asked to meet me one day and I said to him that I had long admired his dedication and passion which were so tangible in his images and he modestly replied that I was the artist and he simply took some images. There was nothing simple about him though. Someone who is satisfied with the things he has and his own surroundings is very rare indeed. The sense of wonder he managed to convey in each of his images told the story of a sensitive soul.
He was utterly poetic as well, in his words and in his photography and I really had a hard time keeping up with his beautifully embellished sentences. I ,with my school French, he with adorned replies to everything I said. I felt utterly inadequate in expressing what I felt, as he was so eloquent and made his words sing with emotion. He defended Le Droit A La Difference, which comes very close to my own life motto : Dare To Be Different. He defended the right to be different, to not fit in, to stay true to yourself.
I will miss him and I already miss not being able to meet up again, but I am very grateful that I had the chance to photograph with him several times, that he fell in love with my dog Kayla, that he shared croissants and laughs with me. I feel that I need to share his approach to photography, which I will do my very best to sum up....without his eloquence and poetry, but with a true desire to pay tribute to this sensitive guy who loved nothing more than being one with his mountains.
1.Be dedicated to retaining a sense of wonder rather than to chase new horizons. What I mean by this is that you can make a conscious effort to staying inspired, which is not about running away from boredom and having to always go somewhere new, but to go beyond the obvious in the area you are already working in. Magic is not found at the end of the rainbow, but in seeing the rainbow from where you are.
2. Rather than constantly reading reviews about the latest and greatest gear, focus on what you have and make it work for you. My friend had an old and battered DSLR and a fixed 300mm lens instead of my 70-200 lens with all its possibilities. But he knew this lens inside out, he shot macro shots with it as well as telephoto images, he had to stand way behind me to make an image, but the point is; he made it work. I carried a large bag, which is probably why I could not keep up with him, I carried a tripod...he had just a monopod and a small bag around his waist. It was not what he carried in the bag, but what he himself brought to the landscape that made his photographs shine
3. An appreciation of being able to create. I can't tell you how many hobbyist photographers tell me that they just don't feel like photographing anymore, that they have grown bored of it, that the fun has gone out of it. Much of this is caused by chasing preconceived images, holding on so tightly to what a photograph should look like, that there is a hardness to their approach. I always say one thing to them: a hobby is supposed to be fun, you do it because you like it and it is up to you to like it. A hobby is supposed to bring joy and not lead to frustration. Stay playful in your approach, remember how much you enjoyed it before you started obsessing about it and go back to the initial urge to pick up a camera. If this does not help, you obviously need to find a hobby that you do like.
4. A dedication to share knowledge. We all build on knowledge that we gain from others. This is how new heights are achieved. I owe so much to several photographers amongst whom is this friend who taught me the importance of true passion for your subject matter, of being satisfied with what you already have and how to cherish every moment. But I also owe a lot to Josh Anon who miraculously tied together my passion for design, my eye for detail and my photography in a way that I could see where I was heading. His lessons shifted things into place for me. I am forever grateful, but my photographs are nothing like his. It was his sharing of knowledge and my personal interpretation of it that helped me. This is what teaching should be like: sharing knowledge than can then be translated and interpreted in a personal way. This is how we all grow.
5. Nature comes first. Nature is not a consumption good to fulfill our expectations for epic photographs. We do not own the landscape and the landscape does not owe us. The photograph is not worth anything if it means that now or even years down the line, you helped destroy the very thing you wanted to photograph. Life is what is important, not just yours, but life...nature. Think hard about sharing locations, because by sharing it, it might get shared with thousands who only see a bucket list location and an image to reproduce and who don't care about preserving the very subjects of the images, because after the image is taken they will be on their way to the next location on their list. He said to simply respect life like nature invites us to by offering us her splendour every single day and by doing so keeping our hope alive.
My friend did not have a bucket list, he cared, he deeply cared about the mountains he lived in, his heart always filled with a sense of wonder that he was allowed to witness it. His heart belonged to his own area, never being dissatisfied with his surroundings, but being filled with gratitude that he was able to spend time in nature. He was a gracious man, to nature, to his area and to his friends and I wanted to pay hommage to him, because he taught me about passion for your subject matter and that there is not always better than here.
This is my au revoir to my friend. I went up his mountain recently, I stood where he spent many an early morning, I gazed at his horizons and felt as much in awe as he would have felt if he would have been there. Don't take life and nature for granted, treat it with respect, retain a sense of wonder, always and inspire to be better, unique and authentic.
As always I would like to express my gratitude for your interest in my work and writing. I highly appreciate it. I aim to keep writing these essays without sponsorships from third parties as much as possible, but of course writing these takes a lot of time and effort and if you feel compelled to support my work, please consider buying a print or my eBook The Magic of Forest Photography. I would be very grateful.
My print shop went online last week and contains all portfolio images and all the images from the book Woodscapes and Praxisbuch Wälder Fotografieren. The prints are available in many sizes and on Xpozer (my personal favourite), canvas, aluminium dibond and many more.