Does Where You Start Determine Where You Go in Photography?

About a thousand years ago, as a wee teenager, I first developed an interest in photography. I'd carry my dad's old Yashica YK on family outings, took bad pictures and over time got into the journalistic style of shooting. Hands off, blend in. Shoot reality, don't make it. As I got older, I sought out demonstrations, upcoming protests and expected riots to go out and shoot. In the university town where I lived, I sometimes covered events. I'd develop the film, print the pictures and drop them in the local paper's mailbox. It was a thrill seeing my shots in the paper, especially the one that made the front page. I had dreams of becoming a photo journalist.

When the US military wanted to place cruise missiles close to my hometown in Holland, I considered myself blessed (I'm weird that way), because that meant that on the weekends when I visited my parents I could shoot the protests, the marches and the tent camp the protesters set up.


Anti-war protest - New York, 2003

Whereas others made photo albums of their holiday trips, I have an album of riots in Amsterdam, complete with photographs of mounted riot police galloping into a sitting crowd. I told you, I'm weird that way.

I never did become a photo journalist, though. Over time I learnt about the lousy pay and the endless wait for something to happen. Instead, I dabbled in television and later focused on the written word.

But in my photography, I never really abandoned those roots. The first gear I bought when I rediscovered photography in the 1990s was a Nikon F5 and fast f/2.8 zooms, the kind of stuff photo journalists carry. I didn't need it.

That was okay.

What's more of a problem is that I have a hard time abandoning those photojournalistic roots in other types of photography. I lack the proactive approach.

I'm still inclined to try to blend in and shoot without altering reality.

And, you know, that's a problem in model photography. Model photography is the opposite. You're supposed to know what you want to depict, what you want the model to wear, what lighting you want to use, what the makeup should look like, everything to the tiniest detail needs to be planned. In model photography you don't blend in. You are the boss. You determine reality.

But when I do a model shoot, I just tell the model to bring a whole bunch of clothes and I try to see what I can get with what I have before me. Generally, ideas pop up as we go along, but sometimes these ideas cannot be executed because I should have prepared for them beforehand.


Have Model, Put in Pool - Cyprus, 2008

 I lack an interest in still lifes, I guess, because much of the effort goes into setting things up while my focus is on taking the pictures itself.

Likewise, I have many photography books filled with photo journalism and portraits, but few other ones. I never got into the commercial work done by people like David LaChappelle, whose commercial work consisted of large productions. I'm a fan of Jeanloup Sieff, whose style was understated and seemed natural, even though his work was posed as well.

I often think that if I had started photography in a different way, I would have developed differently as a photographer. If I had done portrait sessions with friends in addition to running to riots, I would probably be better versed at setting up shoots and thinking of concepts beforehand.

Do you also think that your early experience in photography influences your current style?

By John van Rosendaal