Olga Pantushenkova, Paris 1998

650 Olga Paris '98 09
Olga Pantushenkova, Kult Magazine, Paris 1998

Olga Pantushenkova, was one of the first Russian models to achieve international fame.
Born in St. Petersburg, she dreamed of becoming a model since she was a little girl.
At the age of fourteen she participated in a Miss USSR contest, and was spotted by someone from Red Star, the first modelling agency in Moscow. The world thought that only babushkas came out of the East, but when the Iron Curtain was finally fell it was revealed that Russia held a rich treasure-trove of beauty.

So, Red Star sent her to Paris where she was signed by Elite. Under one condition. That she cut her long hair – the pride of every Russian girl. She chose a radical bob. A star was born.
Her breakthrough came with an advert for Cacharel Eden Perfume. Armani, Lacroix, and covers for Vogue and Elle quickly followed. ‘An explosion of beauty’, as Karl Lagerfeld allegedly once said.

Olga, with her platinum blonde, dyed, and cropped hair, looked nothing like the standard Russian girl she once was: long dark hair, preferably in a plait or pony tail, but had now joined the select group of super models.
In Russia she turned into an idol, a role model, where millions of girls, from Vladivostok to Voronesh, dreamed of nothing other than following in her footsteps.


Light, Sorrento 1992

Sorrento 01
Light, Irah and Angelo, Via degli Archi, Sorrento 1992

“She doesn’t even notice the stains on her dress. The bruises on her knuckles. The blisters on her feet. As the guests leave they take their laughter with them. The doors open and the nighttime air comes in. She takes a deep breath and sits down for the first time in for however long it might have been. Such things don’t matter now. Empty tables surround her, but despite this lonely scene and this cold air, warmth is what she feels. She steps outside and attempts to light a cigarette. Her lighter is nowhere to be found, but Angelo helps her out. They say ‘Buena Notte’ to each other. The food was good. The kitchen is clean. Everyone is happy. That’s all that matters.”


Roman Holiday, Rome 1991

Marie Claire Roma '91 03

Roman Holiday, Marie Claire Magazine, Rome 1991

In Roman Holiday – a story shot in Rome for Marie Claire, inspired by William Wyler’s 1953 movie, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck – we tried to recreate the scene in which rebelling Princess Anne realizes that this is the first day she’ll spend in freedom after escaping from the strict schedule at the palace.

We made a picture of our Princess on the balcony of her hotel room, which was just opposite mine. Stylist Maarten Spruyt had dressed up the place with flowers and plants that he had found in the hotel lobby, but the dilapidation of the rear side of the building, and the miserable condition of the electrical utilities kept putting themselves in the foreground. Prominently.

It didn’t seem to disturb Her Royal Highness at all: “Free at last!”


Strike a Pose, Amsterdam 1987

Strike a Pose '87

Strike a Pose, HCM Advertising, Amsterdam 1987

I guess we’re all familiar with the frequently encountered, gaudy way of posing that can be part of a fashion shoot; a kind of photography we know from the past, practiced by photographers such as Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Hoyningen-Huene or Horst P. Horst, who all left an indelible and unparalleled impression with their dramatically lit fashion pictures, usually shot in a studio, and dating from the first half of the twentieth century. 

These somewhat fictitious, contrived pictures with enormous expressive strength became a reality in themselves, with meaning and importance for those who are interested in fashion, but – for they reflect their time in an unprecedented way – now look outdated. It is probably the watered down, pale shadow of this genre of posed, unnatural, but to this day still imitated fashion pictures that is responsible for the negative image of shallowness of fashion photography in general that exists for many people.

Maybe it’s a good idea not to listen to Madonna as she sings: “Strike a pose! Vogue, Vogue, Vogue!”, but to look at the photographs of Peter Lindbergh or Arthur Elgort, to see some viable, modern, alternatives.


Favourite, Amsterdam 1992

Favourite, Elegance Magazine, Amsterdam 1992

Last week Friday I gave a guest lecture using Skype for the students of the Falmouth Arts University in Cornwall, England, regarding my book ‘Nothing is Real’, published by Amazon.com.
All went well until one of the students asked me what my own, ‘favourite’ picture was.
This is about the most difficult question I can imagine. By choosing one image as ‘best’, I’m degrading all my other pictures to ‘less’, a decision I don’t want to make.
So I answered, as I did before when similar questions were asked: “The last one I’ve been working on.” At that moment that image is the most present and ‘important’ in my mind.
Then the student asked: “Which one is it? What does it look like?”
When I told her, I realized that, except for the editor-in-chief of the magazine I had shot it for, no one had ever seen my ‘favourite’ picture, which is quite exceptional.
“I like it, but we’re not going to publish it.” he had said. “It’s far too sexy for our readers. I don’t want to take the risk.”
So I put it in my ‘archives’ where it stayed until I found it that morning and took it aside to put it on Instagram later that day, right after the Skype session.
And here it is. Shot in the Japanese Room of the famous Tuschinski Theater in Amsterdam. For Elegance Magazine.


Rastaman, Grenada 1994

Grenada '94
Rastaman, Grenada 1994

Over the years, I spent a lot of time in the Caribbean, be it for pleasure or for work.
I remember those trips particularly at this time of the year because it’s cold over here, while the weather conditions in the Caribbean right now are perfect, the hurricane season being far away. So, the best time to visit is now.
Have a nice holiday!

Dalla Pop Art alla Street Art, Mantova 2017

Vogue Italia, Warhol e Basquiat, Dalla Pop Art alla Street Art, Jan. 2017

Happy New Year!
A happy and healthy 2017 with lots of new developments and challenges for everyone!
I’m starting off next Sunday with a group exhibition in wonderful, ‘citta d’arte’, Mantova, Italy. The exhibition at the Mantova Outlet Village, called ‘Dalla Pop Art alla Street Art. Da Andy Warhol alla Jean-Michel Basquiat’, is curated by ONO-Arte Contemporanea, Bologna, and will be opened by Daniela Sogliani, art historian, on Sunday January 8, 16.30 hrs. It will last till March 5, 2017
The other photographers are Lee Jaffe, Fred Mc.Darrah, and Anton Perich.



Fiorucci, Amsterdam 1984

People and their Bicycles, Fiorucci, i-D Magazine 1984

Many years ago, at the occasion of the opening of a new Fiorucci Store in Amsterdam, I photographed people who came to the new shop with their bikes, wearing their favorite, most spectacular clothes. All according to an idea of i-D art-director, founder, and editor-in-chief Terry Jones who wanted to publish the pictures in his magazine, and came over from London to see how comfortable I was with ‘the Straight-Up’, his favorite style of photography: simple, head-to-toe pictures of street cast people with great personal style.
One picture after the other. I think I made over a hundred portraits that day.


Thean Hou, Kuala Lumpur 1991


Burning joss sticks. Thean Hou, Kuala Lumpur, Elegance Magazine 1991

One of Malaysia’s many unique characteristics is the intriguing mix of religions that live side by side, due to the multiple ethnic groups – all with their own culture – that inhabit the country.
Despite the fact Malaysia is often being identified as Islamic – the constitutional state religion – it does know freedom of religion for non-Muslims.


China, Amsterdam 1992


China in Amsterdam, Avenue Magazine 1992

The China Trade. The influence of Chinese culture has always been enormous, throughout history, worldwide, in many different fields. Silk and science, food and philosophy, opium and fireworks. And fashion. From the exuberance of the Old Empire till the sobriety of the People’s Republic.


Le Camargue, France 1991


Wild horses and evening dresses, Avenue Magazine 1991

“Forget about high heels. Get rid of jewelry and complicated hairdos. Evening dresses are much more exciting in the wild.”
A remarkable statement by international stylist and designer Frans Ankoné, an idea we tried to illustrate by a series of photographs of the mysterious red head Virginia Gallo, shot in the South of France, in the extensive marshlands of the Camargue, home to bulls, birds, and wild horses.


Dia de Muertos, Oaxaca 1989

Dia de Muertos, Oaxaca, Mexico 1989

Dia de Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, and in all other places where people of Mexican ancestry live.
It focuses on gatherings of family and friends to remember and pray for friends and relatives who have died. Prior to Spanish colonization in the 16th century, the celebration took place at the beginning of summer. Gradually it was associated with October 31, November 1 and November 2 to coincide with the Western Christian celebration of Allhallowtide: All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day.
The three-day fiesta, which is similar to other culture’s festivities in order to honor the dead, is filled with marigolds – the flowers of the dead – sugar skulls, cardboard skeletons, paper decorations, fruits, nuts and incense.
Families go to cemeteries to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives, and leave the favorite foods and beverages of the deceased as gifts at their graves.


La Divina, Maastricht 1986


La Voce, la Diva, la Donna, Avenue Magazine, Bonbonnière, Maastricht 1986

Until today, almost 40 years after her early death in 1977, Maria Callas, La Prima Donna Absoluta, who is worshipped by millions, is still considered the greatest opera singer of the twentieth century; not only because of her extraordinary singing talent but also because of her incredible ability to deliver strong and expressive acting performances.
Casta Diva from the opera Norma by Bellini, a classical example of the belcanto tradition, is one of her best known arias.
Musical artists from different genres, like Emmilou Harris, Patti Smith, and Linda Rondstadt have all mentioned Maria Callas as a great influence, and paid tribute to La Divina in their music; the fictional opera singer Bianca Castafiore from ‘The Adventures of Tintin’, has been modeled after her.

The latter half of Callas’ career was marked by a number of scandals. Once she was photographed with her mouth turned in a furious snarl, which started the myth of Callas as a temperamental prima donna and a ‘Tigress’. Later that year, just before her debut at the N.Y. Metropolitan Opera, Time ran a damaging cover story about her and the difficult relationship with her mother.
While still married to Giovanni Battista Meneghini, she began an affair with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis which ended after a few years when Onassis left Callas in favour of Jacqueline Kennedy Bouvier, the widow of American president John F. Kennedy. After that they resumed what had become a ‘clandestine’ affair and frequently met up in Paris, where she lived largely in isolation and died of a heart attack at age 53 on September 16, 1977.

In 2007, she was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and voted the greatest soprano of all time by BBC Music Magazine. In 1986 the flamboyant Alexandra impersonated her in ‘La Voce, la Diva, la Donna’ for Avenue Magazine. Styling Frans Ankoné, hair and make-up Charles Olivier.


Unorthodox, Amsterdam 1990


Unorthodox, André van Noord, Avenue Magazine 1990

When shooting outdoors in Amsterdam, the Eastern Harbour has long been my favorite location. Even during the reconstruction in the nineties, it offered a multitude of backgrounds such as industrial and classical buildings, walls, doors, gates, and fences in all kinds of materials and colors. Besides a lot of water, like any harbour, there were narrow alleys, but also open spaces showing lots of sky.
After the reconstruction this had all disappeared. Now the only thing you’ll find there is a lot of beautifully designed houses and apartment buildings, which makes this new living area one of the most modern looking quarters of the city.


Pat Cleveland, Stresa 1987


Pat Cleveland imp. Josephine Baker, Avenue Magazine 1987

Thursday September 22, the incomparable Pat Cleveland will be in Amsterdam to promote her memoir Walking with the Muses. Between 5 and 7pm, she’ll sign your personal copy at the Atheneum News Centre, 14 Spui. Besides that she will meet  some of her old friends from the time she was living in Amsterdam herself.
Walking with the Muses is about her life as a supermodel, the famous people she met, the travels she made. Or as Simon & Schuster, her publisher, stated: An exciting account of the international adventures of fashion model Pat Cleveland, one of the first black supermodels during the wild sixties and seventies.

“New York in the sixties and seventies was glamorous and gritty at the same time, a place where people like Warhol, Avedon, and Halston as well their muses came to pursue their wildest ambitions, and when the well began to run dry they darted off to Paris.
Though born on the very fringes of this world, Patricia Cleveland, through a combination of luck, incandescent beauty, and enviable style, soon found herself in the center of all that was creative, bohemian, and elegant. A “walking girl,” a runway fashion model whose inimitable style still turns heads on the runways of New York, Paris, Milan, and Tokyo, Cleveland was in high demand.
One minute she’s partying with Mick Jagger and Jack Nicholson, the next she’s sharing the dance floor next to a man with stark white hair, an artist the world would later know as Warhol. One moment she’s idolizing the silver screen sensation Warren Beatty, years later, she’s deciding whether to resist his considerable amorous charms. In New York, she struggles to secure her first cover of a major magazine. In Paris, she’s the toast of the town. And through the whirlwind of it all, she is forever in pursuit of love, truth, and beauty.”


The Sheltering Sky, Marrakech 1990


The Life of Paul Bowles, Avenue Magazine, Marrakech 1990

Paul Bowles was an American author and composer who lived most of his life in Morocco. His 1949 novel The Sheltering Sky about existential despair and unanticipated danger during a journey through the cities and deserts of North Africa just after World War II, is listed in the Time Magazine 100 Best English-language novels.

In 1938 Bowles married to Jane, an author and playwright who thought that she and Paul were so incompatible that they should be in a museum. She was extravagant, Paul was reserved. She showed her feelings and was out of control, he was disciplined and used to hide his emotions. She drank heavily, and hated drugs, he didn’t drink but smoked kif, considering it part of his creative process.
They were prominent literary figures of New York throughout the 1940s. After World War II, in cosmopolitan Tangier, Paul and his wife were the centre of a group of artists including William Burroughs, Francis Bacon, Allen Ginsberg, and Cecil Beaton.

Their marriage was very unconventional: they both had intimate relationships with others and pursued their own sexual interests. Like forerunners of the Peace and Love Movement of the 1960s.Sometimes they lived separately and had daily lunch appointments, but they did stay together, maintaining close personal ties based on mutual respect.


Air Conditioned Underwater Scene, Miami Beach 1991

Miami '91

Air Conditioned Underwater Scene, Miami Beach 1991

A typical example of an ‘in between’ shot.
When shooting on location, while the models were changing their clothes, I always tried to make pictures of the surroundings of the backdrops that I was actually using.
As a reminder, with the idea in mind to maybe use those backgrounds some other time, in a different series, or as a kind of ‘illustration’ meant to deepen the story or add context to what I was doing at that moment.
I feel sorry now, I never used this ‘Air Conditioned Underwater Scene’ but fortunately I still have the photograph!


Praia Pernambucana, Brazil 1989

Brazil '89Praia Pernambucana, Recife 1989

Just as it always happens when making portraits – chin up, head a little to the left – when shooting documentary it feels quite natural to interfere with reality through physical directions.
Not in this case though.
The proud owner of this Brazilian beach restaurant in Pernambuco, not far from Recife, didn’t need any directions.
She stroke a pose at the moment she saw my camera.


Culture & Contrast, Mysore 1987

India '87 Mysore 03

Land of Culture & Contrast, Avenue Magazine, Mysore 1987

“A greater contrast between our arrival in and departure from India was absolutely impossible. After landing in Bangalore we were met by photographers and journalists who treated us like film stars. Our Indian host had told the press that supermodel Apollonia was coming to Southern India for a fashion shoot.
The following day we appeared in the local newspapers, adorned with garlands.

Our journey home was something completely different. An enormous fire at Bombay airport had just destroyed a large section of the departure lounge. It was total chaos. Thousands of people, nothing to eat or drink, nowhere to sit, and, above all, a complete lack of information about how long we would have to camp there. It turned out to be more than two days. Apollonia handed out sleeping pills every six hours, our Indian shawls served as matrasses. The flight back will be shrouded in mystery forever.”
Frans Ankoné in 40 Years of Dutch Magazine Photography


Summertime, Miami 1990

Dan & Robina  Miami 1990 R

Summertime, Dan & Robina, Elegance Magazine, Miami 1990

Since motion implies life, the possibility to depict a unique, once-only moment of a moving subject, razor-sharp, has always appealed to me. Being it either an incidental glance, the record attempt of a long jumper, the restrained smile of a teenager, or any other expression of the volatility of life.
It offers a facility that, for technical reasons, didn’t exist in the early days of the medium. Blurred pictures, due to long exposure times and moving subjects, were common things and could only be avoided by means of not moving at all for several seconds in order not to be depicted as a foggy shade.
As a result of that we are all familiar with the static, posed, pictures which, in combination with their typical sepia tone, were characteristic of the photographs in the nineteenth century. Now that photographic materials are more sensitive and lenses much faster – resulting in the possibility to photograph moving subjects as frozen – we are able to show a very different image of reality than a hundred years ago.


Ménage à trois, The Hague 1996

Il Florileggio '96 03

Ménage à trois, Il Florileggio, Elegance Magazine 1996

During the 20s and 30s of the last century, an exploration of the expressive possibilities of the then relatively new medium of photography related to the art of painting originated. This often resulted in a kind of photography in which form was the fundament, content came second. Basically abstractions of reality. Photographers from that period like André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy, Alexander Rodchenko and Man Ray are still famous for their new ways of seeing.

This type of work was still the trend in art photography during the 40s and 50s, but became old-fashioned when John Szarkowski, Director of Photography at the MoMA in New York, developed his Mirrors and Windows theory in the late 70s.
By Mirrors he meant the expression of pure personal ideas and emotions, by Windows the subjective depicting of the visible reality. “It isn’t what a picture is of, it’s what a picture is about.”, is how Szarkowski defined the essence of modern photography.

This meant the end of the traditional nineteenth century point of view that what you see in a picture is real, that it is showing the truth or reality, which started the era of ‘snapshot aesthetics’ with photographers like Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Jaques Henri Lartique, William Klein and Gary Winogrand. Ed van der Elsken, Johan van der Keuken, Martin Parr and the recently ‘discovered’ Vivian Maier would have fit perfectly into this list.

This new insight – which meant that a photographer could distinguish himself from others, not only by form but also by content and vision, or as Szarkowski stated it: “To quote out of context is the essence of the photographer’s craft.” – caused a change in appreciation of photography from Mirrors (Ray, Kertész) to Windows (Arbus, Frank, Klein), while today, forty years later, it looks like if we are seeing a change in the direction of Mirrors again (Nick Knight, Van Lamsweerde-Matadin,Tim Walker), which quite ironically, probably has to do with the fact that one has become used to digital techniques and manipulation; the newly evolved knowledge that what you see in a picture is not the truth but the subjective representation of an idea or vision.
Something which, of course, has always been like that. Since the very beginning.

Excerpt from ‘Nothing is Real’ Chapter 2, Form and Content


The Chelsea Hotel, New York 1976

The Chelsea

Excerpt from ‘Nabelichting’, Chapter 11, Moving

“…The room had folding doors leading to the balcony on the front side, doors through which you could see the cast iron, flower ornamented balustrade, in the same style as the grand staircase. I always kept those doors closed because of the traffic that raged on in two directions for 24 hours a day. The sound of the police cars with their screaming sirens, taxis, trucks, and cross town busses made you realize you could only be in one place in the world: New York City.

The lobby, filled with paintings and assemblages by different artists, made clear that the hotel lived up to its reputation to accommodate artists of all kind of disciplines. Near the small desk or in the elevator you would always see a few artistic, eccentric looking people talking to each other, usually about their exceptional, highly imaginative ideas and philosophies. Most of them were long term residents and had their rooms transformed into studios.

I felt at home quite quickly; the hotel reminded me of the past. The scent of oil paint and the sound of musical instruments made me think of my childhood.
An artistic couple that I became friends with lived in a large room on the top floor. They had drawn and written their ideas on large sheets of paper which they had hung all over the room like laundry.
A playwright, with whom I played chess now and then, had written dozens of plays that had been actually performed Off-Off-Broadway. All of them had received negative reviews, of which he kept an impressive scrapbook. He wasn’t very good at chess either…”


Barbara, Bobby & Margot, Groningen 1974

03 Barbara, Bobby & Margot '74

Barbara, Bobby & Margot, Viva Magazine, Groningen 1974

I often see pictures in which the emotions are posed or acted out, fake.
One acts as if one is afraid, angry, happy, sad, pious, sexy or shy.
Of course emotions can be acted, nothing wrong with that, but when you try to give the impression of depicting reality as you see it, or tell something about the nature and character of the people in the picture, you should at least not be aware that it is acted; unless you want to depict someone consciously as an actor or maybe as a clown, purveyor of false emotions.

Excerpt from ‘Nothing is Real’, Chapter 5, Portraits


New Editions Lumas, Berlin 2016

Lumas New Editions

Two new editions, Irah Light, Sorrento 1992 & Park Washington Hotel, Miami 1990now available at over forty Lumas galleries around the world.

Modern Romantics
“A fashion photographer who completely rewrote the rules of his trade, using city streets as expressive backdrops, offering an almost casual perspective on cutting-edge fashion designs, and favouring coincidence over carefully crafted poses. His body of work is an intoxicating journey into sensual metropolises like Naples and through fashion capitals such as New York and Paris. Van Leeuwen captures the poetic stories of everyday life with cinematographic elegance, drawing inspiration from the contrast-rich style of Film Noir and from Italian neorealism.
As a young fashion photographer, he made his way to the epicentres of haute couture; Paris and New York became his home during one of the most legendary eras in the history of fashion and art. The centre of his life was the fabled Chelsea Hotel. Andy Warhol filmed parts of ‘The Chelsea Girl’ there, which enhanced the already mythical nature of the red brick building. Van Leeuwen’s works reflect the atmosphere of these bizarre, brilliant times at ‘the factory’ and the fluctuation between avant-garde and underground.

Van Leeuwen’s photographic oeuvre is characterised by chance and spontaneity. Whether shooting Andy Warhol during a workout in the factory or capturing Freddy Mercury, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Grace Jones as they happened to stand opposite him: ‘I always tried to be open to coincidences, not restricting myself to a pre-defined concept, to find things I wasn’t even looking for but that were actually better than I could have imagined.’ The glamorous world of years gone by, captured in Van Leeuwen’s photographs, can be found in the private collections of fashion designers such as Thierry Mugler or Christian Lacroix, as well as in the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh.”
Hannah Hör, Curator at Lumas, Berlin

See more at: http://eu.lumas.com/pictures/bart_van_leeuwen/chanel_paris/#sthash.kcPPsnwt.dpuf


Krisuvik, Iceland 1993

Vikings '93 07 copy

Vikings, Frederikke Magnusson, Avenue Magazine 1993

Torrential rain, hail storms, fog. There seemed to be no end to it.
“We’re leaving tomorrow, and we still have a few more shots to go!” the editor said, looking out of the restaurant window, a desperate look on her face.
‘There’s only one solution.” I answered. “Get outside and make some pictures.”
“In this weather?”
“It‘ll fit in the story and, besides that, what else can we do? Come back next week and try again?”
“You know there’s no budget for that, and the models will probably be booked already.”
“Let’s go.”

We were working for a magazine and not for a commercial client. This meant we were not restricted to a predefined concept of what the pictures should look like.
We could improvise.
Other than the customary working practices for advertising agencies, magazines don’t have endless meetings with art-directors, clients, members of the board of directors, and other interested parties to discuss the desired concepts and strategies for a photo shoot. Every little aspect of it.
For magazines
 a short, verbal instruction is usually all: “Think summer!” or “Passion!”
Or “Vikings!”


The Regent Hotel, Kuala Lumpur 1991

Nicole Malaysia '91

Tropical Holiday, Elegance Magazine, Kuala Lumpur 1991

Photography is in the first place about how something is photographed, not about what is photographed. It shows a personal vision on the subject. Photographs are ‘quotes out of their own context’, to use John Szarkowski’s words.
In my favorite pictures the context is clear. Things that are written about a picture – explanations of what it is you are looking at – however impressive they may be, come in second place. If a writer already has to adhere to: ‘Show, don’t tell’, what about photography – the creation of images – in which pictures have to be explained?
Despite of its possible illustrative powers, a picture that needs a separate leaflet to explain itself, cannot be seen as a universal means of communication, and makes a photograph ineffective. It indicates that it’s meant for a small, selected audience only, spectators who are familiar with the subject.

When in fashion photography the narrative only concerns the clothes the models are wearing – design, shape, color, availability – the pictures probably only appeal to people interested in fashion. To reach a wider audience, a realistic approach that focuses on the depicted persons themselves because of the emotion they evoke or the exceptional situation they’re in, close to what’s actually happening, is probably more interesting.
In that case models don’t have to pose, perform all kinds of gymnastics, or act like they’re engaged in something and look into the camera at the same time. They only have to do something real or show some emotion, which is not as easy as it sounds. Through that they will grab your attention, causing the spectator to identify with the subject and finally become interested in the clothes that are shown.

Excerpt from ‘Nothing is Real’, Chapter 4, Staging and Directing


Una Donna Particolare, Naples 1985

24 Naples '85 04

Una Donna Particolare, Avenue Magazine 1985

When shooting for Avenue Magazine in Naples with Frans Ankoné, Rob Van Dorssen and Apollonia Van Ravenstein, we had a ‘Sophia Loren Impersonation’ in mind for one of the shots. When we discovered a small courtyard where someone had abandoned an ironing board with an iron, ostensibly because of a break from an ironing job, we knew this was our chance.
“Excuse us, but is it possible to use your board and iron for a second to make a picture?”, we asked the woman who just came out of the house. “We want this woman to look like she’s Sophia Loren playing in a scene from Ettore Scola’s movie Una Giornata Particolare.”
Prego!”, she answered, and invited us in.“Go ahead! But do you realize you’re making a big mistake? Sophia Loren is just a girl from Pozzuoli, you know, on the other side of the bay.” She gestured into the distance. “Ma,” pointing at Apollonia, “questa donna qui è una tigre!”


Café Littéraire, Amsterdam 1992

Café Littérair '92 03

Café Littéraire, Nicky Boulton, Elegance Magazine 1992

To reach a large audience, the subject of a picture, the story that is told, has to be credible. As uncontrived, unaffected, and unstudied possible. Not visibly fictitious, made-up with the idea of creating an outstanding image. This has an unnatural effect that will only be understood and appreciated by a limited, already niche audience.

It is feasible, of course, to fabricate something in order to create a more interesting image concerning form or content; for many of us the reason for taking up photography. However, similarly to film, you shouldn’t be aware of it. As soon as you can see that a picture is contrived, it alienates itself from the viewer, loses its credibility and demands to be seen as ‘art’.

When it is clear that a picture is made with the idea to impress, by, for instance, emotion and when this emotion is visibly artificially raised by mise-en scène or posing, which makes you conscious of the fact you’re looking at something that pretends to be something that it is not – a picture made to show emotion instead of an emotional picture – the feeling disappears and the photograph will look fake.

Excerpt from ‘Nothing is Real’, Chapter 2, Form and Content


Queen Juliana Bridge, Curaçao 1980

Curacao '80

Queen Juliana Bridge, Curaçao 1980

You choose a lens, an angle to shoot from, a frame within which a selected part of what you see will be depicted, the items that will be juxtaposed. You decide what will happen in foreground and background and if you’re going to shoot black and white or color. Then you make up your mind if you are going to wait for the sun or that you’ll be using flash or tungsten, or maybe both. Or maybe a time exposure?

Slowly you’re getting the idea of what your picture – your ‘slice of reality’ – is going to look like. The final result will furthermore be influenced by your camera format and the filters you’re using, all of them adding extra subjectivity.
Finally, just before ‘the decisive moment’, your decisive moment, you ask your subject – in case you’re shooting people – to look a little to the left or right, and then you push the button. The shutter will be released and reality will be captured.

Then you start up your computer and use a raster graphics editing program to add the final touch. If  you had chosen to work in the traditional, analogue way you’ll end up in the darkroom where you’re confronted with lots of hard to avoid, but fully accepted, chemical and printing effects.

One way or the other, you’re always dealing with a personal, subjective vision of reality, which means nothing in photography, staged or not, is ‘real’ or ‘true’. It only looks like it.
Just as Richard Avedon once said: “All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”


The Violinist, Amsterdam 1990


The Violinist, Bicycle Belles, Avenue Magazine 1990

Street photography seems to be more popular than ever.
If this is due to the fact that everybody who owns a smartphone automatically has a camera at disposal with which he or she is able to photograph their natural surroundings, is hard to say, because it looks like these cameras are merely used to photograph plates of food and make selfies.
The worldwide attention for the work of nanny-photographer Vivian Maier can be seen as proof of a great international interest, while you find many websites, forum threads, and magazines devoted to street photography on the internet.

According to many, this type of photography – in which timing and framing are key elements, and man always plays a central part – is the summit, or like Edward Steichen once said: “When I first became interested in photography I thought it was the whole cheese. My idea was to have it recognized as one of the fine arts. Today I don’t give a hoot in hell about that. The mission of photography is to explain man to man and each man to himself.”


Obsession, Cévennes 1992

Obsession '92 07Punto e Basta, Avenue Magazine 1992

As a photographer you have to be confident. Your work will be judged by spectators with different visions.
If you let this influence you, you will soon become confused, because the opinions of professionals, amateurs, and art critics can differ greatly.

Professionals know how a picture is made. They master the techniques necessary to depict an idea, their own as well as those of others. They can make a picture suitable for its intended use and make a living from it.
They look at a photograph differently from a non professional, someone who has only made an occasional holiday picture or a selfie, and usually considers a photograph as a presentation of reality, a fact: ‘That’s the way it was.’

Art critics look at the art-historical perspective of a photograph and determine whether or not it fits into the local or international trends of a widely-renowned gallery or museum, regardless of their personal preferences.

Excerpt from ‘Nothing is Real’, Chapter 7, Art and Craftsmanship


Steed & Peel, Ardennes 1995

Steed & Peel Vanessa

Steed & Peel, Vanessa, Elegance Magazine, Ardennes 1995

A human being is a complicated sum of characteristics, emotions and changing moods, many of which are reflected in their facial expression which, along with their physiognomy, make up a large part of their identity. That’s probably the reason that the making of portraits – an art form dating from the time of the Egyptians – seems to fascinate us more than ever, considering the enormous amount of selfies that are made on a worldwide daily basis.

Apart from depicting a person, many photographers consider their portraits, for instance, to be reflections of ‘social sentiments’, or their ‘coming of age problemacy’, conceptual visions in which the people portrayed serve more or less as objects, tools on behalf of the artistic goals of the creator.
In my opinion a portrait is in the first place about the person portrayed, and not about the photographer, and their irressistable urge towards self-expression, their umpteenth self portrait. Even when the techniques employed are simple, the personal vision of the photographer is inevitable and will give a portrait its signature.


Red, Billund 2005

Denmark '05 Billund

Red, Mailboxes, Billund, Denmark 2005

During fashion shoots I usually made pictures of the surroundings where the story took place, e.g. without models; quickly in between shots, when the models were changing clothes or being treated by the make-up artist.

Moreover, when I wasn’t working I often photographed ‘cityscapes’. Pictures that someday might serve as a back-ground for future fashion shoots or as an idea for a new series. Only the ‘feel’ of the subject was important. Abstract compositions of shape and color, form without content. Walls, doors, streets, squares, bridges, parks and so on.

My only concern was what things looked like in the picture, not what it really was.
Modern or futuristic, old and aged, dilapidated, idyllic, rustic, colourful.

Excerpt from ‘Nothing is Real’, Chapter 3, People and their Surroundings


Au Bar, Paris 1986

Au Bar kopie
Au Bar, Apollonia in YSL, Paris 1986, Haute Culture 1998

In spite of the fact that all of my fashion pictures are staged, they were never completely ‘designed’ in advance. They usually had to fit within a larger concept based on an image of time, an emotion, a character, a movie, a philosophy, etcetera. With that in mind I made sketches which were used as a starting point, never meant to be executed precisely. I always tried to stay open for things that could happen unexpectedly, things that I couldn’t foresee sitting at my desk; the reason why my ideas sometimes turned out totally different in reality than on paper. In my opinion one of the most intriguing sides of this profession.

The next thing was to take the whole crew of models, stylists, make-up artists and assistants to a location, where we joined ‘real life’, while I, just like a street photographer, only had to capture what I saw. During these shoots a ‘new reality’ arose with humanity as a context. A context that could be understood by anyone, including those who are not interested in fashion: Constructed Realism.

Excerpt from ‘Nothing is Real’, Chapter 4, Staging and Directing


Le Baiser, Paris 1988

Le Baiser '88 02

Le Baiser, YSL, Jardin des Plantes, Avenue Magazine, Paris 1988

When Avenue Magazine asked me to go to Paris to recreate Doisneau’s famous Kiss, I could not say: “All right, I’ll go and do that.”
“That’s not going to happen,” I told them.
“See how close you can get,” they replied.
That meant something else. So off I went. Happy with the assignment.

To arouse a viewer’s interest I always tried to photograph things that have a certain meaning or importance to them, something they can identify with, something that gets them thinking or fires their imagination, instead of just a simple registration of yet another coat or dress.
The more this context corresponds with universal, human feelings, the more the viewer can identify with the subject and will understand what the picture is about without any further explanation.

Excerpt from ‘Nothing is Real’, Chapter 2, Form and Content