At the Pool, Sorrento 1992

Irah Sorrento 1992 Sunday M

Irah at the Pool, Sorrento 1992

Apart from the subjectivity aroused by a photographers vision, I sometimes ask myself to what extent we can talk about a ‘representation of reality’ when photographing people. Most people start to pose as soon as they become aware of the presence of a camera or see a Smartphone pointed at them.
This ‘camera consciousness’ makes, you, the photographer, influence a situation merely by your presence, manipulating reality at the moment you point a camera at someone.
Of course, you decide when the shutter will be released, which story is going to be told, but through interaction with the subject, you become ‘visible’ as well. Unavoidable.

That’s why I think photographers shouldn’t behave very conspicuously or put themselves in the foreground, trying to push their ideas about expression and emotion upon someone by means of loud and bragging direction when they’re planning to bring out the specific strength and character of the people they photograph.

When you are too extroverted, giving the impression you have to prove yourself, not open to the person you’re photographing, a kind of photography will arise in which your own behavior will be reflected in the person you’re depicting, which will have an determining effect on your pictures.
Think for instance of the ex-Vogue photographer Terry Richardson who went all the way concerning this, and nowadays appears in his pictures in person.

Maybe only very inconspicuous, almost invisible photographers like Jane Bown, Vivian Maier, Robert Frank, Lartigue or Brassaï have been able to make pictures of people without interacting as a reaction to their presence. This made it possible for them to really show something of the other and his behavior, where in fact – albeit in a very different way from that described above –  something of their character becomes visible as well.


Gangster Girl, Amsterdam 1992

Cosmo Gangsters '92 02

Gangster Girl, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Amsterdam 1992

Staging and fiction – fully accepted in film and painting – has long been considered as something ‘not done’ in photography. As if photography should be limited to documentary – the depiction of ‘reality’ – and that the expression of a personal vision or fantasy belonged to other disciplines. Until ten, fifteen years ago it was possible to hear a photo critic say: “That’s a good picture, but it’s not real.”

I always asked myself what that actually meant, ‘real’ in a picture, because I believe a photograph is never ‘real’ or ‘true’, but always an interpretation of reality. A personal vision, acquired by means of technique. Subjective. By definition.

Photographs are about what something looks like in an image, not about what it is that is photographed. If a picture looks spontaneously, uncontrived, straight from the hart, it will look real. Further considerations are rational and don’t apply to emotional values – that what’s most important in appreciation of photography. It doesn’t matter if a situation is staged or not, as long as it’s invisible the picture will look ‘real’. When you look at a picture and realize at first glance that the image is staged and directed to create a certain effect – i.e. tries to show something that it’s not – then it doesn’t work, and the photograph will probably be considered as fake or kitsch.

Throughout history, mise-en-scène and direction have played part in photography. Think of the world famous spontaneous picture by Robert Doisneau, who, in Paris while shooting The Kiss, instructed his models from a terrace and must have said something like “Embrasse! Maintenant!”, or David Bailey’s subtle instructions like “Smile with your eyes”, or Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken, who asked the Teddy Boys in Amsterdam to look at least a little tough. It is commonly known that Cartier-Bresson asked the old lady on Cape Cod to hold a U.S. flag, while Eisenstadt admitted to have screamed something like “Grab that chick!”  when he saw ‘something white flashing’ during the V-J Day celebration on Times Square. Just like a father directing his daughter while photographing her on the beach: “C’mon little darling, smile!”

When I first heard that Diane Arbus, when making her famous picture Child with Toy Hand Grenade, circled around the boy long enough to capture the Fuck-off-bitch-leave-me-alone-you’re-driving-me-nuts– look on his face, I was completely astounded but I understood that it had been an artistically driven action. A for a spectator invisible kind of direction to get a more interesting picture. The image becomes stronger and stays believable because you don’t realize it’s directed.


Sri Mahamariamman, Kuala Lumpur 1991

Malaysia '91 03

Sri Mahamariamman, Elegance Magazine, Kuala Lumpur 1991

“They offered me the opportunity to produce stories of more than eight pages right away.
The pictures I shot with photographer Bart van Leeuwen in Kuala Lumpur, I still like.
They’re made with respect for people and culture: the models didn’t wear bikinis, but long dresses and lots of layers. That’s important to me. My work doesn’t have to be ‘hip’. What’s more: I’ve never been hip! To me it’s all about atmosphere and emotion.” –
Maarten Spruyt in de Volkskrant, Dec.16, 2015


Movie Time, Amsterdam 1991

Matinique '91

Paolo Seganti & Sandra Lerga, Inwear Matinique, Amsterdam 1991

When a photographed person looks into the camera and makes eye contact with the viewer, the spectator becomes part of the scene in which the person is photographed,
A psychological effect which creates a kind of ‘relationship’ with the people photographed. Something that originates in classical painting and is nowadays commonly used in cinematography where actors are trained to avoid it. “Don’t look into the camera!”

The absence of camera contact makes sure the viewer stays spectator, watcher of another reality, in order to experience a realistic, believable story. A story without the presence of the viewer.
Without exception, all of my fashion pictures are staged. To give them a realistic feel, models are usually seemingly oblivious to the presence of a camera. Like actors in movies.


Playa del Inglés, Gran Canaria 1989

Playa del Inglés '89 03 kopie

Playa del Inglés, Gran Canaria 1989

More and more people buy art as an investment, making it an international currency, uncontrolled by any member of the International Organization of Securities Commissions. Art is not only collected because of its emotional value or because it fits within a collection, collectors consider their purchases investments, while at the same time there’s a sense of prestige associated with paying large amounts of money for a piece of art.

However, the value of art is only consistent if collectors listen to each other, and friends and acquaintances also buy art by the same artist. That way a market is created which causes some photographers to become more famous every single day. If you want a great photograph hanging on your wall their name will ensure that it is of high quality and has rigidity of value, no knowledge of photography required for that. The importance of an artist is mainly determined by how much money he earns. Craftsmanship has very little to do with it. In ten, fifteen years, when a new generation arrives and new artists are ‘hip and happening’ everything will be different.
Strictly business, so to speak.

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


Camel Race, Nijmegen 1995

Camel Race Nijmegen '95 01

Camel Race, Nijmegen 1995

Every once in a while I run into articles and interviews by people who think it’s necessary to redefine the term ‘photography’.
In often convulsive efforts they try to put multiple, completely different disciplines into one, obviously unaware of the fact that the essence of photography has nothing to do with the developments concerning digital photographic techniques and publication platforms or that drawing and painting on photographs as well as applied ‘cut and paste’ techniques are as old as photography itself. Think for instance of the picture of US president Abraham Lincoln, who’s head was photographically put on the body of former vice-president John Calhoun as early as 1860, or the impressive collages that Hannah Höch made during the 1920’s.
Admittedly, these were produced with glue and a pair of scissors and not with the aid of Photoshop and a computer, but they’re at least as striking and revealing.
Also the fact that it’s possible to show digitally manufactured images to an audience of millions within seconds doesn’t change what photography is essentially about: the depicting of a personal vision on a for everyone visible reality in order to communicate.
Or like Edward Steichen once said: “When that shutter clicks, anything else that can be done afterwards is not worth consideration.”


The Gallery Club, Amsterdam 2015

Andy Warhol '83 03

Andy Warhol, The Factory, New York 1983

The Gallery Club is a new platform for photography initiated by Gili Crouwel and Robi Reisinger. Throughout the year exhibitions and events will be organized on different locations. The launch has been Saturday October 17, 2015 from 19.00 – 23.00 hrs, when The Gallery Club presented its first exhibition ‘Fotofolio, a History of Dutch Magazine Photography’, a fun dinner party, artist talks, food, drinks, and music at Magazijn, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 153, Amsterdam.
Sunday October 18  12.00 – 18.00 hrs, the exhibition at Magazijn was open to the public (free entrance).

The exhibition showed the work of Dutch photographers C. Barton van Flymen, Bart van Leeuwen, Bart Nieuwenhuijs, Boudewijn Neuteboom, and Peter van der Velde.
All of the photos – which were part of the succesful exhibition ‘Framed in Print’ at Foam in 2013 – are for sale. 

Yves Saint Laurent, Paris 1986

YSL Paris '86

Apollonia, Paris sans Compromis, Avenue Magazine, Paris 1986

“Fashion is shallow and superficial. No need to pay attention to.”, is something you still hear some photo critics say. “Not important.”

It is very likely, however, that the first human beings already felt the urge to express and distinguish themselves through accessories and decoration. One or two bones sticking through their noses, an animal skin with or without its tail, a hat with just one or a whole bunch of feathers. For all later cultures the significance of fashion, to distinguish yourself from others, is commonly found. Throughout history and all over the world the value and meaning of this ever changing social-cultural phenomenon, intertwined with the human condition, and part of someone’s identity, is known. The reason why fashion photography is more than making pictures of dresses.

Despite the change that is going on – with recent expositions of Bailey, Beaton, and Horst in London, and Blumenfeld and Newton in Berlin and Paris – fashion photography has long been, and sometimes still is, a stepchild and seen as less important than social, documentary or ‘art’ photography, while at the same time some of the world’s most influential and highly valued photographers considered it their favourite way of self expression. Some of them even made their best and most famous work in this field. Think of Avedon, Bailey, Beaton, Blumenfeld, Bourdin, Elgort, Horst, Klein, Lindbergh, Meisel, Newton, Penn, Sacha, Sherman, Shore, Sieff, Sorrenti, Steichen, Stern, Teller, Testino, Toscani, Van de Wijngaard, Van Lamsweerde-Matadin, Von Unwerth or Weber. One by one masters of their profession. Craftsmen, besides being proficient in fashion, often comfortable with a variety of disciplines. From portrait and landscape to architecture and documentary.


Vinoodh Matadin, Amsterdam 1987

Vinood Matadin '87

Vinoodh Matadin, Man Magazine, October 1987

Never before a shoot with a new stylist went so easy.
Everything seemed to be just right and fall into place at once.
The young designer, assistant of Frans Ankoné, who I was working with for Avenue while Frans was abroad, seemed to have what it took. Exceptional styling, feeling for light and atmosphere, soft-spoken and, friendly.
We finished early that day.
“That suits me well,” he said, “I have a date with Inez.”


Nothing is Real, 09-2015

Nothing is Real Cover

Nothing is Real, Fact and Photography, September 2015

My new book, Nothing is Real, will soon be released.
It consists of seven essays about photography, written over the last few years.
Some paragraphs have been published on this blog earlier.

The first edition will be in Dutch. An English version will follow shortly.
Keep your iPhones ready, you might have to do some googling, unless you’re already familiar with the work of the photographers mentioned in it.

This is what the blurb says:

“In our contemporary culture, in which we are conditioned to form an opinion about things according to an image, rather than the thing itself, photography has become an excellent means of communication. A medium, like language, through which it is possible to explain things, express feelings, exchange ideas, through which you can spread knowledge or talk nonsense, write novels or make shopping lists.

In Nothing is Real, fashion and portrait photographer Bart van Leeuwen describes his vision on photography. By way of analysis and a number of case-histories from his life long career, he provides us with a clear interpretation of the images you’re looking at, which can lead to a better understanding of what you are viewing.

Don’t expect a manual on shutter speeds or focal distances, nor a guidebook to digital editing, but a useful tool to discover some important issues concerning emotion and credibility, two of the most important elements determining the expressiveness of a picture. The fundamental idea always stays the same: communication. By watching closely and asking yourself what it is that you’re communicating, you’re a long way down the road.”

Nothing is Real is available in English at ISBN: 978-1532869839, and in Dutch at ISBN: 9789402138115.


Obsession, Cévennes 1992

Obsession '92 02

Punto e Basta, Avenue Magazine 1992

“Obsession – Punto e Basta – is a classic in Dutch fashion photography.
The ambience, the casting, the energy, the cinematic feel: it all comes together in this series.” – Martien Mellema, Creative Director Vogue NL in 40 Years of Dutch Magazine Photography


Warmoesstraat, Amsterdam 1966

Warmoesstraat Amsterdam 1966

Demolition Prone, Warmoesstraat, Amsterdam 1966

When I first started to make pictures I soon found out that photography was not only a way to register reality but, first of all, a tool to show others what I saw. How I experienced things. A way to express or accentuate all kind of ideas and emotions, ‘put things in a certain light’. Little things, sometimes, that you’re not always aware of, but which are essential for a fully conscious existence.

I understood that photographers could do with images what writers can do with words. That it was possible, like in poetry, to transmit feelings that are hard to describe, but give a deeper meaning which can be understood by others. To be a photographer seemed like a great profession.

Once I had discovered these means of expression, the fact that nothing was ‘as subjective as the objective’, and it had become clear to me that photography was the preferred medium to give importance to seemingly unnoticeable things, I understood that the opposite had to be true as well. That no other medium would be able to give such a distorted, exaggerated or even completely false impression of a situation, create feigned sentiments in such a flawless way or show people and circumstances totally different from what they are.

Appearances are deceptive, nothing is what it seems. Especially in photography.

It is because of this subjectivity – in contrast to what, to my surprise, a lot of people still think – that photography has little to do with the ‘real’ reality, while it shows us an image that looks like it at the same time; something professionals use constantly.
“Photographs don’t lie,” Lewis Hine said at the beginning of the twentieth century, “but liars may photograph!”


Isa Hoes, Amsterdam 1997

Isa Hoes '97

Isa Hoes, Playboy Magazine, May 1997

One of the arguments to put a photographer in the spotlight, is that ‘the artist’- it’s hard for me to get used to, but that’s what a photographer is called nowadays, ‘artist’ – is working in an ‘innovative’ way or that he’s ‘exploring boundaries’.

In many cases of this so called ‘innovative photography’, however, I get the impression that only form is important and that content does not count. The main context of the stunts and masterpieces that are shown is usually the digital technique used to achieve the final result, while we are still dealing with straightforward portraits, still lives, landscapes, and naked girls. They just look a little different.

Putting lots of pictures together into one image with the aid of a computer, for instance, has nothing to do with the essence of photography – releasing the shutter at the right moment to capture a subjective image of reality – how colorful or impressive the final result might be. It’s a totally different discipline, comparable with traditional collage.

Outstanding new photographic techniques communicate merely that the pictures in which they are used are hip and contemporary and, because of that, subject to fashion.
Before you know, they’re old fashioned again.


Blue Lagoon, Iceland 1993

Vikings '93

Vikings, Blaa Lonid, Avenue Magazine, September 1993

During these hot summer days I now and then think of my trips to Iceland for Avenue Magazine and British Cosmopolitan.
Neither warm nor cold weather existed for the Icelanders.
“How you feel is just a matter of clothing.”, was the general opinion.


Reynders, Amsterdam 1992

Café Literair '92

Café Littéraire, Elegance Magazine, July 1992

In art scenes, one often boasts about things concerning photography that are very common, or even not worth mentioning in the eyes of a professional. Things like ‘fill-in-flash’ or ‘post exposure’. Once in a while it occurs to me that this might have to do with a lack of technical knowledge.

You can assume that when one can clearly see that a photographer has thought about a picture in advance, as if he has ‘designed’ the image, or when one can discuss the used, preferably ‘authentic’, technique, or when a picture is made under – for a non professional – seemingly difficult circumstances, a judgment will usually turn out positive.

A special leaflet will tell you what’s so unique about the photograph you’re looking at, and you’ll probably find an explanation about the technical skills that are used. It might turn out the photographer has used a special camera, lens or computer program or exposed his pictures in moonlight. This doesn’t impress a professional. In my opinion the true art is to ignore technique, not letting it count in a value judgment.

A picture often looks contrived, artificial, made-up, and fictitious when technique, direction, or manipulation are noticeable. It takes a lot of skill and professional know-how to make these determining factors invisible, and make a picture look like a simple snapshot, a registration of reality. ‘Le Naturel’, as a Frenchman would say.

Technique does not equal vision, and work as mentioned above is in fact part of a research of the technical possibilities of the medium regarding form, instead of using these possibilities regarding content, and consequently belongs in a classroom of an art school or academy and not in an exposition in a museum or gallery.


Candy Dulfer, Amsterdam 1991

Candy Dulfer '91

Candy Dulfer, Oor Magazine 1991

It has always been a great pleasure to work with Candy Dulfer.
Right from the beginning and throughout the years.
It was quite easy for her to imagine what kind of mood we wanted to express, and then go for it. Like in this picture, shot in 1991 for a cover of Oor Magazine, right after her worldwide breakthrough with ‘Saxuality’, her debut album that eventually sold over a million copies.


Nassau, Bahamas 1978

Bahama's '78

Holiday for Two, Nassau, Bahamas 1978

“Oh my God. Can you believe it?” I heard a woman’s voice with an American accent say.
I had almost fallen asleep on one of the deckchairs near the pool of our hotel on the Bahamas where we were staying for a shoot for a Dutch magazine. We had been working since six o’clock in the morning, so around noon it was time for a nap, but the sound of a voice that was both surprised and upset woke me up.
“I’ve got to make a picture!” I heard another woman say.
I opened my eyes to see what was going on.
One of the models I was working with and who laid stretched out on a towel on the chair right next to me, had just taken off her top.
She was laying on her back, exposing her body to the sun, big smile on her face.
“I hardly believe my eyes!” one of the women said. “Wait till they see this at home!”
I grabbed my camera, made a picture, and dozed off again.


Una Donna Particolare, Naples 1985

32 Naples '85 06

Una Donna Particolare, Avenue Magazine 1985

Una Donna Particolare was the first story I shot for Avenue with model Apollonia van Ravenstein and stylist Frans Ankoné. Many would follow.
To find the right atmosphere, we went to Southern Italy. Frans still had to get used to my documentary way of working; like a street photographer amidst the crowd, using a handheld camera and short lenses.
In Fotofolio – 40 Years of Dutch Magazine Photography he stated: “Everyone warned us that we shouldn’t take any cameras or valuables into the city. But how do you do that when you’re photographing expensive prêt-à-porter in Naples without an actual location, walking, with the clothes slung over your arm and the accessories around your neck, changing clothes and adjusting hair and make-up in bars and restaurants? Impossible!
There was something going on constantly. We ended up in the middle of a funeral procession, a man made obscene gestures in front of a church, the horse of the cart our model stood on slipped, people on the street called Apollonia ‘Sophia’ and made clear they thought she should eat more, a school caretaker was almost fired because he allowed us to take photographs on the stairway of the school building. We had to convince his superiors it was us who made him do it. And so on. It just didn’t stop!”


Thierry Mugler, Amsterdam 1990

Bicycle Beauties Thierry Mugler Amsterdam '90

Spider Speed, Bicycle Belles, Avenue Magazine 1990

“You’re nothing without a bicycle, especially in Amsterdam.
Young, old, blonde, black or bald, everybody rides one.
To work,a theatre, restaurant or nightclub, wearing anything with it.
Even the impossible.” – Frans Ankoné in Avenue Magazine, Oct.’90


Daniëlle, Amsterdam 1982

Danielle '82 02

Daniëlle, The Dress, Viva Magazine 1982

When working with models I always tried to depict them as people and not as models.
I never liked model-like poses with arms ‘akimbo’ and a sniffy look, not to mention pouting or a hand touching a slightly opened mouth.
For the same reason – believability – I preferred working on location over studio shoots and available light over artificial lighting.
Unless the picture had to show a model posing in a studio, of course.


L’Extravagante, Halifax 1991

Irah '91 Halifax 05

L’Extravagante, La Vie d’une Artiste, Elegance Magazine 1991

Happy about the way I had rearranged the pictures in my portfolio, I showed my work to the editor-in-chief of the magazine devoted to articles on women’s issues, relationships, sex, health, careers, self-improvement, celebrities, fashion and beauty.
Silently, without saying a word, she turned the pages. Then she closed the book, looked at me, and shook her head.”No,” she said, “I’m sorry. I don’t think you can work for us, I don’t like it. You can’t see when the pictures are taken.”

She didn’t realize she just gave me the biggest compliment I could imagine.
In my work as a fashion photographer I always, deliberately, tried to avoid anything explicitly trendy, looking for a timeless, human image in which the person photographed plays a central role, and not the outfit that he or she is wearing. I have never been able to become very excited about the latest trend or fashion because I realize there is a big chance it will be ‘passé’ by tomorrow. It’s the human element that attracts me in photography, the clothes people are wearing come in second place.

“Well, then, I’m sorry too.” I said, and put my portfolio back in its case. “But thank you for the compliment!”
When I left her office, she had a very puzzled look on her face.


Freddy Mercury and Bob Geldof, London 1985

Fashion Aid 1985

Fashion Aid, Royal Albert Hall, London 1985

Fashion Aid, Royal Albert Hall, London 1985. The end of the show. The ‘finale’.
Jane Seymour as a bride, and bare-foot Freddie Mercury as her groom walk down the runway of a packed Royal Albert Hall, swarming with pop-stars, super models, and famous actors. The most stunning looking couple you could imagine during those days, only partially due to their dazzling outfits.
But then, suddenly, when host Patrick Duffy kisses the bride, Bob Geldof, one of the organizers of the Aid Show for Africa, tries to get hold of Seymour’s garter, and fights over it with Mercury.
Geldof wins and runs away, triumphantly showing his loot, followed by Mercury who doesn’t want to give up, but eventually has to.


Incognito, Naples 1985

Incognito Naples '85

Incognito, Una Donna Particolare, Avenue Magazine 1985

June 13 through Sept.13, 2015, Museum Arnhem will exhibit ‘Everything but Clothes’, an exposition compiled by José Theunissen and Jhim Lamorée, and designed by Glamcult Studio Amsterdam.
It will show the history of Dutch fashion photography, and its reflection of the ‘Zeitgeist’ as displayed in magazines from the early fifties until today.
One of the pictures there, in a series of ten, will be ‘Incognito’, part of the story ‘Una Donna Particolare’, shot exactly thirty years ago.


Sint Antoniesbreestraat, Amsterdam 1966

Sint Antoniesbreestraat 1966

Sint Antoniesbreestraat, Amsterdam 1966

Not long after I had seen the photographs in The Family of Man, the book about the exhibition in the MoMA, curated by Edward Steichen, my mother bought me my first camera. A little box with a lens. ‘To keep me off the streets’. I must have been twelve or thirteen years old.
She had probably noticed how the book with ‘the man with the flute’ on the cover fascinated me, probably in the same way it had fascinated the nine million people who would eventually visit the exhibition it belonged to.

I went through it over and over again.

What I liked so much about it was that the expression of emotions of the people in the pictures, despite their diversity in looks, culture and habitat, was apparently the same, all over the world, universal. Sadness was sadness, happiness happiness, compassion compassion. It was clear there were more similarities than differences between all those people and nations, regardless where and how they lived and what they looked like. It made me enthusiastic about life and the world we were living in and I became aware of something which was hard for me as a child to describe, but connected us all: humanity.

I started to look at things differently and was able to understand people better.
The Family of Man has probably been the inspiration for all of my later work in which, consciously or not, I was always looking for a timeless, universal, human story.


Carnaval, Nice 1976

Nice 1976

Bataille de Fleurs, Carnaval de Nice 1976

Carnival is a centuries old reversing ritual, during which social statuses are reversed, and rules of conduct forgotten. Masked and dressed-up people enjoy and revel in food and drink abundantly, during the days prior to Lent. A festival that probably finds its roots in pre-historic pagan traditions that – like Christmas – have been adjusted to fit into Christianity.

The exact origin of the word Carnival is unknown.

On ‘Mardi Gras’, Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, people used to eat all the fat they kept in the house, in order to keep it from perishing. For that reason Carnival could be diverted from the Latin Carne Vale, which means ‘Farewell to Meat’, words with a clear ambiguous meaning, because they’re about fasting as well as about carnal pleasures. Carne Valere, ‘Meat Reigns’ – ambiguity again – could also have been the basis of the expression that is used nowadays.

Rio de Janeiro with its ‘Escolas de Samba’ is world famous for its festivities, as well as New Orleans with ‘Mardi Gras Parades’, but also Venice, known for its ‘Maschere’, and Nice, famous for its ‘Bataille de Fleurs’, draw hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, mainly party animals who all go stark raving mad.  


Linda Spierings, De Koog 1986

Linda '86 De Koog

Blueprint of Grey, Avenue Magazine 1986

Avenue was a magazine I used to work for a lot. I think I photographed about thirty different fashion stories for them. Many times I also shot the cover.
Last week I went through my files to see what my favorite story is.
A lot of work and a hard choice to make. So much to choose from.
Will it be Apollonia in Naples, or Gerry-An in Istanbul? Pat Cleveland, impersonating Josephine Baker, Anja Henneman in Ossessione, in the South of France, or Irah on a bicycle in Amsterdam? What about Nick Rogers as a Viking, on Iceland, or Mark van der Loo in On the Waterfront, just before he became world famous? Or maybe Linda Spierings in ‘Blueprint of Grey’, on the isle of Texel?


Mathilde Willink, Amsterdam 1976

Mathilde Willink '76 01

Mathilde Willink, Amsterdam 1976

Most portraits tell more about the photographers who make them, than about the people that are photographed. Almost similar words by Richard Avedon are often quoted and used as an excuse to put the attention on the maker of a portrait instead of on the person photographed. Consequently the portrayed is merely used as an object, an easy way to self expression. Inevitable? Maybe. At least something I tried to avoid in this picture of often photographed Mathilde Willink.

A rare exception was the ‘invisible’ English photographer Jane Bown, who recently died, age 89. For over 50 years she made portraits of the ‘rich and famous, infamous and unknown’ for the Observer, a British newspaper published on Sundays. She photographed people like Björk, Beckett, Hockney, Jagger, Lennon, Nurejev, Cocteau, Hopper and Welles. You name it. Even Richard Nixon and the Queen of England. Black-and-white, on location. No tricks, no fakery, no special lights, just a simple camera. Always catching the right moment, giving the impression you’re looking at the person photographed and not at yet another self portrait of the photographer.

“The best pictures come from the unforeseen. They suddenly appear out of nowhere. One moment they are there, the next they are gone. It is very simple to take a picture, but it is very difficult to make a good photograph.” – Jane Bown.

May she rest in peace.


Rue Debelleyme, Paris 1998

Olga Paris '98 02

Olga Panthushenkova, Rue Debelleyme, Kult Magazine 1998

“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, Bart van Leeuwen is a master of his profession. His body of work is an intoxicating journey into sensual metropolises like Naples and through fashion capitals such as New York and Paris. The Dutch artist captures the poetic stories of everyday life with cinematographic elegance, drawing inspiration from the contrast-rich style of Film Noir and Italian neorealism.” – Hannah Hör for LUMAS, The Liberation of Art.


Herman Brood, Amsterdam 1979

Herman B Amsterdam 1979Excerpt from ‘Nabelichting’, Chapter 15, Beyond Fire

I woke up to the sound of the doorbell.
The alarm clock next to my bed indicated it was 2.30 in the morning. Half asleep I stood up and looked out of the window. In the bright light of the street lanterns I saw that Herman Brood was standing in front of the door, accompanied by two, despite their heavy make-up, very, very pale girls. One was much taller than the other.
“Bart! Are you awake?” The slightly tired, always husky voice of the singer echoed against the houses in the deserted street.
“Now I am.” I answered.
“Open up. Let’s make some pictures. Something with fire.”
“What do you mean? Do you know what time it is?”
It didn’t impress him.
“Come on, open up.”
It drizzled.
“I’m coming down.”
I quickly put on my pants and a shirt, went down the stairs and opened the door.
In the light of the hall, the two girls looked even ghostlier than I had noticed from above. They were shivering and I let them in into the studio.
Herman was in a good mood.
He brought half a bottle of tequila and a little white envelope with some speed or coke.
“These girls are from the States, you know, they are acrobats.” he said. “Stuntwomen, with an, eh, incredible act, they are trapeze artists, with fire, you know. We can do a couple of great shots with them.”
“You mean, right now? At two thirty in the morning? Just like that?”

“Yeah, why not?”

Herman and I worked together a lot. Mainly at night.
We shot covers for magazines, promotional pictures for his record company, portraits to go along with interviews, record covers. We photographed posters and ads for a jeans brand, together with Nina Hagen. We did a story for Playgirl and the press campaign for his American Tour, the one that was cancelled because of ‘The New York Bottom Line Debacle’, during which he was so drunk he wasn’t able to perform and almost fell of the stage. We went to the Stedelijk Museum, and made pictures all over the place, on the stairs, in the hallways, in Kienholz’s Beanery, and even in the kitchen. The attendants looked the other way, people used to like Herman a lot.
We listened to the same kind of music and I liked what he did. I played Shpritsz over and over again, until there was not a groove on the record left. Jazz singer Mose Allison and stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce were our heroes. We were regulars at the same bars or had a late night dinner at Indonesian restaurant Bojo, after a performance. He even lived in my house for some time.
But an unprepared trapeze act, in the middle of the night, with fire and two pale, ghostly looking girls, was something completely new.


Fantasio Girl, Amsterdam 1968

Fantasio '68Exerpt from ‘Nabelichting’, Chapter 6, Specialization

Not one day was like any other. A job more diverse didn’t exist. We photographed soup, beer, cheese, refrigerators, landscapes, pacifiers, sailing boats, musicals, you name it. Every day I learned something new. In many different fields. Like what to say, and what not, in order not to end up in jail after getting drunk in Norway. Or how to take care of a couple of groundhogs.
Concerning photography however, work became boring after a while. We never made pictures about things, only of things. Shooting actuality, creating ‘images of time’, like you do in fashion stories and portraits of pop musicians or other subjects representing contemporary culture – things that really interested me being a restless eighteen year old – hardly ever occurred during my daily work as an apprentice.
So, at night or in weekends, I photographed girlfriends and rock bands, representatives of the time we were living in. Pictures that got published in Hitweek and Gandalf, ‘hip and happening’ magazines during turbulent days.


Palac Kultury, Warsaw 1991

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Warsaw, Nicky Boulton, Avenue Magazine 1991

Shortly after the fall of communism in Poland, we went to Warsaw for a fashion shoot for Avenue Magazine. After wandering around for a couple of days, scouting locations, we decided that the ‘Palace of Culture and Science’ was definitely one of the places that had to be part of our Double Agent story.

It wasn’t hard to get that organized. Being a controversial ‘gift’ from Soviet leader Stalin and a symbol of Soviet oppression, the building was practically deserted, stripped of its functions, and ready to be torn down.

Because of a lack of money, the ‘Palac Kultury i Nauki’ – the tallest building in the country, an architectural mix of Socialist Realism and New York Art Deco – was eventually not destructed, something people are very happy about today.

In recent years a newfound appreciation of the architectural style from the age of communism, has taken root among young people, causing the building to become the face of Warsaw, and appear on the covers of all books and tourist-flyers concerning the city. The new generations have a more positive attitude towards this style of architecture than the people that have negative memories of the Soviet era, and find it more interesting than the buildings constructed since the 90s.

These days the Palace is home to many companies and public institutions, such as cinemas, sports clubs, libraries, universities, scientific institutions and theaters.


Appearances, Kuantan 1991

Kuantan '92

Appearances, Kuantan, Malaysia, Elegance Magazine 1991

A couple of monkeys had opened my suitcase and were wildly throwing its contents around the hotel room, probably looking for something to eat. As soon as they noticed me, they quit what they were doing and tried to impress me with macho behavior and lots of screeching, before they rapidly disappeared through the window that I had accidently left open.
It was hot and humid in the room. I closed the window, switched on the air conditioner and started to put my things back in the suitcase. A lingering pain in my back told me that the lady at the Traditional Malay Massage Parlour had been a little too rough on me after all.
I lay down on the bed. What a day.
At least the shoot with Nicole went fine that morning, due to her voluptuous curves and the magnificent light reflected by the South China Sea. 


La Traviata, Waver 1993

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Country Life, La Dame aux Camélias, Avenue Magazine 1993

In his opera La Traviata, based on La Dame aux Camélias, a novel by Alexandre Dumas fils, Giuseppe Verdi tells the story of Violetta, a wealthy courtesan who wants to trade her exuberant Parisian lifestyle for a simple idyllic life in the country, in order to be together with Alfredo, her love.
Here Violetta, impersonated by Felix, and Alfredo, played by my assistant Rudolf, enjoy nature, just a few days before Alfredo’s father will arrive and spoil their romantic mood by demanding that she breaks off the relationship with his son, because of her scandalous reputation.


Secrecy, Amsterdam 1992

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Secrecy, Café Littéraire, Elegance Magazine 1992

Fashion photography has always been a way to integrate my imagination into reality, as to create a new reality in which I am looking for a universal view on the human condition. In order to avoid the ever changing trends to which fashion photography itself is subject, and achieve a realistic, unaffected result, I never used typical photographic tools like extreme tele- or wide angle lenses, color filters, special lighting or deviant ways of printing, because these techniques are mainly about form, eyeing for effect, and have no significance whatsoever concerning content. They only create a sense of alienation.
For the same reason, I prefer existing locations instead of studio decors, available light instead of ‘constructed’ light and naturally moving models instead of posing ones.
This all contributes to the credibility of the images, an important criterion when assessing staged photography. By working this ‘simple’, the mix of reality and fiction that I’m looking for originates, as well as the desired image. Created reality. – 40 Years of Dutch Magazine Photography


Long Island, New York 1989

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WASP, Long Island, New York, Elegance Magazine 1989

Lively, spontaneous pictures of people in motion – images which sometimes look like simple snapshots – are usually far harder to make than those that are posed.
Arms and legs, moving in all directions, have to be in the right place and show the right moment of movement, to make it look like a real human action and not like the mechanical moves of a motorized robot.
At the same time, the light, the clothes, the position in relation to the background, the facial expression and the glance in the eyes – the ‘feel’ – must be right, without being frozen and controlled. The contrast between fore- and background must be watched closely to avoid things blending into each other, while at the same time, you must make sure that no trees, lampposts, church steeples, sky scrapers, indoor plants or flagpoles stick out of heads or other body parts of the people you photograph, because that looks silly. You might get the impression they’re wearing a funny hat or have a banner sticking out of their behind.
In other words: you must be able to push the button at the right moment to a much higher degree than when making static pictures.
In the end, such a ’moving’ picture will look effortless, like it’s made without any craftsmanship or endeavor and will, ironically, be judged by a shallow reasoning spectator as a snapshot, easy to make; also because, when looking at a posed, constructed picture, it’s generally easy to see how much thought and energy have been put in to it to achieve the final result.