Photographer at Large: Dirk Heyman
The Power of Quiet
Three years ago during a stormy workshop in Zurich, I met photographer Dirk Heyman. The weather gods were not in our favor as the temperature went from 72F/23C to snow overnight. The evening before the workshop, Dirk and I went for dinner at Restaurant Volkhaus, a swanky place just outside of central Zurich. Over a bottle of wine we discovered a number of shared interests in painting, architecture, classical music and watches. We each had our own take on things, but the overlaps were the start of a three year conversation that has taken us across Europe, and now Japan.
When we started working together, Dirk was grappling with a question that many people have, “What is this street photography and am I really interested in it?” My assurance to Dirk was that street photography should not be the focus. Rather, he should dive into his own interests without worrying about what the Internet trends or exhibitions were saying is cool.
Over the next three years, Dirk and I worked together to carve out projects he could shoot between work. He went from walking around his home town and taking pictures by the lake to shooting a number of commissioned projects, personal projects, and building his own website. The sum total has been immensely rewarding for both of us. For Dirk, he found a way to explore the things he loved with a camera. For me, there is nothing more rewarding as a teacher than helping someone discover their own artistic voice.
Most recently Dirk shot a project about the world renowned landscape architect and gardener Jacques Wirtz in Belgium. The series is not complete, but he wanted a share a few preview images from the series which I believe are a perfect reflection of his own sensibilities. The moment that your interests sync up with your subject, the results are undeniable. Please join me in welcoming Dirk to the site and I am looking forward to shooting with him again this fall in Venice.
The Beauty of Structure
While we were in Kyoto with Adam (Marelli), he asked me and the other workshop participants what we liked about the photos we submitted before the workshop and why? He then drilled deeper on the what & why during the the week we spent together exploring the city.
My initial reply to his question was, I liked the painters J.M. Turner (the light), the early Flemish painters (Jan Van Eyck “Portrait of a Man in a Turban” and “The Arnolfini Wedding”), Dirk (Dieric) Bouts (Last Supper, Lamentation), but also modern art like Kees Van Dongen (Fauvism). And always the question came: Why? What is in it that appeals to you? When he reviewed the work of contemporary photographers and his own projects (“Invisible City” Matera/Italy) with the group and asked for our reaction (and again the “why”), it all suddenly clicked: I like “quiet structure” (for lack of a better word).
It was one of those moments where something you instinctively knew but could not put your finger on suddenly stares you in the face.
Knowing what makes your heart skip a beat seems essential to developing my “language” as a photographer: words that allow the proper construction of sentences which then form a story (or a poem) and this in endless combination. This is a journey and luckily so. I refrain from the word “MY vision”, because I think that quiet structure to me is more about capturing the sense & spirit of a place or a person than putting my own stamp on it. For example when I shoot a house, I will try to take pictures from the environment around it as well. Both interact and form part of the story. The same with gardens; they interact with the house or building, with the people; the users, the gardeners: what is their interest in the garden, what specifically appeals?
I sense this is awfully difficult to articulate. It is one of those “I know it when I see it”.
I realized in hindsight of course that this was what Adam was aiming for: know what you like and why, and then you can seek it. I would add that it is not only in the visual arts, but in other forms of art or “applied” art too: music*, gardens, architecture, design…
While what you like is of course personal, the reasoning of Adam was that if you are able to better reflect what you like in your work, others will see (or sense) this too and they will respond to it. This will make you a better photographer, and in my limited experience this is true. When people ask to see some of my work, they usually respond spontaneously to those photos where I sought to capture peacefulness & structure. It can be gardens, landscape, portraits… it does not matter, although gardens have a special place for me!
* Heinrich Schütz (Musikalische Exequien, Op. 7, SWV 279–281, J.S. Bach (Cello suites BWV 1007 till 1012), Josquin Deprez, Heinrich Isaac, Claudio Monteverdi, Palestrina, Antoine Boësset (masses and motets), Thomas Tallis, Chopin come 1st to my mind.