Interview by Julian Lucas
A young photographer from Tegelen, Netherlands, Jamèl Van de Pas' images present as if he has been documenting for years even though it has only been two. The emerging photographer has already published several books, has given lectures, and has exhibited throughout Europe and Asia. Most recently, Jamèl published work of his travels and produced a beautiful photobook entitled, 'Berlin Prague Budapest'.
Documenting my own reality is key to my work and submerging mine with those of the women I took pictures of created a high level of intimacy and mutual respect.
For me, that was the best part.
Your book 'Berlin Prague Budapest’ was just released in March. What was the biggest challenge when producing the book? You mentioned a plan for 2 more books to be released this year. Can you tell us about what they will entail?
That is correct! The main challenge for me when producing the book was the sequencing of the pictures and finding the best possible matches when putting two vertical photographs side by side. Although it’s a very intuitive process for me and I don’t consciously focus on compositions or storytelling, I am quite a perfectionist when it comes to ‘having to feel right’. I think I redid the book at least a dozen times digitally before even making a proof copy. It’s a bit like a puzzle: if I start out by making the most obvious combinations and using the most visually striking images in the first half of the book, the result will be very unbalanced.
At this point there are two books that are already finished and exist as a single physical copy. Because I really wanted to focus on getting Berlin Prague Budapest out during the first half of 2017, I decided to have some patience with releasing the others. One of the books was shot last December and it exists entirely out of pictures taken in a hotel room (with a girl). For this one I’m also considering a zine format, given the intimate theme. The other possible book was shot as little as 4 weeks ago when I was in Madrid for an exhibition. Miguel Oriola, a Spanish photographer and very dear friend of mine, was showing me around the city at night when we were approached by two prostitutes. We decided to decline their offer and take pictures of them instead. I went back multiple times to work with other girls and it created a body of work that shows both the streets of Madrid and the women working on its pavements. Documenting my own reality is key to my work and submerging mine with those of the women I took pictures of created a high level of intimacy and mutual respect. For me, that was the best part.
The bigger the camera, the bigger the shield
between you and the world,
if anything, you should be open to it as much as you can.
You have exhibited in Europe and Asia, any plans for exhibiting in the US in the near future?
At this point there are no plans to exhibit in the US for the near future, merely hopes. The idea of exhibiting in the US sounds very exciting to me and I’m very interested in seeing how my work would be received there. Compared to other countries I get a relatively small amount of messages and orders from the States. One could argue that maybe my work isn’t well-received there, but I think it’s a matter of not being on the radar yet. An exhibition would be a great way to both get my work out there and see if it’s worth focusing more on the country.
You’ve recently held a lecture at Foto Café Venlo in the Netherlands. What was the most important message you wanted to convey? What did you learn about yourself as a result of the lecture?
Something I always try to put an emphasis on when I do a lecture or a speech is my personal approach to photography. For me taking pictures is an addiction. I can spend hours walking and just snapping away at everything that visually provokes me. Usually I carry around a number of small cameras, both compact and mirrorless. They are practical to hold and also subtle to use, which is the perfect combination for me. Sometimes I ask people to take a picture and sometimes I don’t, but in both cases a small camera is the way to go. If you don’t want them to see you a smaller one is better for obvious reasons, while if you do take a portrait the other person agreed on, the relationship remains much more intimate when a small camera’s the only thing in between. The bigger the camera, the bigger the shield between you and the world, if anything, you should be open to it as much as you can.
Some photographers will say it’s all about being open to the things around you, yet for me it’s more than that. For me it’s a deep fascination for the things I see around me and the uncontrollable need to take pictures of it. Of course I will get excited over a naked girl standing in front of me, but I can get just as excited when I see an ugly statue of a flamingo, as long as it triggers me. If someone says it’s more about the visual aesthetic rather than the subject because I have a lot of different subjects, they don’t fully understand that I genuinely have a fascination for almost everything I see. I also think that’s exactly what a lot of people who try to take pictures lack, being intrigued by what they shoot. They try to take pretty pictures in a world that isn’t pretty, instead of capturing what it really looks like, in all its charming obscurity.
Your most recent work shows a compelling story of travel. Tell us about your experience. What did you find most intriguing? Is there anyone or anything you are most captivated by?
Something that I’m personally most captivated by is the way life works and how much influence we have on our own lives. I don’t believe in the ability to influence your life in a way that you can just decide to work hard and become a millionaire, but I do believe we have much more freedom of choice than most people realize. In fact, often the choices that can make us happiest are the ones that offer little to no financial stability (at least for the near future, but sometimes never). If I felt differently, I wouldn’t be doing what I do.
As a photographer, I understand your position of the exploration of sexuality. However, your audience may be curious to know why you would include such moments of intimacy within your body of work.
I think that most of my audience has taken a picture before, at least at some point in their lives. First of all I would like to ask them if they prefer to take pictures of things they like. I’d also want to ask them if they enjoy sex. Assuming both answers are a ‘yes’ I hope that also answers their question to me haha. So why do I take pictures of sex? Probably for the same reason that Instagram is full of pictures of coffee, cats and beaches. It makes the people who took the picture happy. When talking about including it in a ‘body of work’, there’s also the fact that if I make a book about for example a trip, I show everything I found interesting about it. If to me one of the best nights of the trip was spent next to a lady, my book wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of that night.
I don’t usually get into the aesthetics of imagery but I will ask anyway - I see your work is very high contrast, sometimes dark and grainy, yet very well executed. Can you explain your intentions?
To me the act of photography itself and the way I engage in it can be very dark, raw, noisy and confronting. The aesthetic of my images shouldn’t be seen as the goal or intention, but rather as the result of my own approach to photography. When I take pictures I can do it very violently sometimes, putting a wide angle lens in a random passerby’s face and using flash, while at the same time I love to gently take a picture of a girl’s eyes. So as you can see, even when it comes to that, I am very black and white myself.
After all isn’t it what things are like in general? Good and bad, life and death. When I take pictures of prostitutes for example, I shoot in black and white because I don’t know if they are good or bad people. I just include both black and white, the picture will make the judgment. If I shot in color, they would already be cold or warm to begin with. Black and white is not closest to reality, but that makes it all the more honest. Reality the way we see it is pretentious, but lines and shapes are not.
If you had to compare yourself to an established photographer, who would it be and why?
I’ve been told by so many people by now that it’s almost a no-brainer. Daido Moriyama.
Don’t get me wrong and think I am making a comparison between the way the pictures look. Actually, the thing that makes me recognize myself in him is (here it is again) the approach towards photography and his personal philosophy behind it. Our words may sound alike, but it’s not because we are saying the same. It’s because we use the same language and that is what I think is the binding factor between me and him, but also many other photographers who have the same non-verbal vocabulary.
In 1970, Takuma Nakahira created a photobook that was titled ‘For A Language To Come’.
It’s that very title that perfectly describes what connects me and certain other photographers.
To me, the time for that language has come.