Interview With a Photographer | Pie Aerts
In Amsterdam. Although I was born in a little Dutch border town right between Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands. One of the flattest corners of our planet with the highest peak counting 322 meters. So that probably explains the urge to seek higher ground in the mountains years later.
What is the favourite place you’ve travelled to?
Hands down India. The sensory overload, the color clash, the cacophony of sounds. The soul of that place really is one of a kind. It's so timeless. For some reason every square inch feels so connected to its most distant past. Whether its the sari's the people still wear, the ancient cuisine they still adore, the many beautiful dialects that still exist or the gods they pray to at roadside shrines or in impressive temples. And then there's the people. Their friendly, intense, strange but - after all - welcoming spirit is unique.
Time to go back.
How did you get started as a photographer?
Being a kid there was nothing I loved more than drawing. While others played video games or rode their bikes, I could lock myself in for hours with pencil and paper. It definitely taught me to use my imagination and create stories within the four edges of a canvas.
However, after receiving one of my father's analog camera's when I was a 16-year old, I instantly dropped the pencil and it was photography that became a more fitting medium for me. I guess it was the convenience and the use of light that struck me most. The rest is history, I never dropped that camera anymore.
What camera equipment / software / tech do you use? Any must haves?
You're not the first person posing that question haha. You know, nowadays it's fairly easy to shoot 'technically perfect' images. Cameras became so good they're almost foolproof and the possibilities in post-production are endless.
However, it's much more difficult to elicit an emotional response from your viewers, by injecting a certain amount of visual energy, emotion and uniqueness into an image. And I belief that's the power of picking up a camera each day - saying YES to creativity.
But let's unzip my backpack. I'm a Canon photographer and always will be. For that reason I'm currently shooting with a Canon EOS 5d mark III. I always carry lots of glass. Pain in the back but worth it. For wide angle I work with a 16-35mm f/2.8 USM II. Than I deal with 2 main primes, Canon 35mm f/1.4 and Canon 85mm f/1.2. Last but not least, I always carry my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8. Working with animals I can't refuse bringing the 100-400mm f/4.5. My most recent purchase however, has been a Fujifilm x100f, a perfect camera for street photography and less than 1/10th of the weight of my entire Canon set. Perfect addition to the family. When it comes to software I'm a Lightroom only customer and will try to keep it like that.
What photographers have influenced you, how you think and shoot?
Ever since I was a young boy I've always been fascinated by the work of Steve McCurry and Sebastiao Salgado. No day went by without losing myself in one of their books. Their spirit for storytelling and strong sense of human dignity made me live and travel around China for a few years at the age of 21. That time is really where storytelling became a significant part of my life. Some other photographers that really shaped my sense of storytelling, all in their own unique way, are Annie Leibovitz, Joel Meyerowitz and of course the legendary Frans Lanting.
Any top tips for Instagram?
It's an amazing platform that gave me an audience to showcase my work to the world and I'm very thankful for the people I met through the great community it created, but my advise would be "don't bother too much about it". I sometimes feel like growing on Instagram is like being rich in Monopoly.
And try to do things differently. In a world full of visual overload I think it's crucial to stand out. No one else sees the world they way you do it, use that. But never forget that the camera is only a small part of the experience. It's great for capturing, preserving and sharing memories, but always remind yourself to enjoy the present moment, not solely through your screen, although the fast rise of social media tries to make you believe it's all about likes & followers.
What are you trying to communicate through your photographs?
When someone asks me why I take photos, I could come up with many answers like the value of beautiful memories, the play with light, or the desire to create frames that the viewer can be drawn into. All true, but to be honest, there’s only 1 real reason for me and that's connection. Real connection. With humans, with animals, with landscapes. So wether it's connecting with the viewer through a certain sense of adventure in my outdoor work or a pure sense of connection through the people or the animals I get to meet. But what really strikes me most, is working with strangers. There’s something very strange and touching about that, something I can’t get enough of. Especially in a world that's so guarded and fearful, nothing is more beautiful than individuals that are willing to show their soul. To show you the simple, imperfect but mysterious nature of being human.
As a result I started a second account, that's showing a totally different style of photography than you're used to see from me. A body of work created long before Instagram existed. Stories about real people gathered in 10+ years of travel. You'll find it at @because.people.matter.
Expect more of this line of work in the future because many times in photography it’s not the grand scale or epic nature that grabs me the most, but rather the small details that would normally go overlooked.
What motivates you to continue doing what you’re doing?
First of all, when I'm photographing, I'm all in, I feel alive. The energy that's released when picking up a camera is so intoxicating and irreplaceable. One of the coolest things about that feeling is that it puts you in a mental state of searching for beauty. A constant quest for pretty things. Perhaps it’s that pursuit of visual elegance that triggers me most.
Secondly, the fact that I'm a true believer that the biggest threat to this planet is the belief that someone else will save it. So being a photographer, I nowadays feel the urge more than ever, to be the voice of our planet.
Every piece of rock was already on this earth long before I was born and will be here long after I'm gone. That feeling puts things in perspective. And even though my voice is only a little voice, seeing that more and more people appreciate what I'm doing, keeps the engine running. And as a matter of fact, in the end, it's not about the impact a single contribution but about the sum of all those mini-changes taken together and I couldn't be more happy to play a role in protecting our environment for future generations. Because in order to protect something and care about something, you first gotta love it. And to be able to love something, your first have to see it, feel it, experience it and I hope that my viewfinder will allow more and more people to do so.
Are you a bathroom singer?
Nope. If there's one thing you don't wanna hear me doing, it's singing.
Do you have any advice for young aspiring photographers?
Keep dreaming. It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting. But don't dream when not having a final target in mind. Work on that too. And don't rush. Nothing worth building is worth building in a hurry. Nothing of value is formed in a minute. And If there’s one thing I’ve learned along the way it’s to never believe them when they say it can’t be done. Fight for it. When you can dream it, you can do it. I know it sounds cliche but it's so true.
And on a more technical note. There's one thing that really helped me grow and I hope that sharing it will help others too. Ditch the zoom lens and learn to love the constraints of dealing with a fixed focal length. Moving your feet instead of a zoom ring will instantly make you a better photographer. It instantly increases the weight of your bag, but deal with it, its worth the pain. Stop zooming, start seeing.
What are your goals for the future, regarding your work?
In the end, all I want is to create work that makes you feel, that makes you imagine, makes you wander. To make you feel alive and connected with the world you live in.
My goal for 2018 is getting closer to my true self and trust my inner compass to guide me. However I don't want to make too many plans. You ever heard of that Steve Jobs quote saying: "You can't connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards"? I think thats important to realise. Somehow trust the dots to connect in the future because that will give you the confidence to follow your heart. And succeeding in doing so, I belief is the most beautiful thing that can happen to someone.
What that means for me, is a willingness to make a move towards more conservational photography efforts, shoot more wildlife, connect with real people and play a role in protecting the planet we live on by expanding my community.
You know, life is short. Thinking you will live to an old age is nothing more than an assumption. Don’t expect retirement, living till tomorrow is a true blessing already. So better do today, what you would do tomorrow when it would be your last. Hasta la vista.