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You take pictures of landscapes, as well as of animals and human beings. Do you approach these in the same way. Yes, because we are working with the whole earth, and the earth is all these things. So for me, the city, nature, people...it is all the same thing.
If you were to make changes in your method of working, what would they be? I would like to be more cool, more relaxed, less stressed.
What do you prefer, black & white or colour? I have not really explored black & white photography. I only do colour.
Do you print your own pictures? Never. My work goes to a photo lab.
Do you use a digital camera? Never. Not yet, anyway. I find digital prints are not as sharp as silver prints when it comes to enlarging them to the scale we require.
What was your first step in photography? I was studying lions in Kenya. That is when I discovered photography. I saw how photography conveyed other information than text. I could describe something in a way that I could not achieve with writing.
Do you have a favourite picture? No, not amongst my photographs anyway. Or it would have to be a photograph of my children, of my family.
What was the strangest thing you had to shoot? I do not have the feeling that I have had to shoot strange things. I am not easily astounded. I have done this job for 25 years now, nothing much amazes me anymore.
Are you totally relaxed when you are showing your pictures? I am when I show them. I have not so much to prove now. However, I am not at all relaxed when I am taking pictures. To take a good picture you need to be very determined and obstinate. To arrive at a picture like the ones in this exhibition is very difficult. The pictures on show here represent 10 years of work. You can work a whole month without coming up with one suitable picture for this kind of show.
Do you think you have a fair and objective opinion of other photographers' work? Yes, I like photography very much. I am actually trying to help photographers by setting up a foundation for them. What interests me is committed photographers, the ones who have something to say, who push things forward. I am not interested in photographers of lightweight subjects like fashion or publicity. I do not know much about this area, so it is not a criticism. Each to his own.
What is the difference between a good photograph and a beautiful photograph? For me a good photograph is one to which I can pin a text, so that it makes people think and react to it. A photograph that sets things in motion. I am a very committed photographer. At present I think of my work as more than taking pictures for magazines. I want to provoke people into taking a conscious stance, to make them feel that they are responsible for our planet. It is true that since the success of “Earth from the Air” we have seen that in London for instance, this exhibition has been seen much more as delivering a message than anywhere else. At the end of the day this is what works. So we are not going to deprive ourselves of that possibility, we carry on with it.
Do you follow a sudden inspiration in your work, or do you meticulously plan ahead? I am not really driven by inspiration. I am a reporter. I go somewhere and take pictures of what I see. I do not really need inspiration, but there are some spots which are much more appealing as subject than others and these are of course more interesting. Working on “Earth from the Sky” is donkey work. We cannot choose what is beautiful and what is not. We just shoot.
Is there a subject that has inspired you for a long time but which you have not yet taken on? Tonnes of them. I am only just starting to admit to myself that I will not be able to do everything. When starting the project on the planet, we thought it would take us about 5 years, a ridiculous estimate. In fact, it is a lifetime's work. At the same time I have a long-standing project about people and their animals. That is a studio-based project. I like working far away, but I need to do something close by as well.
Who are your favourite photographers? I very much like the Brazilian photographer, Sebastian Salgado. He is a committed photographer who makes work about social aspects, which interests me as well. And I like photographers like Richard Avedon. But really, I like all sorts of photography. I like photography in the way people like painting. Photography is beginning to occupy an enormous place in our lives, which it did not before. I now meet lots of people who say that they prefer to buy a photograph rather than a painting.
How well do you know English photography? Not very, but I have a fair knowledge of photography in general.
What do you think about contemporary photography, art photography? Conceptual photographers, like Cindy Sherman, I do not understand at all. It does not move me, but maybe I lack the right artistic context with which to appreciate and understand it. So I cannot really judge.
How has fame changed your life? At the end of the day, not a lot. It is true that I have more opportunities now, but I still work on the same subject with the same team. We have more money, that makes it easier, but the work has always been difficult and we always managed. I am still too much involved to be able to answer that question. But there is something I very much enjoy, and that is the contact with the public, something I did not have before. At the exhibitions and the signing sessions, I like to talk to people. There is really a connection, a thinking along similar lines. It is very rewarding for a photographer to be able to deliver a message, to change things. So, I am, or rather, my team and I, I have 12 people working with me, are very happy and proud to do this work. We believe in it.
What would your advice be to someone starting off in photography? Not to be discouraged. It is the most fantastic profession in the world. We live in a golden age of photography. Maybe today, being a war photographer or a photojournalist is more difficult, but it is always possible to take a stance. Taking pictures is easy, but it is difficult to stand out. You need to work a lot and be extremely determined. I am talking about the kind of photography I know. Photography in art galleries is something else. At “Paris-Photo” last week, there were 80.000 visitors in 3 days, an increase of 30%. There were 150 galleries represented. This shows that photography is far from dying.
Can you describe yourself in 3 words? No, well I could say; simplicity, authenticity…….but these are only words. We are never simple, although I try to remain authentic, to be true, to put my work in its right place.
ABOUT “EARTH FROM THE AIR”
How would you react if an ecological organisation would like to use your name or one of your photo's? They do that all the time. Our photo's are given free to charities. I am proud and happy to do that. That is the nice thing about becoming a well-known photographer. It is so enjoyable to be able to help others with what you are doing.
Were you ever disappointed not to be able to take a picture of a particular subject because it was destroyed by mankind? Yes, of course. We cannot do everything. I have often come too late. In fact, I remember more clearly the photo's I did not take than the ones I did. For example, I was too late to photograph the Berlin Wall. Oh well, I know there are many more to take.
You have gone through a unique experience, in what way did it change you? Experience, maturity, you evolve in this profession. I have changed in that I was a very ambitious photographer. To achieve something with this job, you need to be ambitious, you have to be opportunistic, knowing how to fight, how to work hard. I realise that these days I am a well-known photographer, but it leaves me cold. What interests me is to succeed as a human being, which is something else than succeeding as a photographer, something much more difficult.