I have wonderful clients and great assignments but every now and then there's a job that trumps everything, an assignment that gives you full creative freedom and the chance to shoot a subject matter that is close to your heart. About two months ago, Fujfilm contacted me with the question "Would you like to test out the new GF250mm F4 lens and make portraits for us while also doing a behind-the-scenes video about the process?" Hell, Yeah!!! Even if it means that I'll have to work every waking hour to pull it off in time.
I'll be following this blog up with more post about the process, the choices, the gear and the techniques used. I have plenty of behind-the-scenes footage to show you how I made each picture too. So see this post as an introduction to the project.
Here's the video, which will give you a good idea of what this project was all about:
I already had a very busy month and this project had a short deadline, made even shorter because of the planned family holidays. The easy way would have been to hire a pretty model and do a studio shoot but I guess I'm not exactly known for making the most practical decisions. I also believe that when you are given the rare opportunity and trust to do your own thing, you have to take the responsibility and make the most out of the opportunity.
For people who know me and the path I've been walking on in the last several years, it's probably not a surprise that I wanted to do something with people who thrive in the outdoors. At first we looked at some exotic options: a native American tribe in Canada, the Sami in Lapland, ... But I soon realized that I wouldn't have the time and budget to dig deep enough. Sure I could have gone in and out and grab some pictures but it would be rushed and not do their amazing way of life justice.
Then all of a sudden it hit me: I have to find wild people close to home. I needed to photograph those brave individuals that are able to balance life in our Western European society with a strong connection to nature.
in my previous post, I talked about my path to regain health with the help of rewilding coach Bert Poffé from Rewilding Drum. When the assignment from Fujifilm came in, I was in the last stage of my training program. (I know I promised to get back to you about it and I will at some point) Bert had become a good friend by that time and we had a lot of conversations about the approach of this project. In the end it only seemed fitting to include Bert and his lovely wife Kiki in the project. This lovely couple made it their goal to reintroduce people to nature and become more wild in may ways. So they are a perfect fit for this project.
We decided to shoot Bert & Kiki near an abandoned quarry in the Belgian Ardennes. As I was shooting with a longer lens than what I usually shoot with and because I wanted to light the portraits with a strobe. I knew that I needed the option of time to make sure that the images were technically sound as well as having a connection with the subjects. We decided to camp near the location which would give us the evening, the next morning and if necessary another evening to shoot in good light. In the end, the first evening and the next morning (after a very short night) were enough to get what I wanted. This became basically the blueprint for the rest of the project: Invest a lot of time in research, location choice, planning the shots, hiking all the gear in, spending time with the subject, ... The actual shooting went pretty fast in most cases because of all the time we have put in before the camera came out.
From a couple of rugged outdoor people to a young model may seem like a big step but although Elle Wolfs may be the odd one out in this project, I really wanted her to be part of it. First of all, she is discovering her strong connection to nature I believe. But most importantly she is able to show the physicality of connecting to her environment. I've shot with her a couple of times before and what I've always appreciated is the way she is not posing, she just IS.
This project wouldn't be complete without my old friend Sven. He is without any doubt my single most important influence in becoming in tune with the real outdoors instead of the Disney version. I remember the first time he took me fishing, I remember the sacred words he spoke after I tagged along on a hunting trip and the many great nights out at his beloved Belgian coast are burned into my memory. In the last couple of years he has been fighting some of his demons as it's not easy to live a wild life in a society of domesticated people. But when he is in nature, he is him.
Eduard to me is the older version of Sven. When I first met him I even had to ask him if he didn't happen to be on a crazy holiday at the Belgian coast some 44 years ago (he says he wasn't). He must be one of the only (if not the only) professional hunter in Holland. His practical knowledge of a life in the field trumps the biology department of a university but what attracts me the most in Eduard is that he is a practical philosopher. He can be harsh, he can be confrontational, even shocking but it all comes from a big heart.
Bert (from the first pictures) came along to the shoot to help me out with carrying all the gear into the field and wrote his own blog about our visit to Eduard.
Being wild is definitely not exclusive for rugged men. Leen is a self employed sheep herder who manages one of the biggest natural reserves in Flanders. A growing knowledge of traditional ways of managing nature gave her the opportunity to live the lifestyle she loves. It can be hard, the days are long and in a world run by numbers it's a challenge and a big risk to make it work. But she feels it's all worth a life in tune with nature.
It has been a challenging project that forced me out of my comfort zone many times. But the satisfaction I get from it made me quickly forget about all the work that went in. I couldn't have pulled it off without these amazing wild people who welcomed me into their world, fed me, gave me a place to sleep and got out of their comfort zones in front om the camera. Marijke and Piet were indispensable brave assistants. My girlfriend Griet has been by my side during the whole project brainstorming, taking care of logistics, helping me out with the video, ... My kids had exams during this whole thing and just crushed it without any drama so I could focus on the Wild People, so proud of these three.
Fujifilm Belgium supported this project a lot and last but not least a big thank you is in place for Fujifilm Japan who continues to support their photographers and photography in general. It takes trust and Kung-Fu balls to assign a crazy creative to just do his/her thing.
I will follow up with more info on the how and why soon. If you have any questions, put them in the comments and I'll try to answer them in the follow up.