I am delighted to introduce Robert Van Koesveld and his photography. Robert is one of my favorite photographers to follow. I asked him to submit my favorite of his images and he graciously sent it for your enjoyment. Grab a coffee, put your feet up and enjoy the beauty of the world Robert sees. And then, dream big! Where will your dreams take you? What is your first step? Now....take that step.
1. What do you want to be known for?
While having others engage with my work is important, I do work hard to retain a sense of myself as my primary client. I am lucky to be able to do that. I see myself working broadly as a cultural and travel photographer. My goal with people images is to communicate the unique sense of ‘presence’ that some people have, as well as their individuality, and to do that respectfully. In place images, I am seeking to communicate something of the unique ‘spirit of place’ that moves me.
2. How did you develop as a photographer? What decisions were behind retiring from psychotherapy and moving to full-time photography?
I was working with film half a century ago, shooting in black and white. After my children had grown, I had time to return to image making. Initially my results were mediocre. As Ira Glass reminds us: our taste can be well ahead of our art and skill. However for many years I have been involved in the professional development of other psychotherapists, and I know that ‘experience plus reflection leads to growth’. Experience (‘10,000 hours’) by itself is not enough. You need to look at your own work and the work of others and think through what is effective or not. I spent a lot of time looking at my own work and thinking through why some images still moved me and others did not.
I have also read lots, attended numerous workshops and used consultants where I identified something that needed developing.
The idea that the individual print is not the ultimate form for all photography was confirmed for me when looking at Japanese photo books of the 70’s; they destroyed original prints once their photo books were complete because they considered the genre required a book form. Consequently, for each subject I consider the form the work should take. Is it best shown as a single image, a series, an article or essay, a slide show or a book? If it is a book – what kind, sequence, size and so on?
3. What led you to the style/type of photography you now use?
The outer name changes. Cultural photography represents much of my work well enough. Genre names are problematic as people are always keen to say what the ‘correct’ boundaries are. I am a photographer making images about the world and its people. I will make street style images in colour or monochrome, or shoot with studio lights, work with iphone or medium format: whatever suits the subject and creates the best dialogue with the subject to show what has essentially moved me. I expect I will return to alternative processes someday as well. Style takes a long time to emerge.
4. What changes/transformations do you want your photography to stimulate?
I try to cultivate a sort of warm curiosity about the world and the people I meet. If my work encourages this in others as well I would be very pleased.
5. What type of life adventures has photography led you towards?
I was a traveler first, after being a virtual traveler as a young child. I hitch-hiked in Papua New Guinea in the 70’s. My wife and I learned it is usually possible to get to most places that draw you deeply. An older friend told us: ‘if the bus is going to Baghdad get on it!’. She was referring to her own travels many years ago and the way parts of the world can suddenly be closed to travel for decades. We found a way to get to the Sahara world music ‘Festival in the Desert’ in Mali some years ago. Sleeping in a camel skin tent and listening to Tuareg fusion rock at 3:00 a.m. Now, Mali is pretty much closed.
We were commissioned to make our book Bhutan Heartland by Fremantle Press a while ago and that taught me that it was possible to meet lots of different people and visit special places if you just asked. You need to do that patiently, respectfully and use an appropriate local contact. Then you also have an obligation to share their stories thoughtfully.
6. What has photography taught you about yourself and of the world around you?
I guess the last ten years has been primarily about the artist’s journey. I am slowly getting my head around how the creative process involves a huge amount of doubt and unknowing. I have learned that I can rarely do a subject justice in one visit, so now am resigned to going back. My recent book, Geiko & Maiko of Kyoto and the associated Kyoto exhibition, came out of a three-year process and ten trips. Building trust with the complex and subtle community of these traditional artists took time. Their initial caution reflected their long experience of Westerners producing superficial or misleading images and words about them. So that meant I had to carefully learn about their world and engage the artists with my purpose, together with the community that supports, trains and manages them. It is a fascinating and ongoing relationship; I go back to Kyoto in a month.
The Geiko project has also taught me emphatically that trying to understand the world from just our own culture is pretty much futile. Asking ‘are geiko like dancers or entertainers or …?’ is very little help. A much, much better reference point is Japanese culture itself, it’s history, values and so on. Trying to see a culture from within the culture itself is problematic however because you are not within that culture. It takes time to discover the extent of your own ignorance.
7. Do you have any special projects you are developing?
I am a little lost after the three years of engaging with my last book. I am working on a sort of homage to Tea, working with a fourth generation member of a Japanese tea master family. I imagine a limited edition work coming out of this. I am also thinking about and photographing Japanese gardens and interviewing gardeners. I have a few projects in India especially Kolkata. I am exploring a form I call ‘constructed narratives’ when I get the opportunity.
A deep and sincere Thank You to Robert for sharing his beautiful images and work.
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