“When I photograph people I never tell them what to do. So sometimes they feel very insecure in front of my camera. And the funny thing is that I often feel more insecure behind the camera myself.”
Michel Mees is a portrait photographer from The Netherlands. He actually wanted to become a musician, but then made a career photographing people.
For Michel Mees photography is a wonderful means of encounters – meeting and getting to know people he normally wouldn’t have talked to.
Michel Mees, your portfolio shows a great variety – documentary, urban landscape, music, commissioned works, and portrait. What does each genre mean to you?
As a photographer you meet people that you normally wouldn’t meet. You can visit places that are closed for others. So I think what each genre connects is my curiosity about people. Music has a special place in my work. I guess I always wanted to be a musician.
Your portrait photography is fascinating: You don’t just portray a person; you make them “fall into a story”, as you describe it. Can you please explain your documentary style approach of portraiture?
When I photograph people I never tell them what to do. So sometimes they feel very insecure in front of my camera. And the funny thing is that I often feel more insecure behind the camera myself. So the portraits are about meeting. It’s all a chance of encounter.
Portraiture is a genre traditionally used to explore issues of identity. What do your photographs tell about the persons being portrayed?
I think portraits tell more about the photographer rather than about the observer.
What does a single photograph need in your opinion in order to stand out and get noticed? Especially keeping in mind the abundance of visual imagery in today’s media?
I hope it will raise interest in the people I shoot. That they want to find out more about the short part of the story I told them.
You recently published a retrospective book called “Meet and Greet”. What is it about?
“The title is what I do: I meet people.”
In fact I wanted to make a new portfolio, and it then became a book. It’s a selection of my work from last two decades. And the title is what I do: I meet people.
Susan Sontag once said “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own”. How has photography changed the way you look at the world and what have you learnt about yourself?
I hope it has given me an open-minded view. I try not to judge people.
Every photographer is going through different stages in his formation. Which “landmarks” do you recall that have marked you and brought you to the place where you are today as a photographer?
I think that the photography that I did a lot 10 years ago made me what I am: A quick observer and improvising photographer.