“The best images to me are not complex. Making it can be complex, but the outcome shouldn’t look complex. Strive for simplicity that can reveal complexity on a second layer.”
Isabelle Pateer (born in 1980) is a Dutch contemporary photographer, currently based between The Netherlands and Belgium. She received her “Master in Visual Arts” from the “Institute for Higher Education of the Visual Arts Saint Lucas, Brussels” (Belgium) in 2003.
“Since 2007 I am focussing increasingly on long-term personal projects operating in a cross-over area between documentary and autonomous photography. I express myself in series which base their subject matter on topics close to myself, but which have a broader meaning by addressing a more universal tendency in which I motivate the viewer to search for a personal relation and interpretation. In doing so I am aiming for a subtle form of universal social criticism.”
Interview with Isabelle Pateer
Isabelle, what was your most memorable moment shooting pictures?
For me big part of the challenge and motivation I feel as a photographer is the opportunity that photography gives me to get in contact with people or to get involved in situations which I would otherwise never feel related to. In that way I have had several really memorable shooting moments which often were made memorable by the people I was photographing. The synergy of two or more people together, trusting each other and creating an image together is often wonderful I think. There is something magical in the tension between the connection on one hand and the distance between the photographer and the subject on the other hand. Making something concrete out of an inconcrete situation; the creation is wonderful. To name one most memorable moment is very difficult for me. Let me believe in the ultimate drive that ‘the best has yet to come’.
Why did you become a photographer?
I think I’ve always wanted to be creative. At the age of 17 I started to study fine arts and later on I specialized in photography. Since that time photography is my most important ‘language’ to transfer my creative ideas, but maybe later on I would like to broaden this again and see how I would like to be able to involve other media.
What does photography mean to you and what do you want to transmit with your pictures?
I think photography is a way to express myself and my feelings, doubts, involvements, questions I have, my wonderings about the world surrounding me and all of us. It’s the medium I’ve chosen to investigate and to express myself in, to translate my message and questions to the viewer in. In that way I like to transmit a message in a photograph, but also put question marks in it. It should have an ‘openness’ for interpretation.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
It’s difficult to name one photographer that inspired me most. And actually I don’t know if my biggest inspiration source for photography comes from other photographers. Life itself is a big source of inspiration for my work and I also get inspired by reading interviews with interesting people, which doesn’t have to be photographers at all. But if I need to quote some names that are visually interesting to me, then I would like to say that I admire photographers like Alec Soth, Peter Granser, Lise Sarfati, Mitch Epstein, Joel Sternfeld, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, and Jeff Wall to name a few. Also the visual language of a lot of Scandinavian photographers attracts me, certainly in relation to landscape and portrait photography. I like the honest, but isolated feel that is often captured in their imagery.
“Artist Talk” with Alec Soth at “Walker Art Center” (2010): Alec Soth discusses his work and the world of contemporary photography with George Slade, curator at the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University:
“Whether you are Minor White or Robert Frank, almost every photograph starts with an act of pure description – a window. But every now and then you catch a glimpse of the photographer’s reflection. The mirror is just another function of the window”.
What’s your favorite photography quote?
“The more specific you are, the more general it will be.”
I think photography is a lot about simplicity, with in the image a minimum of referrals that trigger personal interpretation from the viewer. An image should stay simple in a way, to have an ‘openness’ for interpretation. And this quote from Diane Arbus is explaining this for me in a very short way. It’s also what I am aiming at in my project “Unsettled”. In this series I start from the local example oft he village of Doel to question the worldwide tendency of industrial expansions and it’s consequences.
How would you describe your photographic voice and creative process?
As a photographer I am working always project-wise. I am not really someone taking my camera with me anytime, anywhere. Too many images would drive me mad, and maybe that’s also one of the reasons I still like to work analogue. Then you lower the amounts of images you’re taking and you’re also taking more time in advance of making the picture to think it over.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
I do think it’s important to look at a lot of other photographers, but in a way to ‘forget’ them, once you’re working on your personal work. Because how can you be yourself, can you be different by copying other? I think for your own photographic voice most important is to listen to yourself and find a project and style that reflects yourself, because that will be the thing you can deepen and you can tell most about. The work of great photographers reflects themselves as persons. Because of that I often like to read interviews of people I admire. Because the picture of the person and its work ‘matches’. So, I think it’s important to start out of yourself, your environment and your own unique situation. And often by being limited to something, you can be brilliant in another way.
To answer the question in four words: Stay close to yourself.
What qualities and characteristics does a good photographer need?
As a photographer nowadays I believe you are not only an image maker, but also your own salesman if you want to live from your photography. So I think it’s good to have a variety of skills beside the ones that makes you a good photographer. So I think you have to be a bit clever in creating concepts that can be interesting for example beside the abilities and/or characteristics that are important to succeed as an image maker: be open, but critic, don’t give up fast, be able to be patient etc.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes? Especially keeping in mind the flood of images we are exposed to every day.
Photography to me is in a way like life itself is: it’s quite difficult, but at its best when the result is giving you an experience which is not too complex. The best images to me are not complex. Making it can be complex, but the outcome shouldn’t look complex. Strive for simplicity that can reveal complexity on a second layer.
I am working with a Mamya 7, which is a medium format camera, and I work most often with natural light.
The more we get surrounded by images, the more I feel attracted to the slower process of analogue, and actually the ultimate camera for me seems to be a large format camera, which I would like to use more in the near future.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
Lately I discovered a lot of new photography blogs, online magazines, photography news sources, and I think there are really many I still didn’t discover, that are really great. To name a few I visit regularly, based upon their daily, or weekly newsletters are for example PhotoQ, La lettre de la Photographie, BJP, Fraction, GUP etc.
What photography book would you recommend?
Some practical and/or theoretical books on photography I would recommend are:
“Image Makers, Image Takers” by Anne-Celine Jaeger, “Annie Leibovitz At Work” by Annie Leibovitz, and “Publish Your Photography Book” by Mary Virginia Swanson and Darius D. Himes to name a few. They are all on the shelves of my library and I find them very useful.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a (professional) photographer?
To me photography cannot be limited to a profession – it is influencing your way of living in general. I think you need to be open to embrace the fact that both your professional and personal life will influence and inspire each other, and be open for that.
A photographer needs to be more than just an image maker for me, but at school for example it was merely reduced to that. To be a good photographer it’s important that you have something to say, something to tell. So be aware of that and use your (personal) life to enrich your work. Live as photographer, open your eyes and have a critical attitude as well as an open friendly approach to people. And try to think of the “business” part beside the creative part as well, to give you the possibility to live from your photography. It’s often challenging, but in the same time so rewarding to do what you love.