“Photography for me means to be able to live a life that I really like, going places meeting people, and giving me the opportunity to make something that remains, hopefully.”
Gregor Servais (born in 1972) is a Dutch portrait and travel photographer currently living in The Hague (The Netherlands). He studied photography at Royal Art Academy, The Hague.
“Most of my portraits are improvised there and then on the spot. Although it makes me nervous each time again I like it. My travel photography is a bit melancholic.”
Interview with Gergor Servais
Gregor, what was your most memorable moment shooting pictures?
Every photo has its own little story of how it got to exist. I can’t think of any photo that really stands out.
Why did you become a photographer?
I was really not good at anything else.
What does photography mean to you and what do you want to say with your pictures?
Photography for me means to be able to live a life that I really like, going places meeting people, and giving me the opportunity to make something that remains, hopefully.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
Not sure. Although I went a completely different way I was always very much inspired by Sebastiao Salgado. His almost biblical photography was something that I wanted to make myself. Nowadays I really like Rahi Rezvani’s work.
We can take a picture that communicates, one where we can see the problems and the people from around the world. We show the people of Bangladesh to others so they can understand them. I have tried to bring about better communication between people. I believe that humanitarian photography is like economics. Economy is a kind of sociology, as is documentary photography.
What’s your favorite photography quote?
I don’t know so many photography quotes…
How would you describe your photographic language and creative process?
I work very intuitive. I know what my clients need, have that somewhere in the back of my mind and really don’t think a lot during the shoot. Often I am so focussed during the photo shoot that I even have trouble to have a normal conversation.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
Do what’s in your heart, that sounds maybe cheesy but I think it’s true. Wait, it does sound cheesy. Let me refrase: Don’t try to be unique, try to be yourself. That’s hard enough for most of us. Oh, does that sound cheesy too? I give up!
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
To be honest, I don’t give my own work a lot of thought in that matter. I just go from one photo to the next and try to make the best possible. The only constant factor in it is me. And probably I’m not constant either.
What qualities and characteristics does a good photographer need?
Business wise I would say a very good feeling for what a client desires. Both business wise and photography wise I would say persistence and enthusiasm. A bit of stubbornness doesn’t harm, I guess.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes? Especially keeping in mind the over abundance of photographic imagery in today’s society.
It has to tickle the eye and then the mind. I really have no clue what that means.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
Internet, books, museum, film.
What kind of photography equipment (camera etc.) and photographic supplies do you use?
These days I do almost all my work with a Nikon D800. Often combined with a f2.8 24-70mm lens. Also nice to use is Nikon 50mm f1.4. I have an old one. I have some other lenses but I hardly use them. For example the F2.8 80-200mm. Maybe I use that once a year. In my bag is also a Quantum flash with battery pack, a hoodman loupe, and bowers wireless flash trigger. When traveling I carry a snapshot (currently a Fuji XE1 and my trusted old Rolleiflex. It’s somewhere from the fifties. 1954 if I remember correctly. I also have lying around a Hasselblad with some lenses.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
It’s a site called www.jenren.com. I often look at it. Nice selection of work.
What photography book would you recommend?
“The Americans” by Robert Frank. I have a first american edition at home. I like almost every picture in it!
But since it’s a very common one to pick, I’d like to point out a book called “Disfarmer” which is not that widely known. These are portraits made of a small American community by a photographer who called himself “Disfarmer” because he was one of the few non-farmers around. The book I have of him shows portraits made by him over a period of seven years from 1939 till 1946. These are portraits from an area when people would be only photographed a few times in their lives. It’s a very official happening and all the photographs show serious people.
The light is special in these photos. At first you don’t notice it, but when you try to reproduce you will find out it’s hard to do. If you compare these portraits with for example the portraits that Seydou Keita made of the Malian society (although this was a bit later) you will notice how much more effort the Malian people and photographer did to “upgrade” their appearance. Although the people on Disfarmer’s photos also dressed up nicely (most of the time) the photos still breathe simple rural country life without anything fancy. If you look at his portraits you can feel these people’s lives.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a (professional) photographer?
Go for it, and never complain to your clients!