Interview with Dutch photographer Wilco Westerduin
Wilco Westerduin is an awarded Dutch photography artist, active in the Basque Country. He started at the end of 2013, with an entry level 300€ camera, no use of Photoshop and still does so today. The main genres of his work are landscape, urbex, architecture and street photography.
He has had over 20 international solo exhibitions, such as in Paris, Bayonne, Biarritz, San Sebastian and Guernica. He is the author of two photography artbooks: PLANET BASQUE and PYRÉNÉES ABANDONNÉES and his work is also featured in three other books. Wilco received the “Prix Zigor” for Basque Photography.
How did you start your career as a photographer?
There was a point in my life in the Netherlands where I lost all major pillars: my jobs (three in a row), my relationship and my house. It hit me hard with a deep depression. I was making photos with my iPhone. The people around me that saw them stimulated me to publish. After some hesitation I eventually did (on 500px) and the response was overwhelming. At the end of 2013 I decided to take it more seriously. I bought an entry level camera and presented myself as photography artist. Today, my work on 500px has received more than 6.3 million views and there are thousands of followers worldwide on social media. My work is purchased by art collectors and has gone all over the world now: New York, London, Hong Kong, Genève, Japan, Germany, Spain, Moscow, Amsterdam, etc.
Did photography change your life?
Yes, definitely. Before I was a human resource consultant in the accountancy and insurance industry. Looking back on that I felt very restraint. I feel more free and much more in contact with my own creativity and artisticy now, which gives me a more liberated, stronger and independant state of mind.
Explain to us your creative process.
It is actually quite basic. I have an idea for a theme or subject first. Then I go explore in search of locations that could fit for an image for this. Once found, I either make my photos directly, or I return when light conditions for shooting are optimal. Regularly I use a long exposure technique with a ND filter and a black card that I manually wave in front of the lens as a filter to balance exposure of certain parts of the image. After the shooting, I optimize my images a little in standard “Photos” on my old MacBook and publish them on my profiles at 500px, on Facebook, Vero and since one and a half year now also on Instagram. Selections of my images are also published in print with partners as art galleries, book publishers, magazines, newspapers and online in photography or art blogs and platforms.
Do you use any digital tool in your creative process?
My camera is a digital one, and I use this basic “Photos” program on my (old) MacBook to optimize my images, but I do not use Photoshop. All my images are real single (long) exposure captures, no digital tricks like multiple image stacking, heavy retouch or compilation of elements. What you see is what you get!
Where do you find the motivation?
Most of all, it is a way to express my creativity. Specially the abandoned theme is like a metaphor of my own life: I felt abandoned and lost but the light and beauty of photography pulled me out of the darkness. I also make a little music and do cooking, but I am more successful with my photography art, so that stimulates to continue. But there is also an other motivation: in photography I see that many are equipment orientated. It seems like you can only be successful with expensive gear and software. It became a challenge for me to proof that this does not have to be so and therefore potentially in reach for everyone who is willing and talented.
How important is the Basque Country in your creative work?
Frankly, I just fell in love with the Basque Country. I think this reflects in my work. I get much response from Basque people that they see its soul and the feelings they have reflected in my images. That is the greatest compliment for an outsider. Although, outsider…, with all the support I get, I feel really adopted now! And the Prix Zigor surely illustrated that.
What is your opinion about the current photography trends?
That is a difficult one to answer, as I am not so much interested in trends. I think that maybe now there is a development of very artificial imagery to capture viewers attention. Let’s not forget there are more than 1.000.000.000 images uploaded to the internet every year. In order to stand out, they get more and more extreme, disturbing or actually display artificial fantasy. All fine by me, but not really my style. I like my images to be real, to have in themselves beauty or interest to look at, without a need for shocking. That means a lot of attention for composition of the real scenes. An important Art element, in my opinion.
Your work has a great impact on some online platforms, what does fame bring to your professional career?
I guess it helps to open doors and gives opportunities to things that otherwise would not happen. Requests and offers come to me now, because my work is more and more known out there. Creation and communication go hand in hand as photography artist, I think. And every now and then I get recognized and approached in the street, hahaha! That is quite funny to be honest…
You have recently published your second book, tell us about this project.
This book is about abandoned places in the Pyrenees, from North to South and East to West. During a few years I have been exploring interesting abandoned places (urbex) to collect the most amazing ones in this book. I made originally more than 600 images that were selected down to 230 for 208 pages. Each photo tells a story, and makes the viewer think about what happened. Artful beauty of decay and abandonement is the central approach of this book. It is less so a reportage of factual history. There was no such other book out there yet, so this was truly a unique project. The intro with some background information is written by Patrice Teisseire, chef de redaction of Pyrénées Magazine, and alongside the photos are nice Haiku style texts by the publisher Alexandre Hurel.
What are the main differences between this new book and the first book you published?
This new book has a single approach to abandoned places. My first book Planet Basque was a visual journey trough the Basque Country as if on an other planet. Seen by the man who fell to Planet Basque (me), inspired by the movie “The man who fell to earth” with David Bowie. It presented landscapes, streetscenes, architecture and also some urbex photos, but this new book is only about the abandoned exploration.
An other difference is that my first book was in 4 languages and distributed on both sides of the border in the Basque Country. Pyrénées Abandonnées is in French and is distributed in the French Pyrénées.
What would you like to photograph that you have not yet done?
I would like to incorporate the human element some more. For instance to work with models in urbex locations, or to collect interesting faces of the Basque Country. So far I have avoided this, probably as a counter response to my human resource jobs I guess, but it can definitely add new exciting elements to my photography, I think now.
What advice would you give to those who started their career as a photographer?
Do it because you enjoy doing it. Because you like to challenge yourself in creating your own style that is different from what is out there. Make sure the quality of your images are good. And invest time in communication and marketing. It might take a long breath, but at some point it will come to you if you work hard on your talent. “The sun will shine upon you one day, if you always keep walking your way.” (Prince)