Wilco Westerduin - Netherlands
1. Wilco, in late 2013 you decided to give way to your creativity after a dark period in your life. What happened? And why did you decide for photography instead of other artistic approaches?
My previous career was in Human Resources. I lost three good jobs and my relationship after 13 years ended, resulting in also loosing my house. To loose these major pillars in life did not leave me unaffected and I fell deep into a dark depressive period. I was sure I could not continue on this broken path, but had no idea what else I wanted to do.
I was fumbling around back then with my iPhone already, and family and (photographing) friends encouraged me into a more serious photography direction. Early positive response on published work gave me courage to continue and to develop myself as a photography artist. You could say that the light of photography pulled me out of the darkness. I also make music as other artistic expression, but not at such a level, to give that a serious try.
2. Creativity was an important thing in your life to stop the downwards pull. Why is creativity able to change peoples lives? Please describe your feelings when creativity takes control over yourself. Did you ever ask yourself how your life would`ve developed without creativity?
I have always felt different. As long as I remember, I see things in a different way. Most people break free sometimes. Actually, in essence, I tried to fit in, but just never really succeeded. Being creative makes me more connected to myself than anything else I did before in this world. My photography really gives me joy and energy again in life. More than often it brings this “flow” of loosing sense of time and daily routine. Imagine for instance being all by yourself, in just one spot at the top of a mountain, making photographs from 17:00h until midnight, and not be bored for even one minute! And when you drive back, that feeling of knowing you have got ‘gold’ in your camera and you cannot wait to see it full size on screen, optimize it and present it to the world. It is a wonderful bonus that my work is received positive as well, but if it was not, I would still be creating my photos.
3. When you started with photography you bought a 300 € entry level camera and didn`t use Photoshop or any other expensive tools. Did you make a conscious decision depending that pure and raw gear, or did you just accept the missing options? Has it been a lucky coincidence for yourself retrospectively?
It was just a practical choice. When I went to the camera shop, they gave me advice to buy an entry level camera, and first see if photography was really something for me, without spending a lot of money. I am on a small budget, without that good job. Knowing I could never level up technically with professional gear, I aimed for developing my artistic side and challenge myself for maximum results with the minimal equipment. This turned out to be quite succesful, and I decided to present my work as an example of what is possible, without expensive gear, tools and Photoshop skills. A sort of demonstration to photographers, starting and experienced, that it is first of all the eye behind the lens making the photo, not the price of equipment. All my photos are real one-take exposures, only standard optimized in “Photos” on my old MacBook. Sure, it would be great to work with better tools, but I simply cannot afford that. But, I am always open to be supported by one of the good camera manufacturers, of course. Hahaha!
4. Did you follow your own inner art or did you study photography someway?
Mainly following my inner art, but I did some self learning on other photography and reading about technique and “rules”, also artistically. But no photography school, master-class, training, workshops or tutorials. Fortunately this makes me not feel hindered by any knowledge, but free to just enjoy my creating process instead. I also do not feel limited to just one style or genre, although we are often advised to do so. My work varies from landscapes, architecture, urbex to street photography, both in full colour and monochrome as well.
5. You decided to publish your work on 500px and Facebook exclusively. But it didn`t go without results, however. With millions of views and 11k+ followers your work became more and more popular. Why do you focus on just two social platforms? How important is social networking as a modern kind of marketing for artists in your eyes?
Actually, in the beginning I was active only on 500px. Focus on Facebook developed later, when my exhibitions started. Now my online activity is mainly on Facebook. I never felt a thing for Instagram, but recently I joined VERO, a platform specially interesting for artists and photographers. My approach to social media is a bit old fashioned, I guess. For me it is support exposure for my work in the real physical world: my exhibitions, the attention for my coming book and to present my work and portfolio. I use 500px only as online gallery now for those who want to see my work.
A lot of time can go into social media, interacting for the attention to your work. Sometimes it seems as if all that matters is the amount of likes and followers. This is why I limited myself to just two major channels (and now VERO). I want to use my time for the art, not for the followers and likes on the internet.
I consider the platforms, apps and websites eventually all as “one” internet, anyway. I see sometimes photographers publishing their work on several platforms. The effect it has on me, seeing shares of the same photo from Instagram, 500px, Viewbug, Flickr, Twitter, Petapixel, 1X and so on, is a bit like: “Yeah, yeah, I have seen it now…”; a little annoyance of overkill. I’d like to avoid that in my own social media behavior. I have just a couple of places for my work on the web. That is what I communicate, clear, simple and functional. And because it is concentrated, response is high, making it a lively profile, attractive to follow and to engage with me. I gratefully answer on every single comment, because I believe if somebody makes an effort to comment, they deserve my reply. I really enjoy these results, without doing it the same as others do!
6. You also had several awards and have been published in different magazines. You`ve been presented in several exhibitions and this summer your own photographic artbook will be published. How important is that kind of appreciation for your personal development?
It will not surprise you that this is an important element for me. I was in a fase in my life where I considered me to be a failure, loosing all I had, except for myself and a car. With limited resources, I gave way to my creativity, mainly to have some joy back in life again. To receive this appreciation now, grew my confidence again. I learned the importance of success moments, for knowing to be on a good path. I am convinced now that I have something valuable to offer and it matters what I do. To know, for example, that several of my works are in the homes of art collectioners, really feels great. Step by step my photographic journey grows further in development. I remember well, starting the first years, how I looked up to names in photography. The exhibitions already made me feel more and more an artist. Now, to have my own book in the bookshops this summer, really feels like reaching a milestone. And suddenly, it gets to me: those names, somebody just might perhaps include me also now...
7. You seem to have a focus on the Basque country. Why does this region work best for yourself?
The reason I came to the Basque country is my relationship with Coralie, a Basque woman. As she has a job during the day, I was looking for my own activity and started exploring and photographing the region. This resulted in a collection of photos, that (starting from July 2016) captured the interest for exhibitions and now for publishing my book. It is called “Planet Basque” and is a visual journey of the Basque country, as if on an other planet.
The Basque country offers amazing landscapes for photographers. The region is exceptionally diverse in a relative small radius: a spectacular coastline, harmonious hillsides, high peaks of the Pyrenees mountains, the only desert in Europe: the Bardenas, and vibrant cities like San Sebastian, Biarritz, Bayonne, Pamplona, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Bilbao, offering interesting architecture. The Basque people enjoy a great standard of living and lucky for me as a food lover, after New York and Tokyo, San Sebastian has the highest gastronomy level in the world.
The Basques are very proud and despite me being a Dutch outsider (not even speaking the languages French, Spanish or Basque) I feel really welcome and supported with the work that I make of the Basque country. Without that support, it would have been hard to grow further in my journey, I am sure.
8. How do you decide about new projects?
So far I have initiated all my own projects. I make what i like, and present this to the public. Limited edition big prints in museum quality are offered at the exhibitions, or like with my coming book, I work together with the publisher. I am really not the kind of photographer to hire for events, weddings, portraits, fashion modelling, pregnancy and newborns… I did some promotional work once for a famous historic patisserie in Biarritz, delivered photos for publications and recently did the coverphoto for a book about the Secret Basque Country. Another plan for a new book with the publisher, next year, has already come up, but this is still in an early stage.
9. You seem to be very straight and focused. Which message would you like to tell the people who`ll read this interview?
I’d like to do that with a lyric from a Prince song:
“The sun will shine upon you one day, if you keep always walking your way”
10. Final Question: This project is called "Vision and life". What do the terms "vision" and "life" mean for you, Wilco?
My life had many unexpected turns. From a young age on I was already independant. At the age of 16, I was a school drop out, and worked my way up in a supermarket for 6 years to the level of manager. But I stopped that to study Human Resources. I enjoyed my student life to the fullest for 5 years before graduating. I could not find suitable work after graduation, so i did various simple works until I found a position as a Human Resource consultant. After 13 years I lost this job. And another. And a third one. Things were not going well and it became clear to me that I was not to continue in this. I realized I had been in persuit of a life that others would approve of, instead of being happy with it myself. This also included my relationship which ended.
Finally, I had to make a drastic decision into a new direction, to vitalize my life again. I found this direction in photography and travel to the Basque country. Today it is my own vision, in connection with my creativity, that gives my life satisfaction, even though I have lost the standard of living that I had. Instead, I gained freedom and my authenticity. I feel free now to do what I want. I create photography art with my own vision. A different vision, unusual maybe even sometimes, but not without the beauty I see around me. This is best illustrated in my urbex photos of abandoned beauty in decaying lost places. They can be considered as metaphors for my own life: If something is lost, that also creates opportunity for capturing new beauty. All that is needed for that, is just a different vision to see it.