Brasser vs Berends



4 minutes reading

Fons Brasser, originally a graphic artist, was the first Dutch exponent of new-documentary photography in the 1980s. Frits Berends boasts a long list of work for international magazines and brands. A talk between two different photographers who also have things in common.

Fons Brasser and Frits Berends never met before. Nevertheless they have an opinion about each others work. Fons, for instance, starts about the American landscape photography Frits made. All places where he would like to have been. It is the empty space in the image that he finds appealing. Conversely, Frits recognises a draughtsman’s hand in the work of Fons, an almost graphic style that is both abstract and aesthetic. Photos that compel the viewer to look for the history behind them. “Having an instinct for things that are passing”, he says himself.

Starting out
Fons: “In 1983 I really started to approach photography thematically. Thanks to Berlin. That city has been very important to me. The artist Armando escorted me through the city in the era of the Iron Curtain. There was the so-called Geisterbahn, the unused underground system below Berlin. Fifty-six S-Bahn stations were shut down. Completely deserted. That intrigued me so much, that I photographed every single one of them with my old Nikkormat.”

Frits: “Wonderful. I also started out with a Nikon, a 1.2, which I borrowed from a fashion photographer where I worked as an assistant. I photographed friends and family and sweated hours away in the darkroom. I learned a lot in six months and then I started in advertising photography. With a complete crew to the Bahamas to immortalise the magic moments of life for a cigarette brand. Now I do alot of editorial work, but I also enjoy the desolate places of this world. Quietly taking my time for the moment, as I did in Patagonia recently.”

Fons: “I just got back from the Crimean in the Ukraine. Magnificent low light they have over there. Actually I get quite excited at such moments. But the magic only lasts five minutes.”

Fons: “The best for me is to get on the road with as little stuff as possible and just keep looking sharply. I am terribly impatient, too much equipment only distracts me.”

Frits: “And limiting and restricting yourself also helps you concentrate. That’s invaluable for a personal style. I used to think that a flash or bigger lens were essential for a good photo, but it’s really about looking. But the camera is also hard to resist. It often happens that I am very excited about what I see, but at the same afraid that the moment will be gone.”

Fons: “Exactly. I usually photograph stationary subjects, but getting the place and timing right is always a matter of seconds.”

Frits: “I am truly convinced that a photographer can only make ten good photos in a lifetime.”

Fons: “Often I work a whole week on a certain photo, only to be disappointed with the result. Where as the photo that was made thoughtlessly is often alright. ‘Strive for the unreachable’ Armando would say.”

Fons: “A full day’s work. On Cyprus, my appointment with the United Nations to visit the corridorbetween the Turkish and Greek Cypriots was cancelled. As a consolation, they allowed me to photographthe deserted airport of Nicosia. Sheer luck. Really everything was deserted, from the arrivalterminal to the traffic control tower. Incredible. I also knew about the hangar full of old Citroens that hadarrived by plane in 1974. When the political trouble started, those hangars were put under seal. Youcouldn’t get to them anymore. A couple of years before I saw on German television how a camera crew did go in. I was really envious.”

Frits: “And you have to create assignments for yourself. It’s so interesting to document buildings orpeople. I like that better than the conceptual art for art’s sake. For the Man Magazine, which no longerexists, I travelled across America for three weeks to make the series In the footsteps of Jack Garrick. You should always expect the unexpected.”

Frits: “Recently I was browsing through some artist studios in the south of France when I suddenly sawsome ceramics by Picasso. At such moments I simply want to have it all. I did collect some photography,though, especially musicians and street scenes in black-and-white.”

Fons: “The only standard for art is greediness. Still I always end up buying the more sombre images, they really appeal to me. It can also works against you sometimes. When you’re standing behind the camera yourself, the first thing you see is your collection of images, which makes it difficult to try something new.”

Frits: “I want to stay committed to things I believe in. Not overlaboured, which I admittedly did in the past. You get the best result when you leave things out.”

Fons: “Absolutely. Restrained photography!”

Frits: “That’s how I would like to finish. Photos that leave out everything unnecessary with only one thing remaining that contains everything. Like the legendary Swiss photographer Robert Frank whose poeticimages always seem to explain something.”

Fons: “I put a lot of work into that. Getting closer to my subject, always filtering out visual noise and trying to create a self-contained image. The job never ceases to amaze me, don’t you agree?”