Vulnerable Talents




4 minutes reading

When you hear, as a young photographer, ‘You’ve got an eye”, and you know the person speaking posesses taste and knowledge, then it just might be that you’ve got it: talent.     

Robert Capa once said something like this about a young Magnum colleague. A sharp eye is indispensable in building a successful career in photography, but that’s not all. Capa was known for his courage that bordered on ‘recklessness’, he lived for photography and had a seductive charm about him. He also had the quality of being the right man, in the right place, at the right time. Now and in the future, the rush of young photographers will also have to possess  this quality of substantial marketing talent; they will have to be business-like and maintain good networks. Your work has to be visible and characteristic enough so that those looking cannot ignore it. This makes for a somewhat split personality; on the one hand photographers need to be socially aware and on the other hand they need to produce work with ‘that’ edge that will make it stand out from the crowd of images that our eyes and minds encounter on a daily basis.  

Drowned in Drugs
Your eye, your talent can show you the way, but you need  two good feet solidly on the ground to walk the road to success. Two great Dutch talents from ten and twenty years ago, were on the road to international success, but ran into problems due to their own psychological vulnerability.  One guy, lets call him Sal, made quite a commotion as an uncompromising portrait photographer, mainly with his  self portraits which bordered on the offensive. His wife, let’s call her Sally, was an intellectual woman with a piercing stare and a big heart. Her technically superior portraits were very popular both locally and internationally in the 90’s. Both of them drowned in the seductive, cruel sea of hard drugs. Their photos, if and when they even took them, lost their power. Their unpredictability cost them important contacts. Sal and Sally are still alive, maybe they will rehabilitate themselves, but a comeback would be too much to expect. 

The fickle nature of talent
Gifted photographers can disappear from view for less dramatic reasons. The Amsterdam photographer Diederik Van der Donk had a natural feeling for composition and a recognizable style. Long before the hype around ‘lomography’ (spontaneous photography with low-tech cameras)  Van der Donk worked in Holland and South America with a camera named after the Goddess of the hunt: The Diana.  The Diana is a toy camera with a plastic lens and light leaks included, for each shot a four by four centimeter piece of film is exposed. This is what Van der Donk used to take powerful, atmospheric photos. In 1991 he was invited to the International exhibition ‘The Fourth Wall’ where photos from renowned photographers were combined with texts from famous writers. In 1996 and 1997 he had solo exhibitions in Gronigen and Amsterdam. At his first show he sold 67 photographs. The second show was at the famous Noorderlichtgalerie. Then, quite suddenly, it was all over. Van der Donk became more and more frustrated with the ways of the art world  and set up a painting and decorating company instead. 

In 1990  ‘Perspektief’, Rotterdam’s centre of photography, introduced the work of Brian Griffin to Holland. A man over 40, his reputation as a photographer was growing and his career had begun to take off. However, outside of Great Britain and France his work was largely unknown. His exhibition and the lecture that he gave to twelve interested viewers made an impression on me and I began to follow his work. Unfortunately for me, Griffin decided to get involved in film projects and commercial work. in the 90’s. Since his retrospective in Iceland in 2005 he started making ‘photos for himself’ again and published a book in which his unruly character is given freedom of expression. Griffin’s autonomous photography has a rare combination of quality and stubborn remorselessness that I find irresistible.  

Personal discovery
before I find an ‘oeuvre’ that fills me with joy instantaneously. Luckily, not so long ago, I accidentally stumbled across a website of a relatively young Dutch photographer.  His enthusiasm for photography in combination with a stringent and sensitive eye makes for beautiful photography. The photographers name is Mischa Keijser, 33 years of age and, I think,  a special talent. In his new book ‘Insomnia’, he combines photos of the Dutch landscape, his wife and child, animals and striking moments.His photos demonstrate intelligence and a great feeling for beauty and surprise. Hopefully Keijser has enough strength of character to remain true to himself and offer us many more beautifully powerful photos. 

This also goes for all the other talent that I didn’t mention in this piece. Apologies, ladies and gentleman keep up the good work and- with a little bit of luck - your pictures will be seen and recognized.

Note: for privacy reasons the names used are fictitious.