Everything in Black & White – An Exclusive Interview with fine-art photographer Joel Tjintjelaar
Joel is an award-winning photographer based in the Netherlands and we are privileged to have an interview with him. Some straight questions and some crooked, but none to shake his photographic spirit. Joel opens up his pandora and you will be amazed to know how he creates such stunning pictures through his vision. Joel is one of the very few people to have set a benchmark with his work. We are glad to bring his aspirations and thoughts to you through this interview, everything in black & white !
Gaurav : Long exposure B&W is a totally off-beat stream to venture into, very few would dare to attempt and make it successful. I am sure there must be a lot of trial and error before freezing the style that you have developed. Is your style frozen now or is it still evolving ?
Joel : If you look at the popularity of Long exposure B&W photography these days then it’s not a very unusual thing to do, but yes, long exposure B&W was only performed by a handful of artists in 2009 when I started with B&W long exposure. There wasn’t that much trial and error when picking up long exposure photography, it’s actually quite simple, but of course it evolved over time. But there was much more trial and error developing a style in B&W that I was happy with. The technique of B&W post processing is pretty much consolidated now, there won’t be many changes anymore, but applying the technique to a specific photo in a specific style is something that will always evolve. Because every photograph needs to be approached in a very specific way, depending your artistic intention.
Gaurav : There is something peculiar about light in your pictures that make very simple compositions stand out strongly. What is that one spice in your recipe ?
Joel : I think that thing that is peculiar in my photographs is the combination of selective contrast and the so-called ‘creating presence’.
Selective contrast: I designate a specific part in my image to have the highest contrast so the eye will be drawn to the area. This means that other areas in my images will need to have a lower contrast or no contrast and my processing is targeted at ‘muting’ those areas that shouldn’t draw the observer’s attention. It also means that the area with the highest contrast will have a high intensity of light value, bordering to tonal zone 10. But only for a very small percentage.
And furthermore I try to create depth in my image by altering tonal relationships to give an object the illusion of depth. I call it ‘creating presence’ in my philosophy of B&W photography in the digital age.
Gaurav : Every picture of yours seems to be a well thought of creation. We would like to know what goes into the conceptualizing process of every frame you decide to create ?
Joel : Yes every image I create is more often the result of premeditated preparations and less of chance. I focus on architectural objects not to show an architectural image only but because they are the perfect object matter for what I want to express. I try to create images with an emotional intention and content, using objects that match and symbolise my intention. The architectural objects I use (I refer to them as ‘object matter’) are not random, they always enhance the intention of the photograph (referred to by me as subject matter) and they also enhance the aesthetics of the photograph. Object matter (the symbiotic relationship of light and object in a photo within a composition) dominates and determines the aesthetics in a photograph, light determines the mood in a photograph to a large extent and is a result of my intention. And with light I also mean absence of light or shadows. So you see? My images are mostly an attempt to communicate an emotion (my intention) through a deliteralization of the objects in my photograph, and it happens to be that architectural objects are the ideal objects to communicate my emotions in an aesthetic way. And the interaction between strong light and shadows in my photographs to enhance the mood or emotion, are another common feature in my photographs. This is the concept behind all my photographs. Whenever I go out shooting I’m looking for objects and situations that symbolize my mood and my sense of aesthetics, if it’s not there, I won’t shoot it. And if it’s there I will come home with mostly 2 sometimes 3 shots of that object and I will spend sometimes 100 hours to post process it to black and white. Sometimes just 20 to 30 hours but very rarely less than that.
Gaurav : Your Indian followers would like to know what inspired you when you started learning photography ? How did you stumble upon buying a camera and what happened when you realized you wanted to keep playing with the camera forever ?
Joel : To be honest, I don’t know anymore. I’ve always been interested in the more artistic side of life. Over the years I wanted to be a film maker, a photographer, a dancer, a singer, a writer, an architect, a painter and at some point I got back at wanting to be a photographer since 2001 when I bought my first digital camera that made things so much easier compared to the analog cameras I had before then. In 2006 I had my first digital SLR and that’s when it really started to get serious with photography. But I can’t say it was a specific photograph or moment that inspired me to be a photographer, it’s just that I always wanted to create. Something.
Gaurav : You have designed tutorials of your style, What are the ways to access your tutorials back from India ?
Joel : That’s very easy: all of my tutorials, free tutorials and also the paid video tutorials and book, can be obtained via my website. Just have a look at the tutorials section for free tutorials or at the products section on my website for the tutorials you can purchase.
Gaurav : After so many international awards, what is the next quest for Joe. What is it that you feel is still left undone. What is your burning desire that is still giving you sleepless nights.
Joel : I don’t seek any international awards anymore. To put it bluntly: I don’t care anymore about that. I only care for creating the images that I love and believe in. My wish right now is that I can create photographs that evoke some emotion within the viewer and that my images can make the viewer see something they didn’t know or feel before. Furthermore I’m working on a theory on B&W fine art photography that you may call my personal manifesto, I hope that when I publish this, people can find inspiration and guidance in this theoretical essay.
Gaurav : Can you give some insights on iSGM2.0 ? We would be very pleased to know if that is some kind of a magic wand that will transfer our images and make them look like yours .. Unless you spill the beans 🙂
Joel : Yes I can and no this is certainly not a magic wand. But it all comes down to the following: every photograph, whether they’re color or B&W, only consists of two things: shapes and light. If you leave aside the colors, the composition, the theme, the patterns and contrasts, then the most rudimentary level of a photograph is one of light and shapes. If you know this then how can you completely control a photograph? By controlling light and shapes. Then you can ask yourself: how can you control light and shapes? By isolating light and shapes. Then the following question would be: how can you isolate light and shapes? By visually identifying shapes and create hard selections and by automatically identifying light and create luminosity masks for all the intensities of light in a photograph. So now I can completely isolate shapes and light, then how does this bring me a good B&W photograph? The answer is: since now I am not dependent of the original color information anymore, for the creation of B&W photographs, I can make any B&W image I want because I control everything in a photograph on its most fundamental level: that of light and shapes. Plugins like Silver Efex Pro or Topaz or software like Lightroom or Photoshop have B&W conversion features that are not based on light or shapes but only on the original color information. With the method I’ve developed I can do whatever I want with a photograph in the post-processing phase, simply because I control it on the most elementary level of light and shapes. This is what iSGM does. Controlling shapes with hard selections, controlling light with luminosity masks and use the gradient tool, almost exclusively, to subtly and precisely blend or insert, the gray value of my choosing, in selective, carefully chosen, parts of the image, controlled by the hard selections or luminosity masks. And that all regardless of the original color in the image. The method of iSGM is nothing more than a very accurate and subtle way to obtain ultimate creative freedom in B&W post processing. No holds barred.
Gaurav : What is that one thing you recommend / advise to aspiring photographers who look up to you for motivation ? For all those who are in awe of your pictures ?
Joel : I would advise to learn from people you admire. Learn from them personally and try emulating them. Because that’s the easiest way to learn. But always be aware that when you’re emulating them, it’s for the purpose of learning: it’s not your own voice. Your own voice is always more authentic, more personal, more inspiring and more beautiful. Always, even if you think it’s less than that. So at some point you need to forget about everything you’ve learned and find your own voice.
But try to make it a meaningful voice, let people find something in your creation they haven’t known or felt before.
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