All images and text by Pieter Symon. Used with permission.
I was attending the Louvre Museum party of France president elect Emmanuel Macron. It was a great evening and I tried to catch the spirit. The story I try to tell with these pictures is the story of mainly young French people, celebrating that Emmanuel Macron has been chosen president. Attending the event, people cheering and singing along with the national anthem, waving French and European flags, this felt like the celebration of a great victory, of a revolution. Against the background of the Louvre Museum, some of my shots make me think of this painting of French symbol Marianne (see here). That feeling, that is what I tried to capture.
A short comment on gear here: For this project I really had to push my camera to its limits. Actually, shooting at night in combination with a lot of movement, my current camera is not sufficient. But, since I am on a budget, if try to make the best out of it. I still feel it is possible to tell this project’s story, even with the imperfections in the results. I used the Olympus OMD EM1, together with the legacy Olympus Zuiko 50mm 1.8 and the contemporary Olympus Zuiko 25mm 1.8.
Photography to me is a hobby that evolved into a passion. I bought my first ‘workable’ camera, an Olympus PEN EP1, in 2010 for the purpose of documenting my holiday travels around the globe. Since then I’ve been learning how to deal with photography mostly by trial and error, but also by reading websites and blogs like yours. I have never taken a photography course or something.
Soon I began to collect the Olympus Zuiko OM lenses, which I can use with an adapter on the M4/3 format. Of those I most frequently use the 50mm 1.8 and the 35mm 2.8. In the summer of 2015 I bought the Olympus OM-D EM10 (first generation). At the end of 2015 I added both the Olympus 25mm 1.8 and Sigma 60mm and 19mm 2.8 DN.
Although I bought my camera to document travelling, I slowly started to shoot more at home as well, doing some land-, cityscapes and whatever came in front of my camera. Photography during my trips became more and more focussed on portraying my travel mates in an exotic environment (Recently China, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Ukraine and Iran) and the people we meet on the road, than just making travel snapshots.
Last year I was asked to shoot a fashion week, something I never did before. Fashion has always intrigued me: I’ve got the books of Helmut Newton on my coffee table, he’s a true inspiration.. So is Juergen Teller. I gladly accepted and challenged myself to deliver as good as possible, but still staying close to what I like. After some online study and practice at home I found myself up to it and went along with the fashion editor to Berlin to shoot runway, backstage and street style at the Berlin Alternative Fashion Week. Especially backstage, where I could really use all the experience I had built up so far, was awesome.
That fashion experience on its behalve has really influenced my other work. For example, I nowadays shoot way more in portrait mode, I dare more to instruct ‘models’, and I would use the streets as a runway. First I was a witness; through fashion photography I became more of an creator, like a movie director. First my emphasis was on the environment, i.e. land- or cityscape, with the person in it of secondary importance. My fashion photography experience shifted that emphasis from environment to the person.
Although I feel that I am getting better by the day, there’s still so much to improve. I am a hobbyist, not aiming to go professional.
When I am shooting, in general, I am looking for a certain moment that I want to freeze; I am looking for something unique, something that is not common. I know what it is when I see it, it’s hard to explain. But what I do know, is that I want to ‘facilitate’ that moment. Therefore, I find perspective and lines very important. Most of the time, I shoot in black and white; it allows me to focus on lines in the electronic viewfinder. Subsequently, I move around the subject until the perspective and lines are pleasing. I don’t believe in straight horizons; again, for me nowadays the context is slave to the portrayal of the subject.
As soon as I figured out the perspective of the context, the subject itself gets attention. If I cannot communicate with it, I wait for a moment that the subject does what I am hoping for. Sometimes such moment doesn’t appear, that’s too bad. Where I can direct, I would ask the model to move in such way that it complements the context. But here’s a danger: There are a lot of people who are camera shy. Directing such person will not deliver what I am looking for; They feel unconfident, which leads to non-genuine behaviour. Therefore I will mostly only direct models, for all the others I am fatalistic instead of proactive.
I feel that the interaction between subject and context delivers a certain synergie. That’s what I am aiming for. The quest for that, that unique combination, is what drives me. This is why I don’t like to shoot models in a studio; the context is too boring.. That interaction, between subject and context, is more important to me than the interaction between me and the model.
I don’t do photoshop, besides light and colour adjustments, retouch is as far as go. When I import files, first I apply a preset. I crop, straighten (or the opposite) and white balance the picture. I challenge myself to make better, timeless colour pictures, which I find so much harder than B&W pics. If colour doesn’t work, I go for B&W. Going to B&W feels therefore a bit of a failure, which is of course a stupid thought; B&W is amazing as well, I love it, but still: A great colour picture does more to me than a B&W one.
I am sure that Photoshop would improve my output, but I just don’t want to spend more time behind a computer.