All images and words by Joris Hermans. Used with permission.
I’m Joris Hermans, a documentary and portrait photographer based in Belgium. I started studying photography in Antwerp more than ten years ago and graduated in 2009. Ever since, I’ve been combining personal and freelance work while trying to travel as much as I could. I’ve won several awards among which a Nikon Press Photo Award in my country last year.
Because travel was always the main motivator for my photography and because I was yearning for something different, my girlfriend and I decided to leave our home behind and travel for an indefinite period of time. We set off in February this year in India and document everything on a website we’ve created: theworldaheadofus.com. We don’t travel to see tourist attractions but to meet people and experience different cultures.
Ever since I started shooting, I only have been using primes. My first professional cameras were the Canon 5D series. When I bought the Mark 3, I used a Sigma 35mm 1.4 A for almost all my assignments and personal work switching to a 85mm for portraits.
In 2016, after long consideration, I decided to make the switch to medium format and bought a Pentax 645z after I sold all my Canon gear. I’ve had a few reasons why I did this. Now, I’m sitting here close to the Thai-Malaysian border writing this with my Pentax + 55mm on the night table. I use this combination 99% of the time even though I brought a second hand 35 and 75mm.
Since I started the website I’ve got some comments on my gear. People say it’s not suitable because a ‘travel camera’ should be light and small. I call BS on that because for me the best travel camera you can buy is the camera you love to shoot with. No matter if it’s a smart phone or an old large format camera.
Why did you get into photography?
Honestly, it was me not knowing what to do with my life after getting a degree in Computer Science. A friend of mine went to the same school to study photography and I found it ‘interesting’. I never touched a camera before my first class.
What photographers are your biggest influences?
While in school, my main influence was Gregory Crewdson. After I graduated my interest shifted to large format photographers like Alec Soth and Joel Sternfeld.
How long have you been shooting?
Since 2009 when I started studying photography.
Why is photography and shooting so important to you?
For me, photography means traveling and traveling means photographing. It’s what I love doing. Traveling enriches my photography and photographing during my travels enriches my experience. It’s also about meeting the people and cultures I photograph.
Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why?
In the first place probably a documenter but I thing every photographer is a creator too. When you frame a photo you’re creating something that you want to show the viewer. By cutting out parts or taking a particular angle you can change that reality and that’s OK depending on why or for whom you’re shooting.
What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?
Most of the time there’s nothing going particular going through my mind. I don’t have that tells me I’m going to shoot. I’m traveling and the camera is always with me. I’m an observer, though, more than ‘normal’ people and some scenes or surroundings trigger me to take the camera out. I might keep it out for a while when I feel things could get interesting. Light decides a lot.
Want to walk us through your processing techniques?
When I’m traveling there’s not a whole lot that I do. I think I spend an average of 1 minute to process. I know how I like the colors and contrast and that’s basically it. Editing and picking the right shots takes a lot more time.
Tell us about the project that you’re pitching, or your portfolio.
We set off to travel for an indefinite period of time and document everything on a website. The focus lies on photography, of course, because we’ve seen so many travel websites that just show selfies and beach shots in stead of people and cultures. Traveling and travel photography websites are popular but most of them don’t focus on good photography. I don’t show selfies or take a million pictures of tourist attraction. What you see and read on our website is different. I show with my pictures what I see during my travels, not what people necessarily want to see…
What made you want to get into your genre?
The love for traveling, meeting people and experiencing cultures.
Tell us a bit about the gear that you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision.
It was difficult to make the switch to medium format because I had to sell all the gear that I owned but now I couldn’t be happier with that decision. I feel like I’m a medium format shooter if anything like that even exists. I love the aspect ratio and the look of the images. While other medium format cameras would not be suitable for me, the Pentax 645z is perfect because it handles like a full frame DSLR. It suits my style.
What motivates you to shoot?
Traveling motivates me the most and when I’m traveling it’s often the light that makes me take out my camera.