OBSERVING LIFE UNFOLDING
IN CONVERSATION WITH PEPIJN THIJSSE
Pepijn Thijsse was born in The Netherlands but grew up in Australia, calling the sunshine city of Brisbane home. Though at the time of this interview, Pepijn was overseas having what he calls a one year 'mid-career' break wanting to focus on travel and photography. A well seasoned traveler from a young age, photography has always gone hand in hand with his travelling. For Pepijn, street photography gives him the chance to capture what he is thinking and seeing, particularly combining cultural elements and the human condition. He thinks of himself as an inquisitive soul and likes to explore and observe. Capturing society in all it's curious forms is a life-long project but Pepijn is looking forward to evolve into more specific short term projects in the future.
"I’m also fascinated by this ridiculously diverse planet we live on, which means I like too many types of photography, from insect macro to sweeping landscapes and of course, my favourite, street photography."
When did you start getting interested in photography?
Actually from quite a young age while my parents took me and my sister (11 and 9 years old) travelling around the world for a year in the late 1980s. I really was an explorer back then and wanted to capture what I saw but at that age in those days, getting a camera wasn't as easy as now. When I was 17, I bought a used Canon film camera with macro filters and was blown away by the insect world I found in the backyard (I still love macro). I took the camera on some solo trips in my early 20s and became obsessed with capturing "cultural life" in foreign countries, which is pretty close to street photography.
What is your favourite quote that resonates with you the best?
That's a good question and I can't think of a quote off the top off my head so had to do some digging...all I came up with is Monty Python's tune of "always look on the bright side of life" - this is because I inevitably tend to drift toward the negative (perhaps reflected in my photography) and I must always remind myself to step back and take a balanced view.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Bit cliche but the world itself in all its bizarre and spectacularly diverse aspects is my inspiration. This is the reason I struggle to settle on one style of photography and end up dabbling in many - macro, landscape, nature, street, abstract, love them all.
Who are your favourite artists/photographers? Who has mostly influenced your style?
Very difficult question because if I'm honest I can barely name any of the 'great' photographers (a disgrace I know) except one that I like a lot, Fan Ho. In terms of artists, Rembrandt's use of light is amazing, those paintings seen in the flesh really do beggar belief - true mastery.
In terms of influence, again I can't actually name them (forgotten) but I was heavily influenced by a bunch of mostly amateur street/documentary photographers I discovered on Flickr around 2015. After searching, I know one is Sohail Karmani (think he's a professional). More recently, Instagram is so full of talent it's almost overwhelming - I need to ignore it sometimes so I can focus!
Has your style of shooting changed since you first started?
It has since it's covered quite a span of years and genres but when I think about it, fundamentally it remains quite similar in terms of the scenes I look for and the process. However, now I go out with particular images in mind or spend quite some time at a scene, previously it was far more random.
Where is your favourite place to shoot?
Anywhere I haven't been before, especially if it's culturally distinct from what I'm used to or seen before. That immediately gives me energy, motivation, and joy. I guess it takes me back to that 'exploratory' side I had as a kid; obviously something that remains to this day and hopefully until my last. Favourite places so far - the older suburbs of Istanbul, Egypt, Italy and Ukraine.
Do you think equipment is important in achieving your vision in your photography? What would you say to someone just starting out?
Depends on what your vision is but generally I would say no equipment barely matters.... to an extent haha. I think it does play a role in my street photography because I like to shoot in very low light and sometimes with a very shallow depth of field. Here equipment does start to make a difference especially if you (like me) review your photos over-critically on a large screen. I cannot do what I do with a smartphone, I can recall just a few keepers from my phone.
For someone just starting out, grab the camera and kit zoom lens you can easily afford and that 'feels right' in the hand (size, ergonomics) and spend a while shooting with that until you find the focal length you seem to prefer. Then maybe buy a prime lens, I'm a big fan of primes as they really help hone your compositional skills, a critical element of any good photo. Any camera made in the last 10 years is highly capable and likely beyond the technical requirements for street. And watch YouTube tutorials, in moderation!
What characteristics do you think you need to become a photographer? What’s your tips or advice for someone in your genre?
I think patience and commitment is central. Taking great photos (the output), like anything, requires a level of effort (input), a process of learning as well as a lot of trial and error. I think it's proportional, if you really commit and put in the miles you will see results. Understanding of gear plays a far, far smaller role.
My advice is to try allocate a minimum amount of time per week to go out and shoot, irrespective of weather etc. In fact my experience is that it's the times I thought weren't worth going out for (e.g. raining) that yielded the best results. Maybe each time choose a theme like "get a close up of someone in a window" so you can concentrate. And spend some (lesser) time learning from others through YouTube etc, there is so much useful material out there it's ridiculous.
Have you ever been involved in the artistic world before photography?
I have because my mum is an artist (painter) and so growing up art was always in the family. I think other forms of art are definitely worth looking at in terms of what they might offer your photography, particularly in the use colour and composition.
Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
Unfortunately there isn't a grand plan or indeed much structure to my photography so no projects as such, other than the broadest ongoing project of capturing life in all it's bizarre forms as I see it.
If I wasn't photographing what would I be doing?...
Mountain biking most likely.