It all started when my uncle Henk gave me a Kodak Brownie when I was eight years old. Shortly after I was taking my first school potraits. I was extremely disappointed when uncle Henk showed me how to develop negatives. After a lot of fumbling around in the dark they were merely negatives and I still couldn’t see what was on the photos! But a reason for me to continue with photography was the series “ Luipaard op schoot ” by Armand and Michaela Dennis. I loved this so much that I went to the national park “de Hoge Veluwe” with Gert Suers to try making photos of deer with my Brownie.
After several tries I succeeded. Throughout my entire time at school, I’ve always been busy with photography. After a lot of birthdays and saving I could finally afford my second camera. A Nedinsco Primo. A camera made in Venlo.
When I finished my school at 17, I started as an intern with photographer Jan de Kreuk, where I could develop and print in the dark room. Jan de Kreuk was the press photographer of the “Arnhemse Courant” (a local newspaper) and had Joost van der Zeyden working for him, whom I would meet again later at the end of my story. After a while I was also allowed to take photos of various local events, one of the highlights being the train crash at Westervoort in 1964. Unfortunately I had to join the army. I’ve tried everything to get out of it, but it was inevitable.
Even during that time I photographed a lot, but not as an official photographer. For that you needed the diploma “Fotovakschool” (the official photo school), but I was never interested. The course was very theoretical back then. With calculating lenses and making your own film gelatine, things you could buy pre-made everywhere.
I made many portraits of my buddies in the army, and enlarged them at home in my dark room on a sturdy size of 50x60. Usually I took the worst shot and presented it to my victim. I asked him if he would buy it for 25 guilders and if he refused, I would tear the photo apart, causing all the others to buy the photos immediately! During this period I also made many photographs of different beat-bands, such as the Moans, Just we, Cuby and the Blizzards etc.
After my time in the army (21 months) I went to the “Landbouw Hogeschool” (agricultural university) as a photographer (lab assistant) at the department “Virologie”. There, I printed photos made with an electron microscope on behalf of scientific research. This was a very interesting period. Here, I came in contact with the scientific world and with people who I’ll would remember for the rest of my life. The photography however, was not that interesting. After seeing the movie Blow Up, I knew that I had to take a different route. My father was sick of my negativism and urged me to take part in a photo competition of Europhot, an umbrella organisation of European photo clubs. Surprisingly, I won the first prize. It was an internship in the south of France at the Fondation Maeght. This is where all the winners of the different countries came together and were taught by famous photographers, including a young Oliviero Toscani.
Through Europhot I came in contact with photographer Franz Lazi from Stuttgart. He made photos in the studio I was jealous of. Fortunately, I was allowed to work for him and making just enough money to pay for my stay in Stuttgart. In his studio I’ve had a fantastic time. This was a photographer who’s work I really admired. Since Franz Lazi was very famous in his time, he was invited by the American photo union to give a lecture in New York. I pestered him so much that he finally agreed to take me to New York.. When we arrived in NYC, I put up a note at the Hilton asking for work in an American photo studio. I got several responses and one of them was the studio of Morton Handler in Springfield Massachusetts. He offered me house and boarding and he could arrange for my immigration papers , which was a big problem even in 1969. After approx. 5 months I had my official green card, meaning I was a full proof American with all civil rights, except for being eligible for politics and the presidency.
With my green card in my pocket, I left for New York City.
I tried to become assistant to many famous photographers. I had job interviews with Phillipe Halsman, Hiro, Irving Penn , and Richard Avedon. But I couldn’t work for any of them. It was only until I reached the R in the Yellow pages, that I found the possibility to become the assistant of Alberto Rizzo.
A ballet dancer from Rome who became a fashion photographer. He made stunningly elegant photos for fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
I was very impressed by how he composed the photos, or even better, constructed them so they were not dependable of the subject to give the photo it’s strength like with press- or documentary photography. In my eyes he was a true artist with the Italian elegance of Brancusi and Modigliani.
Above all he was a hearty person, who even cooked for my parents spaghetti when they came to visit me. In that time Alberto had two assistants, Takoa Kojima and me. (photo)
Alberto Rizzo won all advertising prizes, including the one of the prestigious Art Directors Club of New York. I lived in Brooklyn Heights then, an environment that strongly resembles Amsterdam. Thanks to a lot of financial support by Robbert van der Plas, a friend from Arnhem.
Alberto allowed me to use the studio and so I was able to make portraits of Lou Reed and his Velvet Underground, with whom I became friends with in the pub Maxis Kansas City. I also went with them to their shows and for the recording of their LP “Loaded” in Atlantic studio’s.
My photos are still on their LP.
A year later I received a Phone call from fellow photographer of Harpers Bazaar, Bill King.
This was a completely different fashion photographer. He was literally the man from Antonioni’s film Blow Up. He had a empty studio on Broadway with merely a fruit basket on the set. We, as assistants, had to position the models on a white background.
Then he would let the models, often stars like Bob Hope, Tiny Tim, Laura Hutton, Barbra Streisand and Isabella Rosselini, wait fifteen minutes for the photographer. He would hide in a small office and at some point, come out jumping and screaming and take hundreds of shots within a few minutes. This caused him to capture everybody on film laughing with great spontaneity, unheard of in that time.
Bill King made a breakthrough in photography. He created speed and spontaneity in the fashion- and advertising photography. As an assistant I went to Londen (The ”Go Between” with Julie Christie) and Paris (Collections Vogue) with him, where I was in charge of the whole set-up and test shoots. Unfortunately Bill King was, mildly put, a difficult person. And after some time I started “working for myself”. Every now and then I got small assignments from advertising agencies. But with my contacts at Bazaar and Bea Feitler (a genious art-director) who took over the visual editorial office from Alexey Brodovitch, I was allowed to make a shot for Bazaar for the product page of fake flowers.
I was so incredibly happy I could be part of the visual “avant-gardistic” Bazaar, which I thought was absolutely the beating heart of the creative world in that time. It was a milestone for me. Barely 2 years in the States and a picture in Bazaar!
After this success I was overpowered by homesickness. In addition, my financial position became more awkward. I had some small jobs every once in a while, but the lack of money became chronic. Also, as an “Alien” I couldn’t get a “ household-loan ”. And photography with a studio is an expensive matter! Slowly I saw everything falling apart. On top of that, I could hardly master my longing for Holland and my “own” people. I felt the need to politely say “U” (you) and to finally play billiards with 3 balls again. And to speak without talking about dollars for once (back then the dollar was 3.60 Dutch guilder). So I returned to Arnhem in 1971, completely lost.
Back in Holland I dragged my portfolio to every magazine and advertising agency, but nobody was impressed by Harpers Bazaar. Let alone by my small contribution that was published. I came in contact with the Arnhem advertising agency Hoenke & Strijder ( HS & partners.).
They suggested I should run the photo studio. I’ve been with HS for approx. 2 years, and photographed a lot for their client Siemens. Many electronics and household machines, but again freedom called.
With HS as a regular costumer I began working for myself again. The relationship lasted a couple of months and then there was a discussion about money. I thanked them and went on by myself.
One of my first freelance assignments was for “Vorsten Vandaag”. They had noticed that I had American experience and knew my way around NYC. They heard that queen Juliana often flew to NY to visit her daughter Christina. But nobody answered if they asked for the reason with the RVD. But if they requested information at the RVD nobody would give them any answer or explanation.
That’s why they asked me to have a look for a salary of 10.000 guilders all-in. But should there be any trouble, they didn’t know me!
When I arrived in NY, I rented an apartment with my American assistant Dave Pruitt across the building where Christina lived. We kept an eye on the entrance with radio’s and binoculars day and night. And at some point, Christina came outside with a young, Latin-looking man. We kept shooting pictures of the situation and immediately afterwards I called Holland to ask if Christina possibly cut her hair and walked around without glasses. This happened to be the case, so we could report: Ladies and Gentlemen; We got her! This all sounds pretty simple, but it was quite a challenge.
The photos we made turned out to be a hit.
On the pictures you can see Christina putting a ring on Jorge Guillermo’s finger in public. I think she suspected there were photographers around. Her bodyguard kept coming out with a different jacket and wig. Dave said : ” We put him out of business!” We also took photos on the street, by lying underneath parked cars. And followed her with a taxi, just like in the movies. This was particularly difficult, even though you pay the taxi double rate, you lose your target very quickly. The police also came by at night, and we had to stand up against the wall with legs spread and guns pointing at us. People had seen us and thought it suspicious that there were foreigners with radio’s and binoculars in an empty apartment. After explaining to the cops that there was a princess in the opposite building, and after seeing it for themselves through our tele-lenses, it was fine and we could continue.
It was such a big success that the German magazine Stern asked me to shoot a dying Onassis in Paris. I refused. The paparazzi work is quite satisfying and very much fun to do. In the case of Christina, I had no objections at all, since the royal house refused to give any information about what was going on. However, they did commute back and forth with the government plane!
Afterwards I heard that the famous paparazzo photographer Ron Galilea also went after the couple, but came back empty handed because he simply rang the doorbell! Back in Holland the newspaper “de Telegraaf” dedicated an entire front-page to the news of the engagement, and even “Tros Aktua” came to my house for an interview.
But it didn’t do much good for my studio. One client, namely Van Leeuwen Buizen, was such a big fan of the Royals that he refused to continue working with me.
Fortunately art director Derek Akers from Roomer & Venema, later to be Westerlaak, in Utrecht gave me the first automobile assignment. A photo calendar for Volkswagen.
I had never photographed cars before, and soon realised it was a completely different ballgame. Cars are relatively plump and difficult to manipulate. (Transport-location-police- permits- lighting - etc.)
For seven years I made photo calendars for VW. In America people said: “If you are talking advertising, you are talking soap- and cars!” I soon found out that wasn’t a lie.
After Volkswagen, other brands followed. Not only for calendars but certainly for advertising, folders, posters etc. At the Volkswagen factories in Wolfsburg I saw that they photographed the cars in a specially adapted studio. A room without corners and seems, and no horizon. A studio like an empty eggshell, eliminating interfering reflections in the car paint. I immediately had one recreated in my studio in Arnhem. I was the first in Holland with an egg-studio
Things were going uphill from here. I shot up to three brands a day and made a million guilders a year. The car world kept surprising me. In Wolfsburg alone 5000 cars were made a day! GM makes 11 million cars a year. For the western people their first expense is food, then residence, and on third place the car. When I was shooting the new Golf my employer said: Aber Henri, Dass is das Brot und Butter von das Deutsche Volk! ( It means everything to the German people) Mitsubishi sent me to Japan to shoot a black and white picture of a new model.
The transport of the car took 2 months and would be too late for the advertising campaign in Holland. A big campaign in Holland costs at least a couple of hundred thousand, so the budget of the photo’s were quite irrelevant.
All these developments induced me to look for an agent /representative. First with an agent in London (Toay, McAfee), later with Frans Kuipers in my service. Unfortunately we got into a disagreement that had to be judged in court. Justice works in mysterious ways.
As far as cars were concerned, my studio became a concept in Holland. I photographed almost every brand. Highlights from that time are the campaigns for Mercedes which won several prizes of the Dutch Art Directors Club.
My name also travelled abroad. Through Alfa Romeo Amsterdam I heard that people in Milan were looking for a photographer. I presented my portfolio and was booked for 5 days. Travelling expenses, hotel and stay were 100% compensated. I stayed there for 40 booked days and met my Italian wife Luciana. In Italy more and more customers came in , so I thought it was wise to start a branch. I already had an apartment , a coc/vat number, a bank, an accountant and an agent. (Photogroup). Then my Dutch accountant (KPMG) advised me to go to a notary on the Scala square, and within 20 minutes and a few autographs I had 4000 guilders less. I never knew that the notary business could be that lucrative!
I did a lot of work for Renault in rented studios in Milan. Italy is the second country for Renault, after France of course, resulting in the fact that they wanted to do their own advertising and photography, and refused to accept “adaptation” campaigns from the home country. Fortunately, my agent had excellent contacts, so I sometimes stayed in Milan for weeks on end. In the meantime I had mastered the language and could interact with the locals. In Holland the studio kept running, so it cut both ways.
Through Ciné-team I also made several TV-commercials of cars. First as lighting-camera man and later as a director. It’s a completely different ballgame.
A movie you make together with people and a big crew. It’s a storytelling medium that goes very swiftly. We photographers can easily take a day on just one photo, while movie makers can shoot up to 20 scenes in one day. It all goes a lot faster and keeps everything in context. But the result on the TV is also gone 60 seconds. How many times I’ve been called by my wife: “Here it comes!” and I would come running out of the kitchen with wet hands but missed it already! That doesn’t happen with photos. You can take your time looking at them. I also got the impression hat the movie business was one big serpents nest. Photography is that too, but I could recognise the poisonous examples.
During my internship at Europhot in the south of France, Allan Porter (a guru!) said: “Film is literature, photography is painting”. Or better, filming is writing and photography is drawing. Looking back I could get into that statement.
Mercedes-Alfa-Peugeot-Leyland-VW-Iveco-Fiat-Volvo-Chrysler all of them came by in Milan. It was a huge advantage to say you were from Amsterdam, the extra budget costs were accepted immediately. If I was asked where I lived exactly, I said I lived precisely one hour away from the centre of Amsterdam. Nobody heard of the provincial city of Arnhem. The assignments kept getting bigger and more important. For the VW campaign I even got the prize “Leone d’or “ of the art-directors club in Milan.
One of the most fun assignments was going straight through Europe with a trailer packed with cars for Opel Frankfort. For six weeks we toured around with the crew and had a fantastic time. Another highlight was a campaign for Fiat Nederland. After an extensive search for a location, we still couldn’t figure it out. The idea was to have a infinite road and shoot a sunset in between two driving Fiats. Eventually the solution was that we constructed a piece of asphalt on the island Argentario at Porto Ercole, so it looked like a road with the setting sun right in the middle. The result was very satisfying. (see back stage Fiat Tempra in Sienna )
But it wasn’t always easy getting everything done and within budgets in Italy. Weather, light, and lunch circumstances were difficult, and everybody would drop what they were doing and dive into the nearest restaurant for a royal 3 or 4 course lunch with wine and grappa. I have tried many times to satisfy the crew with a few sandwiches but I never really succeeded. That was difficult calculating.
We also needed good weather conditions. We hung around a hotel close to the location once, shooting for Mercedes. We bonded so well with the hotel owner that my appreciated colleagues Bert Beens and Willem Franken cooked nasi for the guests out of boredom. Than the weather would come around and the costumer (Mercedes) came to pick up the car for a test drive. Customer is king, but in this way they were becoming very expensive photos. With repercussions for that expensive Dutch photographer.
But in general the people from the Italian agencies were very reasonable and amiable, and gave you all the space you needed for good initiatives that offered good results. Only the financial aspects of working in Italy caused a great deal of worries. Firstly a global indication of the costs are made and an OK is given. Then the job is executed and an official quotation is made. It is then processed in the administration, after which an “ordine” is received and an invoice is drawn up. Only until after the invoice with date is handed in, a 100 banking day’s wait is required for the transfer. The whole thing takes about half, up to a whole year. But I have always had my money without problems. I also had my agent, who saved me a lot of administrative hassle. We also worked with advances because the ongoing costs of a shoot were always around 1000 guilders per day. (assistants, hotel and travelling expenses, location- manager, film and processing, stay etc.)
One of the most luxurious assignments was the photography for a European introduction campaign of the Lancia Kappa for Turin. At the same time, a TV commercial with Harrison Ford was shot, and so we were all placed in a 5 star hotel in Paris. On top of that, taxis drove us from set to set at the Seine. The food was also extremely good. The Italian crew consisted of about 15 men and I was there with 4. But we made beautiful pictures thanks to an amazing “Willink-like” light fall.
In 1998 the computer really started to bother me. Before that time my expertise for capturing a beautiful light fall was one of my selling points, but now it all became something different. I said to a young art-director: “Don’t you think we should do something about that?” and he answered: “We’ll do that later in the post production.” Or the background of the shot was kind of dirty, and again: “We’ll fix it in the post” That was the beginning of my decline.
Before that time I absolutely hated computers. I always thought that a pencil and eraser got you a long way, but now some brat was showing me the facts! Of course computers already existed, and I sat behind the “Harry” in astonishment, and later behind the “Henry” at Sovereign or Capi-lux to do image- corrections. But practising my profession abroad now put me in direct contact with the electrical phenomenon! Out of envy I immediately got one of those machines at home, and I’ve been addicted and in live with it ever since. It’s remarkable to see what happened in audio-land with sounds and sound carriers, was slowly but surely also happening in photography.
All of this had a great influence on my metier.
It was no longer necessary for the client to hire an expensive, headstrong foreigner for a perfect result, when they could come a long way with the locals and fix up all the imperfections in postproduction. The computer caused a shoot to be less risky. Of course my arrogance and age also played a part in the fact that I got less assignments. The art-directors also kept getting younger. My already deceased cousin used to say: If doctors get young you should watch out!
This was also true for advertising photography. For a moment I thought that there was a need for an old man who had seen it all, but even that turned out to be a miscalculation. Do you still shoot on film? But isn’t that so last century? The studio, with everything included, was based on 100 shooting days per year. But if you only get 20 it’s hard to keep your head above water. This period took 2 to 3 years. Every time I was hoping that everything would be all right. Also Gazelle came by and I made 2 catalogues of bikes together with an agency from Arnhem. There were a significant amount of similarities to the car business. Sometimes the bikes would be standing in our office, still wet from the paint. They’re tricky objects to photograph. You look right through them, since there’s hardly any body to them. We shot the bikes on film and then scanned and retouched them. Unfortunately, also this client completely switched to digital and I wasn’t set up for that.
Via via ( Toon Möller) I heard the people at the archives in Arnhem needed a photographer.
After an interview it appeared I was to take Joost van der Zeydens place as photographer. That same Joost who was the assistant of press-photographer Jan de Kreuk in the sixties. They also wanted to go as digital as possible, in connection with the future and the new media.
I grabbed this opportunity with both hands.
This gave me the time to break down and sell my studio at my own pace, and the work at the archives wasn’t nearly as dusty as it appeared. It’s remarkable how the history of a city comes alive at a later stage, especially for a true “Arnhemmer” who returned from the big metropolis feeling homesick.
In between the thousands of negatives I picked out a portrait of my late father that I had made myself in the sixties. What a coincidence! Furthermore, the photography of a city consist a great deal of a sort of presswork, which I started doing with Jan de Kreuk, and was easy for me because of my experience. The people at the archives also strongly remind me of the kind scientists of the laboratory in Wageningen. It looks as if I’ll be working at the Gelders Archief until I retire, and all this archives-work inspired me to make my own contribution and write down my story.
After my retirement I have continued working for the archive as a freelancer. This was a pleasant collaboration which lasted for two years. After the completion of certain projects, the use of a photographer was no longer needed. After ± 40 years being a photographer my interests moved towards travelling and visiting other countries.
Together with my wife Luciana we have explored many African and Asian countries including in particular Iran which was one of the most positive experiences I had. Occasionally I am still being called upon my experiences with car photography however in general the computer and CGI imaging took over my profession. Something that I very much regret since it was an amazing time.
Arnhem, January 2017