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21 May 2007

The Thing With Assistants

Above is me with Mikiko, curator and artistic director of "European Eyes on Japan." Her email about preparations for my project stated: “We are organizing your assistants, maybe six different ones and probably all young girls."

Well, I had no problem with six different assistants and I had no problem at all with young girls.

The only thing with young assistants (boys or girls) is that they tend to try too hard to succeed and are very afraid to fail. This makes them very vulnerable and insecure individuals, and in that condition of no use to me at all. Just imagine yourself being approached by a stranger -- a foreigner -- who is going to ask to take your picture inside your very own house... ? If I'm honest, I don't think I let the guy in myself. It would take a very confident person to have any chance of success at all.

Before I decided to become a photographer professionally, I was afraid to lose my hobby; the joy of simply making photographs. I told myself that that would not happen if I kept an eye on that. The only true way to become a professional photographer at that time was to get a job as an assistant photographer. This was very difficult. There were not that many professional photographers around in Holland and totally not outside of Amsterdam. Assistants were standing in line to get a job.

I was very lucky to get a job within no time and find myself in a situation that was beyond my imagination. It was completely different from what I expected. Away went my ideas of the future. At the same time I had to pay great attention to what was going on because it was all new to me.

Before I knew it, I was in the same line of work as these photographers and far away from my ideal: to become a true independent and well-respected photographer. All I knew from that moment on was the struggle to get work and to survive. The ideal life of the independent photographer whose work is respected by the audience was not in sight anymore. It took me ten years to realize that, and I weathered a big financial disaster during which my two daughters were born to make me change my direction, and try to go back to my first ideal. You can compare this with swimming against the stream of the river. It is extremely difficult and can only be done by not letting your mind get distracted from the other side that you want to reach.

I want everyone involved to have the same experience of enjoying what they're doing up to the highest possible standard. That is the only thing that I demand of my so-called assistants. Because they are no assistants of course; they are my keys to the houses of the people I want to photograph. I believe that only when both of us are really enjoying the hunt, we can succeed. It's called teamwork.


Anonymous said...

Hi! This is Mikiko.
I am enjoying your blog everyday and it brings me back to wonderful memory with you!!
I didn't remember this photograph, you and me. ..anyway I like it!
It is interesting for me to see your snap shot in black and white...and I looked again your Domestic Landscape took in Japan.

Bert Teunissen said...

Ciao bella! Good to hear from you. Yes the memories. They all come back, especially because of the diaries. Nobody can take them away from us. In the mean time it has become a very nice way of life and I'm enjoying it every day. Talk soon, Bert