Jan Gravekamp is a brilliant architectural photographer with a personal style that is distinctly his own. Like few others, he can provide a human element to buildings and structures. Thanks to Yvette Depaepe for conducting the interview. You will find more photos by the end of the article.
Briefly tell us about yourself, your hobbies and other jobs, Jan.
I was born, raised and still live in The Hague, The Netherlands. I studied Civil Engineering and work in the Oil and Gas sector with an International Offshore Installation Contractor. As a Sr. Project Manager I am responsible for the offshore execution of removal and installation projects. I love to listen to all kind of music, varying from pop to opera and everything in between. I also love to go to concerts when possible and combine the music with photography. I love to read but can’t find the time for some reason. I love sports and in particular cycling on my racing bike on which I commute on a daily basis. As such I have also participated in many long distance races all over Europe.
How has your history and life experiences affected your photography?
My first experience with photography was about 30 years ago. My uncle was photographing and developing his films and photos in his own dark room and I was really fascinated by this. I bought myself a Pentax ME Super camera which I used for several years. Because of various circumstances I stopped shooting but have always had a latent interest for photography. About five years ago I walked into a photo store and purchased myself a digital camera out of the blue. And from that point photography became a passion. Coming from an engineering background I was almost instantly attracted to architectural photography and started shooting architecture. Putting my photos on a photo website/community, I started to learn a lot more about photography and met people with the same interests. I increased my skills by reading articles and analyzing pictures of other photographers.
What first attracted you to photography?
What really attracted me to photography was the possibility that by simply pressing a button you were able to capture something unique which could be seen many times. I was also fascinated by a photo being developed in the dark room.
Can you describe your overall photographic vision.
I don’t really have a photographic vision as such, apart from that, I like to create a photo which is appealing to my eye. That is the most important thing to me. If I like the capture I am satisfied, and if other people like the capture it is even more satisfying. I am still developing myself as a photographer by shooting many different subjects, trying to improve myself in other styles.
Why are you so drawn by architectural photography?
Architectural photography was my first love because I was drawn by the possibility of seeing buildings from a different perspective. I look for a composition where the lines are in harmony and are balanced. I search for a perspective which is possibly different from the architect's perspective.
And……… buildings don’t move!
What is more important to you, the story behind an image or the technical perfection?
It all depends on what I am shooting. If I'm shooting architecture, I am looking for technical perfection from start to finish but, if I'm shooting other kinds of subjects, the story behind the image becomes more important. I am still trying to improve myself a bit more in story telling photography.
What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
Again, this strongly depends on what I am shooting. When shooting architecture I don’t consider myself an observer but more an inspector. I look for the relationship between the environment and the subject or I try to extract the detail out of the subject thus the detail becomes the subject.
What is your most important advice to a beginner in architectural photography and how do you get started?
When photographing architecture I would recommand that people first have a walk around the building looking for nice angles and compositions. Can you make use of reflections? The sky?
Is there symmetry or a-symmetry, lines from corners or diagonals that can be used? Are there street elements as lamp posts that I can use? Can I include a human element in my photo in such a way that the proportions of the building will be clear … How can I make use of the light and shadows? Use google maps in your preparations so you know what time of day you will have the best light. Don’t be afraid of getting dirty by getting on the ground looking for a nice low point of view. But most of all, have fun and enjoy what you are doing.
Who are your favourite photographers and more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
There are many photographers whose work I admire like Stefan Vanfleteren, Henry Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Vivian Maier, Robert Doisneau and a few others. I'm also a big fan of the work by 1x members like Ricky Siegers, Robert, Andre du Plessis and Lara Kantardjian. But regarding architecture photography, I was most inspired by 1x photographers Jef van de Houte and Klaus Peter Kubik (KPK).
Is there is any specific photo taken by another photographer that has inspired you a big deal and why?
I'm inspired by all kind of photos. It is very hard to choose.
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
I would like to increase my skills as a street photographer and would love to do something with portraits. I would also like to start some kind of personal project. If only I had the time…
Describe your favorite photograph taken by you and why it is special to you?
I have several photos which are special to me and it is hard to choose. I have, however, picked this one. Although it is not architecture, there is a connection. I can clearly remember that I got up early on a Sunday morning to go out shooting since fog was predicted. I did not have a clear plan but decided to drive around the city center to see if I could catch some nice moody pictures. The moment I passed this place in The Hague I was immediately caught by the scene. I parked my car, took out my gear and hurried to that location. The fog was fading away because of the sunrise and a lady was passing by. The overall mood of the scene with the modern buildings in construction against the old nostalgic lamps and scenery was awesome and the moment I pressed my button, I knew this was a picture which would be special to me and it still is.
Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
There have been many discussions over the last year because of changes on 1X. However I still feel that the quality of photos on 1X is very high because of the screening process and I still enjoy the pictures which survive screening and are published. What I'd really like to add is a note to all photographers that photography is a very subjective hobby and that we can’t argue about somebody's taste. For that reason we should realize that every capture taken by people is taken because that person was attracted by that particular situation/composition/colours etc. and for that reason we should always respect other people's work.
Like what you are doing, enjoy the shooting and processing … Try to improve your skills.