Singapore-based Dutch artist Marcel Heijnen sees beauty in walls. This visual artist tells Travel 3Sixty° about his latest series of photographs titled Residue, which uses a clever technique to capture images of buildings and the textural beauty of otherwise ordinary walls.
Words: Chitra Santhinathan
ARE YOU A PHOTOGRAPHER OR AN ARTIST?
Artist, as I feel my work sits slightly outside the photography realm. My method is fairly unconventional and the results look more like paintings than photographs.
IS PHOTOGRAPHY A HOBBY OR A PASSION?
It’s definitely a passion, a calling, even. Creating a visual expression of how I feel about life and the world around us is something that I’ve always wanted to do. But, it wasn’t until I took a sabbatical from my day job as a graphic designer that I found my ‘thing’.
HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU FIRST PICKED UP A CAMERA?
I had a very simple camera when I was about 12, a bulky plastic Kodak that shot on square format film rolls. Very rudimentary but I was completely absorbed when using it. I got myself a SLR at 18 and that’s when I first began shooting wall textures. But even before I got my own camera, I was fascinated by photography, and would often play around with my dad’s Yashica rangefinder.
HOW DID YOU PERFECT YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY SKILLS?
My dad had a dark room in our basement and that’s where I first learned about developing photographs. My graphic design background also helped in terms of conceptualising and composing the images as did photography workshops, which helped improve my skill. I’m also inspired by other photographers and artists – my favourite photographers being Michael Wolf and Edward Burtynsky, who work with urbanisation and our environment, and artists Christo and Jan Dibbets, whose images strike a perfect balance between photography and painting/drawing.
WHAT INSPIRED RESIDUE?
It was inspired by the realisation that everything, even the seemingly most stable objects in our lives, for example, buildings, are ultimately impermanent. It’s called Residue because I focus on the remnants and traces of the organic process that is always, albeit quietly, at work to balance out what we are doing as human beings. There is beauty in this process and also in the realisation of impermanence, which really leads to awareness of how precious our time here really is.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT WALLS THAT INTERESTS YOU?
I’ve been photographing walls for decades, even before the Residue series. Walls are built by human beings to separate things. But, separation is an illusion. Nature is always at work to break down our efforts to divide. Nature creates beautiful organic patterns and textures on walls and I’ve always been drawn to that.
HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHICH WALL WOULD MAKE A GOOD SUBJECT?
For Residue, I looked for walls with texture that exhibited depth. This helps when the reflection of the buildings merges with the textured details to create beautiful imagery.
DESCRIBE THE TECHNIQUE YOU USED TO CAPTURE THE IMAGES IN RESIDUE.
I use a large, clear glass panel that I place in front of weathered walls, wait for the right light and capture the reflections of nearby buildings so they blend with the wall texture, without using Photoshop or double exposure to achieve the desired effect.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT USING PHOTOSHOP ON IMAGES?
I’ve nothing against it in principle and do sometimes use it. But for the Residue series, an essential aspect of creating original images was to let chance play its role. I find it important to let chaos and coincidence participate in the creative process, which can’t be captured as well by using a computer and Photoshop.
CAN ANYONE WITH AN INTEREST IN PHOTOGRAPHY PICK UP A CAMERA AND START SHOOTING?
For sure, and everyone does, these days. We’re bombarded with visual images all the time which is exciting but causes saturation and makes us yearn for more ‘excitement’. We’re not easily impressed because we see so much, and yet, there will always be something about still images that is special. The challenge is to stand out and create something memorable that originates from your unique perspective. One thing I have learned is that one or two unrelated great photos alone is not impressive but, when it becomes a series – with a consistent and tight narrative – then you’ve got something appealing.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR ASPIRING PHOTOGRAPHERS?
Experiment, challenge yourself, and find mentors or peers that can challenge you. Think in terms of stories that you’d like to tell. Keep trying until you find your voice and then work on it some more. The keyword should be ‘craft’.
MARCEL’S TIPS FOR GREAT PICTURES
- Choose a subject matter that tells a story.
- Work with the right light.
- Consider all aspects of the image – the background can be just as important as the foreground.
Works from the Residue series will be exhibited at Artistry, 17 Jalan Pinang, Singapore until January 19, 2014. Marcel’s work is also featured in his book Residue, published by Asia One and available in Kinokuniya Books and Amazon.