Fighter for the small

Wendy Meijerink and Chantal Overgaauw

December 11, 2018

"A brightening magenta heart of what appears to be a flower. I focus on the hindquarters of a green aphid, left on the flower." Is this the description of an attractive image? No, isn't it? The cliché has once again been proven: a picture says more than a thousand words.

Above, I made an attempt to describe the beautiful macro photo that appears at the top of this blog. That is impossible, because just explain the soul of the picture. Besides, it is different for everyone. But that it is a beautiful photo is beyond dispute, right?


The photo is by Astrid den Haan, a very talented, self-taught photographer whom I visited. Photography, that's my thing. I studied it at art school, but it was never my profession. I lacked the technical knowledge and nowadays you are a photographer if you know how to squeeze beautiful pictures out of your phone. You either have to have a good name or equivalent network, or balls, perseverance, your own signature and wonderful imagination to make money from it.


No filter


Astrid has all the latter and more. She is strictly no-filter. You are presented with what she sees. Without embellishment, raw as it is. Astrid captures the small, inconspicuous, obvious everyday things. The pigeons and the jackdaws on the street, the decay of nooks and crannies. The rich life of your backyard. You walk past it every day, but you don't see it. Astrid shows that the obvious is fantastic and her images make me wonder: what if it were no longer there, would it be noticed?


In the cosy living room, cum domain for cats with a stitch loose, Astrid explains why she started photographing. "I used to paint all the time. That was my way of expressing myself. When my body no longer allowed that, I started looking for another outlet. That became photography. I had no idea if it would turn out to be anything." "Well, as far as I'm concerned it's a match made in heaven," I tell her. She blushes. Still her body lets her down from time to time. But then she fights for what makes her happy. Imagining the small.


This is what talent looks like


"Everything I know about photography and lighting, I taught myself. It was easy: I only had to see it once and I knew how to do it." She talks about it as if the switch was a breeze. I can't imagine that. After all, switching from painting to photography is a big change in viewing. From capturing what's in your head, to capturing things happening in front of your eyes. From directing, to chaos. From creating an image from within, to being guided by what happens outside your sphere of influence. "Funny," she says, "I had never looked at it that way before!"


Moments later, she shows me a selection of her images. They are breathtakingly intimate. From colourful macro photography of tiny critters and other organisms, she zooms out through forgotten streets in soft shades of grey, to a rawer reality: beggars on the streets. The high-contrast, dark images show homeless people begging for money, literally presenting themselves at their humblest among indifferent, shoppers. It is a reality that is too confrontational and I am ashamed of it. There is beauty in ugliness too.

Back to basics?


In this sniffing phase in search of the job that suits me, I have sometimes wondered if perhaps I should go back to my roots: photography. After meeting Astrid and seeing her work, I know I shouldn't. This is what fluid talent looks like. Talent meets world. That's not me in this field. Does that hurt me? No. My studies have given me my way of looking at the world. That has brought me a lot. I will also always be a viewer.


In my head, I have an album of pretty pictures. With random street scenes, beautiful travel photos, images made by others, images of beauty. It also includes pictures of Astrid. (I hope I don't get a hassle with copy right.) The photos I never took are the most beautiful. I will never be able to depict them, but that's okay. I cherish them in my mind. Artists like Astrid I need in order to indulge in beauty. A strong need, because the world is getting uglier and uglier. Keep surprising me Astrid!




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