Jan Janssen has become a frequent contributor and winner of online photography contests. His work strikes an emotional chord with the viewers, and it’s very evident that he is really invested into his subjects and cares about his projects and the people in them.
This rare trait makes for some of the most memorable photographs. Today Jan shares his story with photography, a little bit about his work and his tips for aspiring photographers. The featured project in this article is “Proud for One Second”.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey with photography.
My name is Jan Janssen, born and raised in a small village in the south of the Netherlands. My passion for photography began in my early years when I was already interested in the rest of the world.
I started visiting other countries for holidays, and at that time, I took pictures to make memories. Being away from home, I just took pictures and had to deal with post-processing later.
I developed my technical photographic skills journey after journey and my images became better and better.
How did you get from being an aspiring photographer to actually doing it full time, for a living?
In the past, I was working on assignments for companies, weddings and individuals. At one point I started to dislike these assignments since they took a lot of my time. My own ideas and creativity about photography came in second place, and I didn’t want that.
I was scared for losing my passion for photography and that made me decide to quit on the assignments.
Along with my photography company, I own another company and therefore I still had an income, so taking that step was not a very hard thing to do. Since then, I only shoot what I want to shoot, and it had a positive influence on my creativity.
How important is formal training for a photographer and how do you educate yourself to take better pictures?
Having education is always important, no matter what you’re planning to do or want to become. I was gifted with an eye for composition, light and details. I took evening classes, master classes and private classes for both technical knowledge and post-processing. It’s also good to be in a group of people with the same passion, so your work can be judged and critiqued.
What’s your philosophy in regards to your work?
Take photos with your heart and feelings. If I shoot something or someone somewhere, I’ll do that because I truly want to. I want to be with those people, in that place to tell that story.
You can come far with discipline and technical knowledge, but with your feelings you can take it to the next level. Often you see that in my images.
Among your projects, which series or a single photograph is your favourite? What’s the story behind the project or photograph?
That is a difficult question for a sentimentalist like me. Right know, my series “Proud for One Second” is a favorite.
It tells the story of the Batwa Pygmies, one of the oldest people of Uganda. The Batwa are evicted from their ancestral land in the effort to protect the mountain gorillas and their habitat, with no compensation.
It has been over 20 years now and the government still is not helping these people, while tourism for the gorillas is booming.
What are some of the themes you explore in your works that are personally very close to you?
During my childhood, I experienced some hard knocks myself. I know how it is, struggling with your daily life trying to get back on your feet, so my work is often about willpower.
“How deep is the mud? Depends on who you ask. We all go through the same stuff differently.”
What are some of the things you hope your audience will take away from your works?
I alway hope my images will create some awareness for the viewer, an awareness to respect others and give others more attention. It’s a cliché, but all changes start small. These days the world lacks respect and compassion. If my images make people think about other people’s lives and have more compassion, I’d be glad.
“Before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes.”
What is your favourite part about being a photographer?
The conversations I have with other people as a human being when I’m traveling in other countries. For example conversations about daily life, lifestyle habits and cultural and economic differences.
Who were your biggest influences, where do you seek inspiration and what are some things inspiring your work right now?
French photographer Olivier Fölmi was an enormous inspiration to capture people’s lives. And I love the work of Sebastiao Salgado.
My inspiration comes from subjects that touch me. Mostly it’s the elderly, the difference between rich and poor and injustice.
What motivates you to continue taking pictures economically, intellectually and emotionally?
More so emotionally. I always try to emotionally connect to the person or family I’m working with. I feel their pain or loss, and there have been times when tears were rolling down my face while I was taking pictures.
Sometimes it happens afterwards, when I’m alone and reality hits me in the face. This dedication costs a lot of energy, but it shows in my work.
Would you say photography is more liberating or restrictive than other art forms? Do you pursue other artforms?
To me it is more liberating because photograpy, the way I see it, is a realistic reproduction of time.
I don’t pursue other artforms.
What do you consider your biggest success in your career so far?
A few years ago I launched my photobook “The Himalaya, my home”, which shows the hard life in the HImalayas and the beauty of it. It was the crown on 10 years of traveling through the Himalayas. The book was awarded several times with international awards, and got me a Lucie Nomination in 2014.
What makes a memorable photograph, in your opinion?
A memorable photograph for me is a photograph that everybody seems to know, for example Nick Ut’s picture with the napalm girl during the Vietnam War, Steve McCurry’s Afghan girl with the green eyes and Thomas Franklins Raising the Flag at Ground Zero.
It is always a picture with high journalistic value, a picture that tells history.
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
Working on assignment or for yourself, it doesn’t matter. If you have the ambition and the passion to make it, just have faith in yourself.
Having faith might help give your pictures that little extra that makes them pop. It’s not easy, but it is possible!
Could you share with us one of your favorite editing tools or tips?
Every picture needs some post-processing, certainly when you’re shooting in RAW. For most of my post-processing, I work in Lightroom, and sometimes in Photoshop.
In Lightroom, I use the standard tools like exposure, contrast, saturation, whites and blacks.
Gradient filter, radial tool and brush tool to make local adjustments. I edit one picture at a time, since they a need individual attention.
I always want to get my images as right as possible in-camera. To me, that’s very important.
It simply means more time shooting out there and less time behind my computer editing.
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