Greetings everyone! After a long hiatus, TIA International Photography is excited to recommence the Feature Photographer interview series with Richard Heersmink, a remarkable photographer currently based in my favorite city for photography — Sydney, Australia!
Before we get into the heart of interview, I always enjoy the opportunity to say a few words about the featured photographer so we can establish a familiarity for the authentic personality and character of the individual. (It’s also a sophisticated way for me to provide the accolades of admiration I have for the individual in a very tactful yet entertaining manner).
Richard doesn’t realize that his photographs were a major source of inspiration when I started planning my trip to Australia in the summer of 2013. (That would be summer in Seattle, and winter in Sydney). I was searching for images of Sydney on Flickr, and I came across his images and started to follow his photostream regularly. Richard’s portfolio of Sydney is a superb, eclectic collection of different types of photography, including cityscapes, street photography, architecture, and abstract imagery, just to name a few themes. What I love most about Richard’s work is that I felt I got to know Sydney from the eyes of someone who not only lives in the city, but has taken the time and effort to explore it, and get to know its quirks as well as its charms. His photos are compelling and atypical in perspective. I felt that I was truly getting to know the personality of this city I had been wanting to visit all my life through Richard’s images. He has a classy, personal style of transforming Sydney’s skyline and most notable landmarks, such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, into contemporary and post-modern works of art. Additionally, he has a way of capturing people in everyday situations on the streets of Sydney that I find quite engrossing. My words are not really doing justice to what I’m trying to describe because one truly needs to view his images to get the idea of what I’m trying to express.
Aside from being a photographer and explorer (not just of Sydney, but many cities around the world), Richard recently earned is Doctorate of Philosophy from Macquarie University, so we can actually address him as “Dr. Heersmink”! As you can imagine, this fellow is studious, hardworking, and very intellectual. Nevertheless, given his significant accomplishments in academia, Richard is one of the most down-to-earth individuals I have had the good fortune to meet. He is very humble and lacks any air of egotism. I could not foresee that when I initially contacted him via Flickr about his recommendations for vantages to photograph cityscapes of Sydney that we would inevitably meet in person and become friends. When I told him I would be in Sydney in December 2013 / January 2014, he and his wife kindly offered to meet me at Milsons Point Station adjacent to the Harbour Bridge for what turned out to be a very enjoyable evening photo shoot and an entertaining exchange of our multicultural travel experiences well into the night. It was so much fun!
I sincerely wish Richard the best with his academic and professional endeavors. His images of Sydney opened my eyes to the city in a most insightful way that I had not anticipated when I visited. I also look forward to all his future photographic work!
Alright, let’s get to the interview!
NAME: Richard Heersmink
CITY & COUNTRY OF RESIDENCE: Sydney, Australia
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: www.exograms.com
FLICKR WEBSITE: www.flickr.com/photos/exograms
ADDITIONAL WEBSITE: www.500px.com/exograms
TIA: Richard! I’m so happy that we’re finally able to do this interview. The world needs to know more about your photography and your style of executing so many magnificent images. Let’s please start with your favorite subject matters to capture on camera!
Richard: I typically photograph aspects of human culture, either human-made structures such as artifacts, buildings, and skylines or people in urban settings, so I mainly do cityscapes and street photography. When I began experimenting with DSLR photography, I also tried landscapes and macro photography, but that died out. A lot of my photos are taken at night. For some reason, the world just looks more interesting when it’s dark. A skyline, for example, might seem ordinary during the day, but photograph it during the night and it becomes much more interesting. I particularly prefer the blue hour, when there is still natural light but also artificial light. The combination of different kinds of light make photos taken during the blue hour aesthetically very appealing. Throw in some depth of field, an interesting subject, and you have all the ingredients for a great shot.
TIA: I actually share your perspective about photographing the world at night. The beauty cast upon a city skyline after the sun sets is nothing short of magical. I suppose we’re night-mongers when it comes to cityscapes! Please tell me about some of your favorite locations that you have been able to photograph.
Richard: I grew up in the Netherlands but moved to Sydney four years ago. While living in Sydney, I bought my first serious cameras, beginning with a Panasonic Lumix LX5, followed by a Canon 650D, and recently I bought a Canon 6D. Most of my photography skills have been developed in Sydney, so it’s my first love, so to speak. I’ve spent so many hours in Sydney taking photographs of people and buildings that I somehow feel I owe Sydney. It’s also very conducive to urban photography. There are famous architectural structures such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, a decent skyline, and there is always some kind of festival going on. Importantly, it is almost always sunny, even in winter, which is just brilliant. Other locations I enjoy shooting are in Southeast Asia. As a backpacker, I’ve been there twice and it has everything a photographer can wish for: big cities, desolate villages, tropical islands, temples, markets, and indigenous cultures.
TIA: You’re speaking a language I thoroughly understand! I felt quite fortunate to visit Singapore and Kuala Lumpur before I traveled to Sydney last December. I’m so crazy about your night cityscape of KL that I’m going to post it as part of our interview for our audience. KL is quite underrated as a travel destination and images like this may change people’s minds so they will consider KL as another cosmopolitan city to explore in their international travel plans! Speaking of which, are there any cities you would like to add to your portfolio in the future?
Richard: On top of my list of locations to photograph and document are modern metropolises such as New York City, Chicago, Shanghai, Dubai, Tokyo, and other major cities in Asia. I’m moving back to the Netherlands soon, which means I’ll first do a stopover in Hong Kong. Then, I’ll visit some of the historical cities in Europe such as Paris, Berlin, and Prague, but after that, the plan is to do a major trip either to the metropolises in North America or East Asia.
TIA: Wow! You’ve mentioned some names that would get any cityscape or urban photographer excited! When this interview is over, I’ll go back to my office and be pleasantly envious of your travel plans. I look forward to seeing what you will capture. Alright, Dr. Heersmink, how did you discover your passion for photography? Please share the origin of your art!
Richard: When I was a kid, my brother lived in Canada for a while and when he came back he had some black and white photographs of Toronto’s skyline. I had one of those in a nice frame in my bedroom for years and I remember it fascinated me deeply. Many years later, I went to New York City and borrowed my parents’ point-and-shoot. The very first picture I took is of New York City’s skyline with a flock of birds flying through the frame, taken from within a bus. I accidentally took a great shot and I think in hindsight that that moment really sparked my interest in photography.
TIA: Isn’t that something? I always find stories like that to be intriguing. An accidental image you took in New York generated your passion in photography and, in a way, led us to cross paths in Sydney many years later, and now you’re a Feature Photographer on TIA’s blog! Let’s see. I know you enjoy cityscape photography. Do you have a preference for cityscapes, travel, or street photography?
Richard: That’s hard to say. These are indeed the three major categories of photography I prefer, but I cannot say I prefer one above the other. It depends on my mood, I suppose. Also, I like to think of cityscapes and street photography as complementary parts of a larger category of urban photography.
TIA: I see what you mean. Well, let’s delve into this topic more. Personally, I am enticed by your street photography. You have a way of capturing very memorable, candid images of people in your street images in and around Sydney. Have you always been comfortable taking photos of people in public? I have not yet been able to master this skill, and I admire photographers who have the knack to do this so seamlessly.
Richard: Somewhat paradoxically for a street photographer, I am actually not very comfortable taking pictures of people. Some people use a wide-angle lens and get very close to their subjects. I could never do that. When you look closely, you’ll see that my street photographs are rarely close-ups of people, but mostly silhouettes, shadows, or unusual configurations of people. Also, people are rarely recognisable in my photos and this might sound pretentious, but that is for moral reasons. I know this is strange to say for a street photographer because it isn’t seen as part of street photography’s ethos. I suppose most street photographers think that artistic values overrule moral values like privacy, but I’m not sure I agree. I think you always have to respect people’s autonomy and privacy.
TIA: I wholeheartedly respect your point of view about this. In this day and age, where anyone with a cell phone inadvertently also has a camera, showing respect for another’s privacy, especially someone you do not know, demonstrates tact and courtesy. I often wonder how I would feel if I was searching the internet about a topic and, by chance, came across a picture of myself driving my car or riding the subway, or walking down the street. Personally, I would feel a bit unnerved, but I realize street photographers walk a fine line in this regard.
Richard, tell me something. You have a doctorate’s degree. How were you able to manage your time between studying and creating photographs? I imagine it must have been difficult.
Richard: Doing a PhD is hard work and requires making long hours, but I always made the time to do photography. A big advantage of doing a PhD is that you have flexible hours. It doesn’t really matter when and where you do the work as long as you meet the deadlines. This means that I would sometimes take the morning off from work and take photos. But then I would work till late in the evening to make up for the “lost” time. My PhD was in philosophy, which can be quite abstract. Photography is very much something that takes your mind away from abstract thinking. I mean, when you’re in the “flow of photographing” you don’t really think about anything else. This aspect of photography helped me finish my dissertation.
Below is one of Richard’s personal, all-time favorite photographs:
TIA: I remember this image well when you first posted it on Flickr. It had a wonderful reception by many members. Such a candid moment and a human experience that I feel most viewers can relate to instantly. I can already identify many of the traits you described about how you execute your brand of street photography in this image. Please tell me why this is one of your ultimate favorites in your collection. What is the story behind it?
Richard: This photo was taken in Sydney’s central business district on a summer day. I mostly just walk around and wait for an interesting scene to unfold, but in this photo, I had the background framed because I knew it would make an interesting silhouette and waited for something to happen. After 10 minutes or so, this father and his daughter walked into the frame and I took the shot. I like how it is open to many interpretations. Some of them have been pointed out to me in the comments section on Flickr. It might represent the struggle between parents and their kids, but interestingly, at the same time, the silhouette of the father pulling his daughter’s arm has the shape of a heart. Another interpretation is that the father and daughter are keen to obey the rules, while there is also a man jaywalking, so it might be seen as a juxtaposition between rule-followers and rule-breakers. Viewers may also relate to the girl’s impatience because in Sydney, as in most cities I guess, one has to wait just a little bit too long for the light to turn green.
TIA: I’m chuckling about this because I do remember that particular nuance when waiting to cross the streets in Sydney’s city centre. The crosslight seems to wait 10 to 15 seconds too long. I also recall hearing other people, who must have been visitors like myself, mumbling about why the light took so long to change. Those who were residents, or just didn’t care, ignored the crosslight and didn’t wait. They just crossed, as one could interpret of the jaywalker in your photo above. This also reminds me briefly of my stay in San Diego where I experienced my very first earthquake for 45 seconds. 5.7 magnitude on the Richter scale. Another nuance became apparent. You could tell who was from California and who was not in the earthquake’s aftermath as Californians were quite calm, sitting, chatting, and still drinking their wine in the hotel’s lobby. People from out of state were quite frantic and asking if we needed to evacuate. Yes, I was one of those people.
Let’s change gears and talk about what frustrates you the most about photography, or what you believe are its biggest challenges.
Richard: Usually, it takes a fair bit of time to get to a location, set up your gear, and take photos from different angles and with different lighting conditions. Often, there is only one or two photos that are keepers. I find it difficult to keep motivating myself to spend so many hours when the result is often just one photo. With cityscapes, you usually have at least a few keepers, but with street photography you can spend hours on the streets without a single interesting shot. Some photographers see the hunt as part of the purpose of photography and I can definitely relate to that, but it’s still frustrating to come home with only mediocre shots.
TIA: Like other photographers I have interviewed in the past, you continue to underscore and emphasize what we go through and experience to get “the shot”. It is time-consuming and can sometimes be painstakingly grueling, even more so when you’re traveling abroad and doing photography in a location where you have only a limited amount of time or are unfamiliar because you’ve never been there before. So much planning. It’s not easy. Even when you and I met in Sydney, we had to plan in advance and make adjustments given our schedules. We actually met on the day before I departed back to the States. Do you have a favorite photographer? Who?
Richard: Most of the photographers I admire I encounter via Flickr. Examples include, in no specific order: Black Station, Navid Baraty, Tom Ryaboi, Mike Orso, Martin Dietrich, Jon Siegel, Ronnie Yip, and many others. I’m also a big fan of National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry.
TIA: What inspires your photography, Richard?
Richard: Human culture.
TIA: Is there anything else you would like to mention that we have not covered?
Richard: One of the many things I like about photography is that it invites you to look at the world differently, to explore relations between elements in your perceptual field, and to explore details of things you would have otherwise never seen. Like philosophy, photographic exploration changes how one sees the world. I love that.
TIA: Thanks for providing this perspective, Richard, and again, for taking the time to do this interview. Wishing you the best, and hoping our paths will cross again in person in the future.