A Little Glow in the Dark - the Balancing Act

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm always open to meaningful collaborations. Primarily as a photographer of course, but also, in other ways, in projects I simply believe in. For example, for BURN Magazine I designed and built the website, and collaborate closely with David Alan Harvey all the time. I speak to him almost daily as a creative consultant for anything that comes up. We do cool things together. And he's my mentor. Plus, most importantly, we've become great friends in the process. I don't think it's farfetched to say that both David and I are having a noticeable effect on each others' lives, and support each other's careers with great faith. ---

Meet Luc:

Luc Gijbels by Anne Platje

Luc Gijbels by Anne Platje

Luc and I, being business partners and close close friends for over eleven years now, know what it means to collaborate intensely. We've proven ourselves over and over to each other for over a decade. We work together perfectly in the web design company we founded. We know that we can depend on each other, and we know what the other is made of. We trust each other blindly. Maybe most importantly: we can stand each other's presence for 16+ hours a day when the going gets tough :-)

The Story

About a year ago, Luc started talking about a new art project he was shooting and writing, called "A Little Glow in the Dark".

In "A Little Glow in the Dark", Luc tells a story about life lines. He believes that every human being is born naked and slowly builds up what are about 200 meaningful connections with others throughout his life. Everyone has a personal yarn ball that can only unwind, never to be wound up again... thick or thin, short or long, you don't know when it will be over or what you leave behind. And as everyone unwinds, we all become entangled, literally strung together, connected in one way or the other.

In a way, "A Little Glow in the Dark" is a story about relationships. A story about mutual respect. A story about being intimately connected during this singular and spectacular journey we call life. A story about choices and dreams. And a story about what we leave behind when our yarn is unwound... will it all have been worth it?

To make this happen, Luc went to South Africa and re-enacted "life" for seven intense weeks, the decor being the Nyanga Township, several miles of white knitting yarn, and 200 local township kids. He built up meaningful relationships and created art together with them... and he documented the process along the way.

The Collaboration

He came back and showed me the story, his intentions, his aspirations. He showed me the work he had done. I said I'd love to be a part of shaping and bringing this story to life. And given our history together we both knew this could be done.

So I'm joining forces with him yet again... To design and create two books with his work. To talk about the story. To help give back to the local community of Nyanga. Because I deeply believe in him and in the story he wants to tell.

And for some reason, I know the books are gonna be fantastic. I just feel it in my guts. I'm confident the concept is strong and I feel the story needs to be told. I've seen the quality and sheer amount of visuals that he has created. I'm proud to be part of it, and yes, I can't wait to talk about this one over the next coming months....

A Little Glow in the Dark - Luc Gijbels

A Little Glow in the Dark - Luc Gijbels

A Little Glow in the Dark - Luc Gijbels

A Little Glow in the Dark - Luc Gijbels

These are two samples of the images he made. Tiny, little pieces of the puzzle. I promise, you'll soon see the depth and breadth of this project unfold. Once in a while, I'll be talking right here about everything, and of course more regular project updates will be talked about on alittleglowinthedark.com. Luc and I will be designing and producing the books and everything surrounding it, the dummies, the handling, the printing, right here for everyone to see.

Super exciting... :-)

---

The Balancing Act

Of course, my own photography stays on track and (hopefully) continues to grow. For those who've been following, new chapters on Dislocate are being made as we speak, and another deeply moving trip for Heavens is being planned for the fall... Yakuza of course has the solo exhibit in spring 2013, which I'm sketching now, and also Sugar might even have a little surprise in store... more on all this soon.

Over the years I've come to learn that the "natural" rhythm of every single project I'm doing (and every single project that I'm involved in) always seems to be totally unique. for me, the art is to be able to not only find and respect those rhythms, but also to balance them all in the best possible way in the rest of my life, mainly trying not to "urge overkill". In a way, to find projects that naturally fit into my life, as opposed to trying to press(ure) projects into my life, let alone trying to press my life into any project. There are so many wonderful and interesting things to do in a lifetime.

I'm really glad I can balance between Dislocate, A Little Glow in the Dark, BURN Magazine, Yakuza, Heavens, and Sugar. And along the way, in turn, each will get center stage, and hopefully, every time one is finished, another will take over or a new thing will simply appear. In a way I feel that working at this kind of finding and balancing, is key.

Oh, and also: always be prepared to leave behind interesting things that don't work out. Hmmm. Might be interesting to write something about this too...

Stay tuned for more. Really. I have a feeling that Yakuza was just the beginning.

Question: how do you all manage the balancing act of everything interesting going on in your life? Do you let a lot of outside pressure in? What would you define as outside pressure and what not? Would, or should, income and security have a big impact on choices?

Slowly shaping Heavens

The Blank Canvas (comp) - en route to Auschwitz - 2012 That evening, I set out to drive 1.100 kilometres to photograph forty-eight blue skies. I was to be a first grand field test for Heavens.

I've been told that a good visual story is one that leaves sufficient "blanks" so the viewer can fill in and latch on... Not leave too little to the imagination, but also not leave too much; try to make it just right.

In this case, wanting to photograph 1,634 abstract blue skies seemed to be a little over the top: the idea is actually so abstract that it simply leaves everything to the imagination. Even photography itself. I'd be demanding a lot from the viewer. The work becomes a very, very delicate bubble in support of the story, even if it was quite deliberately done that way...

But might it be just too thin? Will it hold? The heaviest of stories paired with the simplest of photographs?

It seems like I might be venturing off into installation territory for this one. Not a bad thing per sé, not bad at all... but quite a break from my previous work, I must confess.

Reducing to the essence... Man, I don't think I've ever reduced anything to this extent.

That's the thought process I'm struggling with now: shaping Heavens into something possible. Because Heavens is me adding my little tiny drop, however small, to never forgetting the Holocaust. Because I believe we should not forget. And I'm scared that we might be. And if an installation turns out to be the best vehicle to bring this message across, well, then...

---

Hmmm... I just realize that the above might sound overly cryptic to everyone - maybe even to me. I guess I should describe the concept behind Heavens pretty soon. And show a photograph too.

First on my to do list. Promise.

 

But now, sun's setting, spring's started, evening's beautiful. Today's given, tomorrow's never promised. Enjoy the now.

a

 

Your life is your preparation | TEDx

Hey. The day before yesterday I had the honor of being one of the speakers at a TEDx conference in my hometown. It was my first time attending TEDx in the flesh, and also my first time up on stage, getting a slot of 18 minutes with nothing else besides an automatic slide show of my images behind me and full house in front of me. Yep, I was nervous. The speakers that hit the stage before me (and after me) inspired me a lot, presented many many great ideas, ways of thinking different or looking at the world in a different way. Indeed, a truly inspiring event. Of course I ended up talking about a million other things than what I had planned for, and could not cover all I wanted to say. A tiny part of me feels I missed a chance there, but the biggest part of me is happy that it went well, that I could hold a creative audience's attention, and that the one point I did manage to make, seemed to come across.

I guess the video of this talk will be online soon, and then I'll add it here for you to see.... Here is the link to the talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y4GCM60Vak and, as a comparison, I thought it might be interesting to share the original intended talk I wrote and practised but was not able to fully "transmit" to the audience, so to speak.

Not that it is that different from what I intended, but it's great fun to see them side by side. In part of course because time ran out much quicker than I imagined - I gotta take that one into account next time, and in part because I forgot a million things standing up there being nervous on stage with nothing but a mic on me. Funny to analyze your own memory in this way, what you remember, what you forget...

So, without further ado, this is the integral text of what is was planning to say...

anton's TEDx talk

[TEDx talk, Feb 4, 2012]

it's 3.30 am.

I'm sitting in the car next so Souichirou, my contact within. I have permission to photograph, and it's my first time on the road with them. He's driving the car with his boss in the back seat, who's asleep. We're on our way to Niigata prison, where two family members are going to be released that morning. Twenty cars driving to welcome their brohers back.

It's almost a 4 hour drive from Tokyo, and along the way Souichirou is explaining to me the finer points of yubitsume, or finger shortening. "you cut off one digit of your little finger yourself," he says "to lend power to the statement you want to make. Most often that statement is an apology. Then, on a white napkin, you offer that finger piece to your boss, begging him to accept it, and your apology with it." I find myself nervously checking if he's missing any digits himself.

He continues "if you fuck up, you will have to apologize." Somehow, looking in his eye, at his hands, I have *no* intention of doubting that.

Turning around towards boss Nitto-san in the back seat, who in the meantime has woken up, I lift my camera to my eye to make an image. But he's looking at me so menacingly, that I simply do not dare. I literally start putting my camera back down. Souichirou, in the driver's seat, in the meantime, is telling me, not being able to speak English, "picture OK, picture OK", making it clear that i should not be afraid.

I lift the camera up again but I'm so nervous that I accidentally press the shutter release button before I can compose the image.

---

That was my first day in the field with the Yakuza, the largest organized crime syndicate in the world.For two years I photographed them. And yes, I had to learn to walk on eggshells. All the time.

To be honest, I have no idea how I pulled it off. It's the single most asked question by friends and strangers alike when they see my book or my images or hear my stories: "how the hell did you pull that off?"

how did you get in? how did you manage to independently publish a book and a magazine? did you design it yourself? how did you attract so much press attention and publications worldwide? how did you pay for all this? there must be some "key" to it, no? do you even speak Japanese?

No, I don't. And no, I didn't know how I had done it. And I got asked these questions so often, that I started to become curious myself, started to think back and see if there was a pattern of sorts. a secret. a key. I mean, I must be doing *something* right. Right?

And I sure would like to know what that is, so I can replicate that for future projects....

It took a long time to think, to finally see it. And I think I have the key now, I think I do. Well I could be wrong of course, as I am wrong about many things, but at least I can say that my theory has been proven right *once*...

---

So after the friendly golf tournament between two clans, mainly a cover to discuss business on various levels, the family members all go into the bath house to relax. Kaicho, for all intents and purposes the day to day Godfather, invites me in. Completely naked with a towel in one hand constantly wiping off the steam of the lens of the camera in my other hand, I enter the bath area. a dozen members are showering, bathing, relaxing. Huge tattoos, tremendous works of art, are on everyone's backs. So there I am shooting - naked, remember; have you ever done that, it's very weird to have your camera gear in your hand and be shooting but not to be wearing anything. Makes you, uhmmm, in a way, quite conscious of your own body. So there I am shooting, wiping, shooting, and one of the family members behind me starts to laugh. Joined by another. and another. After a few minutes everyone's smiling and laughing and commenting on something that I do not understand...

And then Kaicho walks up to me and says with a big smile, pointing to the really tiny tattoo of a sun on my back which i had done years before, "nice little baby tattoo"... only to burst into even more laughter.

---

Looking back I see that I have had an extraordinary amount of luck during this project. Too much luck actually. The kind of luck you can't prepare for. Like the bath house story I just told you... as funny as it may seem, things like this happening were so crucial to build up trust, break barriers so to speak, and ultimately, go deeper.

And the more I though about it, the more it became clear to me that the concept of "preparing for a project" had to be redefined for me. It had to be way much broader than what we would think.

If I look back on Yakuza, the key elements that made me "be prepared" so to speak, were long and far apart:

  • my parents were expats, as kids we got exposed to foreign cultures right from the start
  • i played golf as a teenager, and again around 30
  • I went to university to study political philosophy, and witnessed the birth/explosion of the Internet
  • I have a little sun tattoo on my back
  • my first job was as a graphic designer at a printer
  • my brother Malik moved to Tokyo, Japan about a decade ago
  • my second job was as a web designer at an ad agency
  • in 2001 i started my own company with friend and kindred spirit Luc, and worked hard for 7 years to create a cool independent team of professionals
  • in 2008 I met Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey, who became my mentor

Retroactively, I call these "key elements that make me be prepared", because each one of these elements can be linked to a crucial moment in the project. Like my little tattoo and the bath house.

Or my brother being able to lead the negotiations. Or my graphic design years translating into designing book dummies. or the mentorship of David Alan Harvey teaching me the two thumbs up approach. Or the web design company that I run with my friend Luc, that gave me room to pursue this project in the first place. So many things.

But it's of course obvious that you cannot call these elements "preparation", simply because, well, this kind of thing happens independently of any project. This is not "preparation", this is your entire life.

But what if that were the key? What if, your life were your only true asset that can adequately prepare you for your projects?

I mean... this gives a whole new meaning to "it's all about the journey, not about the destination"

---

In august of 2010,... --> Tell the story of the covert training camps, secret location, sleep in the room with the young recruits and talk about the immense duality that is Yakuza.

---

What would the images of the training camp mean to me if I had not experienced them first hand? Let's be honest: if I had to choose between experiencing the training camp, or simply having the pictures, I think the former will always win, hands down.

CONCLUSION

What I actually want to say is: after so many people asked how I could pull it off, and after looking back and thinking about it for a long time,

I found that the person you are and the support you have around you IS the preparation for any project to come, IS the preparation you need for whatever you want to do....

The surprisingly simple search to find and identify your "elements", your strengths *and* your weaknesses, and worship them as the most important thing in your life, knowing they will help you. And trust me, if you let them, they will.

All the rest is practical stuff. (note to self: the practical stuff, at all times, needs to be done relentlessly at 100% with zero margin for error)

In life, it's all about the journey. I guess we all know that, I know that, and yet at the same time I feel it's the hardest thing in the world to do, to learn to focus on the journey and just enjoy the ride.

But I keep on trying, and sometimes it works out.

thanks for listening.