Nine lives

Recently I did an informal talk at my friend Evelien’s place in Amsterdam. She organised everything and hosted at her place with Po, cat extraordinaire. 8 friends at the table, cooking and having dinner together, and afterwards one of us talks about his work. 

I had mentioned before to her how I missed being able to talk to friends about what I’m currently doing, what thoughts are going on in my head, the projects I’m tackling behind the scenes, the way I try to stay afloat financially, how to produce my own work, what scares me, what makes me confident, if the ideas I’m having are actually good or not. You know, things you normally only reserve for your inner circle, if even that. It's cool to appear confident after all.

So Evelien said “hey what if we create a formula that’s casual enough so that friends/colleagues/fellow professionals from different fields can get together, cook together and drink wine together, in general find out how everyone’s doing, and then after dinner one person gets up, connects his/her laptop to the tv and talks openly. A limited group, 7-8 people max. Oh, and you should be the first one to do this, by the way. Just so you know. Next time you’re in Amsterdam, you’re on.”

No pressure there :)

Renate was going to cook Bombay Eggs for dinner, and we decided to name the event “Eggs & Photos”. The condition would be that always at least one dish should have eggs as an ingredient., and that the friend-speaker should have prepared a three hour talk at the minimum (just to mess with their minds). The concept was born.

I’ve written before about having a group of people that are instrumental to me being able to gauge different aspects of my work or my process, but now I got the chance to talk about everything all at once to everyone all at once. Basically an unedited look behind the scenes into the running engine that is my mind. 

It was different than any talk I’ve ever given. So much better and more liberating. I can’t say exactly what prompted this, but I ended up laying everything out there, no taboos. About (the lack of) money, securities and insecurities, storytelling, the choice of only making autonomous work, collaborations, cameras, images as objects, books as objects, connecting to people, drinking coffee and what not. The resulting discussions were extremely interesting, professionals friends bouncing off ideas and feeding off of each others feedback. Actual constructive dialogue, as it were.

Usually the outside world knows you through your images, your publications, your social media, and to a lesser extent your lectures or workshops. All of which is admittedly a very narrow connection. But now, I could talk about a complete picture of what’s behind all that.

It’s one of the most important things I’ve always missed as a professional photographer: constructive professional peer/friend feedback and discussion. I always imagined this to be the core reason why photo collectives existed in the first place, not for the pooling of resources or the collective strength or the brand or the notoriety or whatever, but the open-behind-closed-doors discussion of everyone’s work in every possible stage, from concept to full on production to putting it in the world out there. No taboos, no holds barred. Genuinely people interested in thinking and discussing - with a strong professional background, not necessarily related to photography - with zero alternative agenda.

So it turned out, while preparing my massive three hour minimum “tour of what’s inside my head” presentation, that I didn’t even know that I was actively working on 9 substantial projects simultaneously (and a whole lot of concepts of course). Two have already been “put in the world” so to speak (Yakuza & Mono No Aware), but they do need constant working on nonetheless (e.g. I’m working on an exhibit for both of them as we speak). Because my work is autonomous and long-term, whenever a project is put out there (even if you’ve worked on it for years already), it would be considered “just the beginning”. 

So I’ve come to look at my current projects as my nine lives: if I manage to get each and every one out there in the world, that would be 9 versions of myself out there, each with its own idiosyncrasies, mistakes and imperfections, its own beauty and ugliness, its own successes and failures. But it will be out there, alive and independent, making a mark, and I’ll be proud.

The one thing I can’t wait for? To be invited to the next Eggs & Photos, as an audience member this time, to return the huge favour.