Monday, June 09, 2014

In the White Room With Black Curtains

Photo © Krijn van Noordwijk, 2014

Krijn van Noordwijk (1958) and I (1947) sit opposite each other in the ‘White Room With Black Curtains’ - art director slash photographer Mart Boudestein’s studio. Heavy rock ‘n’ roll music in the background. The table is made of scaffolding. Its frame a construction of pipes and unions, its top fabricated from roughly planed planks. On it are five white china bowls: one filled with red and white grapes, one with M&Ms, one with strawberries, one with chocolate chip cookies and one with tangerines. I opt for the M&Ms.

I am here with Krijn to have my tattoo photographed. I am not sure that it’s a good idea, being now of an age where you don’t take your clothes off in public anymore. Krijn reassures me. (He is very good at reassuring people, with the help of his deep brown voice and calm grey eyes.)

Krijn is wearing black shoes and corduroy pants (of the French brand Laboureur) with an extra high waist. Black ribs, button fastenings and suspenders. A dark grey waistcoat covers his light grey Jaeger undershirt. A grey flat cap sits on his head. In this outfit he could have been one of those featured in ‘Small Trades’, the series of portraits Irving Penn made of craftsmen in 1950 and 1951. And now that I’ve dropped this distinguished name, more associations follow. Just like Penn, Krijn chooses to limit himself to simply making contact with the sitter, without becoming distracted by the incidental humdrum of the person’s daily life. In ordinary clothes, isolated, in the studio. Without using tricks or adding accessories. The result is a direct dialogue between the photographer and his model captured by a silent witness: the camera. And just like Penn Krijn’s personality evokes an atmosphere of amazement and wonderment, a infectious curiosity which seems hard to resist. (I can’t resist it either.)

I’m wearing crocodile cowboy boots, black pants and a fitted white shirt that stretches across my fat journalist belly like a corset. (I take another handful of M&Ms.) Fortunately my black jacket is wide. The dark red tie once belonged to Krijn’s father. It’s the only tie Krijn owns.

Before Krijn starts working, we need to talk. (Krijn does a lot of talking: the encounter is just as important as the photo itself. It has been known to happen that the conversation becomes so intense that he almost forgets to take the picture.)  Krijn has photographed my tattoo before. For an ad. Krijn would like to know when this was. After thinking about it, I can tell him that it was some eighteen years ago. My tattoo is just under 25 years old. I had it done when I wanted to leave advertising to do something else with my life. Something with photography and writing. In the Volkskrant newspaper of 8 December 2001 Henk Schiffmacher says: “Many people get a tattoo at vulnerable or difficult moments in their lives. […] Tattoos are often acquired in puberty or during a midlife crisis, periods of instability in people’s lives.” And this was also true for me. I had Henk tattoo the image of a roll of Kodak Professional Tri-X 400 ISO 35 mm on my upper arm. On my other arm I wanted to have a fountain pen, a Montblanc Meisterstück 149, but never got around to having it done. I don’t know why. I think I should still do it.

Krijn also made a career switch in his life. In fact, he made several, but he never felt the need to document those steps in tattoos. And considering the many different things he has done, maybe that’s better. He studied to become a painter, became an art director and then a creative director of an advertising agency. He wrote ads, directed commercials, built guitars and made (and still makes) music. He has been a photographer since 2006. Just like me he has never let go of the advertising business. This year alone, he has taken photographs for a number of advertising campaigns, directed a commercial and, as an art director, even contributed ideas for advertising campaigns. As we speak Krijn has just been on the jury of the Art Directors Club Nederland (ADCN). (The ad world seems to be a club that doesn’t let you cancel your membership.)

The first time Krijn documented my tattoo, he had just started ‘Laboratorivm’, a creative hotspot, not unlike Andy Warhol’s Factory, where art and business could flourish side by side. Here Krijn started photographing his own ideas, using the camera to shape what he had in mind. Using the camera as a kind of sketch book. And the photos from that era don’t differ essentially from the ones he makes now. His technique has grown, but the same quest is still there, the same imagery that takes its strength from simplicity.

Krijn tears the left sleeve off of my shirt and then goes at the jacket with a knife. It’s a quality jacket. The knife breaks off. (Note to Mart Boudestein: Don’t forget to add the cost of a new knife to the rent of the studio.) When the sleeves are torn, really torn, and a piece of the jacket’s shoulder has also been cut off, I’m asked to sit on a stool.

The volume of the music is turned up. Jimi Hendrix. I tell Krijn about the new love in my life. An American woman, born in Brooklyn. My kids were afraid that she might be younger than they are. (They know their father.) But, I was able to reassure them. Mical was at Woodstock. She heard and saw Hendrix play ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ live. ”What,” my daughters exclaimed in unison, ”is she that old?”  (There’s no pleasing some people.)

Mical has what she jokingly calls ‘a drunken tattoo’. The type of tattoo you wake up with the morning after without remembering how you got it. Two of my three daughters also have tattoos. Also done at Henk Schiffmacher’s Hanky Panky Tattooing. In this their taste takes after their father’s: simple. Always satisfied with the best.

Krijn also loves simplicity. One light source, with an umbrella, illuminates three quarters of my face. A white reflector screen to the right. A black background. Continuous light, no flash. Krijn considers a flash too noticeable, like the crack of gunfire.

Jimi Hendrix makes way for hip hop. (You can’t win ‘em all.) Krijn is always looking for an image formed by the personality of the sitter. The photo should contain the latter’s essence. Quietly talking he pulls me into a pose he likes. “Turn your head,” he says. “A little bit higher. I want to see your eyes. Your chin up. Make yourself tall. Be a man of the world. Your shoulder forward a bit. Great. Let your arm hang down. A little bit less of the shoulder. Let your other arm hang down, too. Turn your head a bit more towards me.”

In less than 20 minutes the job is done. “I think I’ve got it,” Krijn says. I haven’t felt uncomfortable at all, mesmerised the whole time by Krijn’s calm voice. He uploads the shots to his computer and we view them on the monitor. It will become a stately, almost classical portrait, so much is clear. It doesn’t become a true Krijn van Noordwijk until the postproduction is done. Krijn’s computer is his darkroom. This is where raw material becomes the final image. For Krijn this is just as exciting as the act of photographing itself. He moves from a semi-manufactured to a finished product. In this process he feels like a kid who’s celebrating his birthday tomorrow.

I leave the jacket and the shirt behind in the dressing room, take another handful of M&Ms and go home. One extraordinary experience richer. Tattooed with feelings and impressions in my heart, in the same way that the ink fixes the image on the skin. 

© Pim Milo, 2014

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