Become the Photographer You Want to Be: My Story - Part 3
Last time, I told you about how my trip to Africa changed my life. It made me realise what I wanted to do with my photography. Finally, I knew where I wanted to go. It was the foundation for this website and all my travels and adventures around the world. But it didn’t mean I had it all figured out, oh no. This was just the beginning of a new path in life—one that involved a lot of hard work.
I still had a job at the pet products company as a graphic designer and product photographer but I started to pay a lot more attention to my new goal: Photography and traveling.
The tv production company that took me to Africa still contacted me once in a while to join them on an assignment. It was not only fun but it also allowed me to build a portfolio and contacts. Shortly, after the trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, I joined the to Wales in the UK for a short film. My job was to take photos behind the scenes and make movie stills.
Behind the Redwood Curtain
Slowly, I grew the need to have more control over what I did and my work. I wanted to start making personal work and the only way to do that nowadays is to find a subject, research everything and fund it yourself.
I’ve always loved road trips and the United States is the ultimate destination for one. So, I started reading about interesting places in the US and somehow I ended up in northern California and the famous Redwoods. I read about the economic downfall of the area, forest preservation and the intriguing name ‘Redwood Curtain’.
The Urban Dictionary says:
- Redwood Curtain (adj) The Redwood Curtain (RC) is the extreme northwestern corner of California, i.e. the coastal counties of Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino. The RC is the northern Californian version of the Iron Curtain in eastern Europe erected during the Cold War and is mostly used in a derogatory sense, whereby the RC symbolizes the area’s lack of cultural or metropolitan qualities as well as poor transportation access, sparse development, rugged geography, and a strong provincialism among the native locals. -
I decided I had to go and see it for myself. I bought a plane ticket to San Francisco where I rented a car to explore the Redwood Curtain. I spent almost three weeks driving from one little town to another with Eureka as my home base and came back with my photo series ‘Behind the Redwood Curtain’.
A lot of photography websites and magazines liked it and my first series ever won a category of the PDN World in Focus award. It was exactly the motivation I needed to keep going. Like I’ve said before, you need some motivation because building your own career is a lot of hard work. Entering photo competitions is perfect to get some confirmation that your work is good enough to keep going. Not good, no, good enough. I always forced myself to learn, look and try to get better at photography and everything surrounding it.
Second time to Africa: Memisa
Around the same time, I had contacted the same NGO that was also involved when I went to Africa with the tv production company. That experience made such an impression that I wanted to go again. I contacted them and asked if I could join them on their next trip to document everything.
LIFE LESSON 7: If you want something, you’ll have to make it happen yourself. Get your life into your own hands.
I made my case stronger by promising that I would use my connections to publish the story, which I did because they decided to take me to the Democratic Republic of Congo again. I spent three weeks racing around in a 4WD documenting the problems of health care in Africa.
Grey Summer Garden and Nikon Press Award
I loved creating personal projects and series and kept coming up with ideas but all of them involved traveling—and I mean traveling far. That was a problem. First of all, it’s expensive to travel somewhere for a few weeks to create a project.
And second, I felt like I needed to travel to be inspired. So, I decided to challenge myself and make a photo series across the street. Almost literally my own backyard. I spent a summer photographing and documenting a social housing community. Every evening, I walked around to take photos of the surroundings and people.
I loved the result and apparently, other people did too. My project ‘Grey Summer Garden’ won the Nikon Press Photo Award in 2017 in the category ‘Series’. But even more important, it taught me to really look and be inspired by anything even though it didn’t ‘cure’ me from wanting to travel.
The World Ahead Of Us²
At this point I was hooked. I loved setting up my own projects and being in charge of my photography. But there was a downside to that great feeling: I was getting so bored at the company where I was working as a photographer and graphic designer. I was getting sick of it so it was time for a real change.
So, I asked Joanna how she would feel if we would just leave Belgium for a while and travel the world. After a few seconds of hesitation, she said sure and I guess the rest is history because here I am writing this story for my travel and photography journal—at the same time planning our next destination: South America!
There’s a lot more I want to share—about what I learned in the past 10 years and how we keep traveling for example. Join me on Patreon for tips and behind-the-scenes information about my work. You can also show me your photos so we can discuss them—that’s the best way to improve your photography!