“Develop a unique look at things. Do not try to copy others, because that won’t work”

Recently Dutch photographer Marjan Versluijs- Helder  had an exhibition of her work at the Chitrakoot Art Gallery, Kolkata. The title of the exhibition was 'the Netherlands meet India'. Pictures taken in India was combined with pictures expressing the same theme, taken in the Netherlands.. Indian pictures were taken in December 2009 in and around Kolkata. Dutch pictures in the Netherlands on different locations (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Vianen and others). Thus showing a come together of India and the Netherlands.

What motivated you to do this exhibition?

Six years ago I fell in love with Kolkata. That feeling is, after my second visit, even more intensified. I have made new friends, spoken to a lot of interested people that visited my exhibition. That made my second visit to Kolkata unforgettable. I have visited a lot of countries on different continents. None of these is as lively as Kolkata.

What major differences do you observe between Netherlands and Kolkata?

In the streets in Kolkata, there is more chaos than in my hometown where everything very organized: every participant in the traffic has his/her own lane: bus, car, tram, bike. As a result of that, a damaged car in the Netherlands is an exception. That is very obvious. Another thing is the density of people: in the whole of the Netherlands are the same amounts of people living as in Kolkata: 18 million. That leads to major problems for you, for instance air pollution. In the exhibition I had a picture of sunset in the Netherlands, where a clear blue sky with just a touch of an orange sun was to be seen. One of the visitors told me: that cannot be seen in Kolkata because of pollution. And indeed my observations confirm that: it is always misty in Kolkata.

How do you describe yourself as a photographer?

I try to keep my mind open for all sorts of impressions. Everything is worth to be photographed. The question is how, when and where. How:  Depending on the subject there might be a need for high contrast, or just a moderate contrast. Is there a lot of movement in the scene, then that should be visible in the picture. So before hitting the button, I try to feel the essence of my subject/location. When: Sometimes I feel that I need another season to express the essentials of, for instance, a landscape. It is also important to keep an eye on what time of the day is best in relation to the sun(direction of the light) position.Where : The position of the photographer in relation to the subject is important. Is it better to climb up or to bend your knees? Do not choose a spot where everybody else is taking pictures. In my opinion the picture should already be present in your head before hitting the release button. That does not mean that I want to make posed pictures. I don’t want people to pose for me. I prefer ‘natural’ pictures.

What according to you is a good photograph?

A good photograph should express the idea of the photographer. Photographs without an underlying idea are not found interesting to others. The skills of the photographer are determinative for this.

Do you think there is such a thing as someone really having a“natural eye” for photography?

That would be the same thing is falling in love on first sight. I don’t believe in that either. What you can do is develop a way of looking that can result in interesting photographs. That is a long process of years where you have to be very critical on what you make. Also by looking at pictures of others you can learn a lot. It is the details that count. You can develop a way of looking that is very personal, and expresses the kind of person you are. By showing your pictures to others, you are also showing yourself, your ideas of what is important in life. That also means that the way a person is photographing changes with time. I am not taking the same kind of images that I took 10 years ago. I play much more with shutter speed and depth of field nowadays.

Digital, SLR's have been selling like hotcakes as more and more people, especially youngsters turn hobby photographers. What are your comments?

I would say that everybody should do as he/she likes. If you take pictures to remember certain places you went to, or how nice it was with your friends, that’s OK. It all comes down to the purpose of the pictures.

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers worldwide?

Develop a unique look at things. Do not try to copy others, because that won’t work. Stay close to yourself.

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