Behind the Lens With Paul Brouns
Born (1967), raised and currently living in the Netherlands, I started out as an artist creating abstract geometric paintings. Photography always has had a special position in my work. I started out taking pictures of architectural details that had a similar quality compared to my drawings and paintings. In recent times I was mostly involved with creating graphic design, but whenever I needed imagery for my graphic work I gladly took up my camera. During the past few years I bought some new equipment and started taking on photography assignments. Last year I also started taking my camera along to concert gigs. Being a great fan of jazz music, the logical place to be for me in Holland is The Bimhuis. So this great venue for jazz music delivered the basis of my current music photography.
Canon EOS 7D;
Different Canon lenses (a.o. 70-200 mm / 16-85mm) (no flash).
Teachers and/or influences?
My teacher at Art School was (amongst others) Paul de Nooijer apart from his photographic work was well-known as a very inventive video clip movie director.
I knew I wanted to be a photographer when...
I saw the work of Ansell Adams and Henri Cartier Bresson. Another direct influence to my own travel photography was the work of Walker Evans and a beautiful photo book by German movie director Wim Wenders; this book contained location research photography for his American movie, Paris, Texas. The use of color, light and the original choice of subjects is still a great source of inspiration.
Your approach to photography:
I do not have a premeditated way of working. But I always prefer to use natural light because I always try to react to the conditions I encounter. In case I cannot find the right feel at a concert I always prefer to move around a lot (if possible). Of course, the light can be a real challenge when taking pictures at concerts, but I just love to try and capture the original concert atmosphere in my images. Often at any cost.
Your teaching approach/philosophy:
Although I do not teach photography, I have specific ideas on teaching: I would prefer to send students into the "world" with a small theme around which to take / collect photographs. The next step would be to have them evaluate this collection trying to make them aware of different choices one can make selecting subject matter and the influence of choosing a point of view.
Secondly I would start teaching about the technical aspects, but always in relation to the "artistic"(or should I say professional?) intention the photographer has to develop.
Your biggest challenge when shooting indoor (or low lighted) events:
Well dealing with poor lighting is a challenge, but as I told before I prefer not to use flash light anyway. When the conditions are really are very difficult, I prefer to find the proper balance between capturing details and trying to minimize the effects of noise.
Another challenge I experienced recently was at a concert by the Bill Frisell 858 String Quartet. I arrived a bit late at the gig and it appeared that there were only seats at the side of the stage. In itself not a problem usually, but the musicians had set up their chairs in a very small half circle in the front center of the stage... All I could see was the two spines of Jenny Scheinman and Eyvind Kang and some feet of the other musicians. of course I ended up walking around in the back of the venue using a large telephoto lens, and came up with some nice shots.
Your biggest challenge when shooting outdoor events:
Also outside the light is an important problem to tackle at times. But when I foresee problems I take along a tripod. Things are more difficult when the whole lighting is too flat. Then I just have to look for other angles to create an exciting image to look at. Sometimes it can help to try and go to the side of the stage where you can get some great shots of musicians playing together, overlapping in the image composition.
Favorite venue to shoot:
The Bimhuis, Amsterdam (Netherlands) It is such a nice cozy atmosphere; the interaction between musicians is almost tangible, but also the interaction with the music loving audience always adds to the concert experience.
Favorite festival to shoot:
North Sea Jazz Festival, Rotterdam (Netherlands) It must be the festival with the highest density of jazz and soul legends. It is inevitable to go there this year!
Where was your first assignment location?
My very first was in the centre of my home town (Almerenear Amsterdam), where I was going to take pictures of a jazz guitarist (Rick Kostelijk). It was early February, very cold and foggy, and because the musician's coat did not match my intentions I had to ask the poor fellow to withstand the cold and pose with his guitar on a very windy square. Fortunately there was still time for other sessions in better conditions.
In the end I could come up with a great graphic design for his first studio CD and provide him with a nice set of promotional pictures.
Your favorite musician(s) to photograph:
I absolutely loved taking pictures of James Carter's Organ Trio last November at the Bimhuis. He is not only a very versatile musician with a fabulous technique, but also proved to be a great model for photographers: always moving around the stage, took along an impressive range of different saxophones and even a flute. In short: the musical adventure matched my photographic adventure trying to keep up with every change.
Did you know...
It is a secret dream of mine to learn to play the accordion? I am a great admirer of Richard Galliano. I am only a bit afraid that my talent will not match my intentions, but maybe it will be a great experience to learn and play just a few nice matching chords...
Your favorite jazz story:
I do not have a personal jazz story to share so far, otherwise I would love to share it. In my country they also broadcasted the Ken Burns documentary on jazz music. Not only is it full of beautiful music spanning the great part of previous century, it is also illustrated by wonderful photographs and of course it is a great treasure of very personal jazz stories of all those genius musicians. Altogether it is my favorite jazz story book, and a very inspiring one.
For instance I remember the story how Miles Davis dealt with his drug habit by being closed into his parents' house for weeks, and then returning to New York and with great success continued to flourish as a musician.
View more Paul Brouns photos at All About Jazz