“Just dive in head first and see what happens. Planning is always good but you never know until you try. You need to make mistakes because you learn from them.” – Jeremy Fokkens
Jeremy Fokkens has built up an amazing portfolio of work as a photographer who consistently overcomes personal boundaries, and pushes his own comfort zone to produce photographs that evoke the emotion and passion of the moment. He has travelled to over 50 different countries photographing subjects in such a succinct way that as a viewer you begin to know the subject, and become immersed in the scene. As a dancer-turned-photographer Jeremy embodies the ideal collaborative spirit working both in Calgary and abroad with all types of people to make his projects a success. Jeremy also believes that in order to be successful, you have to share your knowledge to build and strengthen your community and culture through teaching.
C – You have an amazing approach to engaging subjects on a personal level. In your blog “The Stranger Series” you have captured incredibly personal images of regular people engaged in an emotional transaction with you. As a viewer you really feel a connection to your subjects. Your photoshoot and interview of Mayor Naheed Nenshi are especially captivating because you can see his real personality – down to his colorful striped socks. link here
J – I take the same approach as when I go to developing countries, when I approach anyone from a foreign culture – I find that people have this misconception that every photograph taken will be this wonderful thing, but that is really not the case. Some people like to have their photographs taken, some people don’t. In the stranger series I am lucky enough to have only been turned down once. The cool thing is that if you want to bring a bit of energy into one thing that you do, you have got to go into it with all intentions; You’ve got to willing to be interested in it. You can’t just going in looking for the final product, and you have to enjoy the process. When I walk down the streets and I see an interesting face, I will watch for bit. Stand away to the side. If we make eye contact I will wave and say hi, and if they wave and say hi back that’s great. I will approach them and introduce myself and my series. I will tell them that I find them very interesting. I don’t even show them the camera – I don’t walk around with a camera out. It’s in the bag. Cameras can be quite intrusive and in Western culture having your picture taken by a stranger is a bit of a stigma – people don’t generally like it. In foreign cultures people love having their pictures taken.
I will also ask them: do would mind if I ask a few personal questions, and do you mind if I take a few photos? And I tell them where the photo will be shown. The thing is that you have got to make them comfortable. Because if not the energy will not show. You are not going to capture the person at all, not who they really are. Having that raw energy is important. Sometimes I will spend up to 6 weeks with a subject just to build that trust to photograph them. If you don’t have the connection with a person it’s just not going to happen. You have to be willing to break down boundaries and get out of your comfort zone.
C – Maker culture is all about collaborating and combining skills. You have transitioned in a very interesting way from a dancer, to a photographer, which is a very interesting complement of fine art skills. What type of collaborations are you working on now, or in the future with people or groups with different skill sets?
J – I would like to look at other mediums, like the Bee Kingdom’s glass work – bringing photographs to glass, printing on glass, photographing glass. Or Mandy Stobo’s bad portraits, I could take a photograph of a stranger, have Mandy Stobo paint a bad portrait then contact that stranger to give them their bad portrait. Or have a printed portrait and have Mandy Stobo paint over it. Mandy and I wrote a proposal for a combined photography and painting project using metal as our canvas.
C – Maker Culture is also about learning and teaching. How do you implement your work within the arts community, and outside of it to allow others to learn from you?
J – I have started doing workshops. When I stopped dancing I started doing a lot of teaching. I love teaching. I love sharing what I know. When I was in Bangladesh I put up a poster in a coffee shop for a photography workshop. It was sold out in 2 hours! Seeing that really sparked things. I did some sessions for the Camera Shop and some local art galleries when I came back to Calgary. When it comes to doing workshops and training sessions I am extremely excited to share what I have learned.
C – You are much more interested in inspiring people than in finding inspiration (while that is still very important to you). What do you do in your work to inspire people?
J – I show people a world that they may not get a chance to see – whether it’s approaching a stranger or going into a mental institution in Bangladesh. I want to show people that they need to do something, something that they love – and do it to the best of their ability. I do not want to sound egotistical but I have lead a very fortunate life. I am very fortunate for some of the opportunities that I have been given. I want people to have that as well. The only way that I can show them is by actually doing it. You know, just buy a plane ticket and go – don’t hesitate. You have only one life to live. Make it a damn good one.
C – What’s next for you?
J – I am doing a homage to my dance background. It’s going to be a five year project photographing the life of a dancer, starting here in Calgary – I will be approaching the subjects from behind the scenes. I want to show people the life of a dancer. Going into rehearsals, training, where they live, where they hang out, backstage – everything except the performance aspect. Whenever you see pictures of dancers it’s always the performance aspect. We will be moving around to San Francisco, Boston, New York, L.A., Cuba, Russia, and then maybe as far as Australia and China. This is a completely open project right now which I am piloting here in Calgary.
By: Casey Hughes