What equipment do you use?
I use a 4x5 inch field camera with a standard lens and a tripod. The negatives are the size of postcards, which gives you really wonderful sharp detail and contrast.
The end result is that your photograph is almost more real than reality.
How do you set up your lights?
In the beginning I always had really complicated lighting set-ups because I thought: the more lights, the better the picture. Now I work with as few lights as possible.
For me, daylight is the main source of light, and the flash is really only there to lighten the
shadows. I use one Lumedyne flash. It works with batteries so you can use it inside and outside.
How many frames do you shoot per subject?
I take about four or five sheets of film per subject, but I might shoot about five different people in a park on any given day. I've realized that I can't just go to a park and wait for the right person to turn up. I have to start working. Then I get into it and become part of the environment. It's a development. For example, a picture I took of a little girl in Barcelona only came about at the end of my working day. I was actually finished and packing up but then I saw her. She was there with her dad riding that scooter, looking at me like 'What are you doing?' and it's exactly the same look as in the photo. That's what I'm looking for. It's got to be emphatic. If you see the picture, it shouldn't look forced, it should look like a snapshot. You're not supposed to think it's all set up. You should take it for granted and it should be totally natural somehow. I took three frames of her. That's how long her concentration lasted. But I got my picture.
How do you edit your pictures?
I scan the negatives and make them bigger so you can see more. Then I might leave them for two weeks because you need distance to see properly. It happens to me that I take a picture and I think it doesn't work at all and then I look at it three years later and I think it's a great picture. It's probably linked to having something in mind and being disappointed that your expectations weren't met, but then realizing later that it was in fact a lucky moment. But in general I make sure the light, the facial expression and the posture of the body look right.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I like the work of contemporary portrait photographers like Thomas Struth, Paul Graham and Judith Joy Ross as well as some of the older generation, in particular Diane Arbus and August Sander a lot, but generally I get more out of looking at old paintings such as the Rembrandts, Vermeers and Versproncks at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I think the light, as well as the emotional and psychological forces at play are so incredible in those paintings. I prefer the old classics to contemporary art shows.
What art form does photography come closest to?
Perhaps sculpture. I think it's important that people understand and look at photography in a more abstract way. It's about being able to imagine looking behind the image as if it was three-dimensional.
Why do you print your images large format?
I like it when a picture is monumental - especially in a museum setting. But for me it's also important that if you stand in front of my picture, you feel the urge to come closer. If photos are too large, people tend to look at them only froma distance. I like them to be printed big enough so people view them froma distance but small enough so that they step forward and look for all the details in the picture. I think there is a whole story in all those details. It's about intimacy too.
Do you ever do editorial work?
When I first left art school I did portraits for magazines and newspapers but found it difficult because I wanted to create something more substantial that related to everybody, not just to one specific person. I learnt a lot about how to be technical, how to work with people and how to work fast, but now I'm more interested in my personal projects. Occasionally I do assignments for The New York Times Magazine.
Do you think people can learn a certain way of seeing?
I think everybody can do it. Diane Arbus said that you just have to choose a subject and continue photographing it for as long as something comes out of it. You always have to use your own fascinations as a starting point. It's the same if you are in a group of people: you will always look at the people who are the most interesting to you. The same goes for photography, you have to photograph what you like. Passion is really important.
What excites you most about photography?
I love being totally in the moment, when everything comes together and is just right. You actually see things clearer. But I can spend weeks in the park without ever seeing anything interesting and I never know whether it is because it simply isn't there or because I just didn't see it.
What makes one image stand out more than another?
A photograph works best when the formal aspects such as light, colour and composition, as well as the informal aspects like someone's gaze or gesture come together. In my pictures I also look for a sense of stillness and serenity. I like it when everything is reduced to its essence. You try to get things to reach a climax. A moment of truth.