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While many artists and photographers can be found within the static studio space, Bastiaan Woudt finds himself at the other end of the spectrum – in the mountains. His newest series (and photo book), Peak, allows its audience an epic journey through the highest points of Nepal and can be viewed at his solo show, held by Kahmann gallery in Amsterdam, until November 30th.

An entirely self-taught artist, Woudt’s series’ take him through the harshest hikes in order to meet resilient locals and capture the grandeur of mountain landscapes. Through discussions of his material and technical choices, we delve deeper into Peak and just what makes Woudt so unique as an artist and photographer.

Bastiaan, after starting your own photography practice five years ago, you have gained an increasingly fantastic reputation. As someone who is not professionally trained in photography, what inspired you to take this leap which has brought you such success? Furthermore, what drew you to photography as an art form?
I think it is purely to do with intuition that I have chosen one for photography. By graduating in the middle of the 2008 banking crisis, a job with my education was not very promising. At that time, I decided not to choose safety but to go on an adventure and try to find my way in photography for a year. Within six months, I earned my money working on assignments and rented a studio from which I worked. After I decided to make more autonomous work and start experimenting and discovering my own signature, it went fast.
Because of the representation by first the Kahmann Gallery and then Jackson Fine Art, Bildhalle and Atlas Gallery, my name in art photography has grown. My dream was always to get my work as art on the wall, to make work that comes from my soul and what people then find beautiful enough to hang on the wall. This then led to great exhibitions, awards and nominations such as New Dutch Photography Talent 2015, Longlist Prix Pictet 2019 and ones to Watch by The British Journal of Photography.
Your newest series and book, Peak, was shot in Nepal. What took you to this part of the world? Do you have a personal connection with the country/space?
It all started in 2015 when I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. We did this for Warchild, a charity in the Netherlands, to raise money for children in war zones. I fell instantly in love with being in the mountains. The physical challenge of climbing, walking for days on end and the good conversations that result from this.
On my return, I started earning more and more money in the Himalayas, and I think I watched every documentary about men risking their lives to make their dream come true – climbing the highest peaks of the world. Because I have a wife and four children at home, I knew that wouldn’t be for me, yet I wanted to go there and experience it all, feel that physical challenge again and this time shoot a beautiful project at the same time. The people, but especially the landscapes.
I understand the creation of Peak required a twenty-six-day expedition through the areas around Mount Annapurna. Did you find the harsh climate and physical demands of this expedition affected your photography in any way – positively or adversely?
One of the things I learned during this journey is to be aware of your surroundings, to be constantly scanning and alert from making work while walking, even if you don’t feel like it or just feel miserable. After having slept in a tent for twenty-six days, and often walking more than 20-30km a day at altitudes between three thousand and six thousand meters, sometimes you don’t think about photographing the mountains around you anymore. Still, at those moments, you look differently; you start looking for different shapes, abstract lines. And when you meet people, you are glad they want to stand in front of your camera, so every encounter becomes special.

You mention the hospitality of the monks and the tea shop owner you encountered on your travels. How important is the interaction with the small handful of local people you come across? Do these people influence your stylistic choices?
I always try to create an image that stands out both aesthetically and respectfully. I like to show local cultures with respect and dignity. The image I create must always be aesthetically perfect in my opinion, even though imperfections are often a must. In the case of the Nepalese people, I wanted to show what a beautiful, strong and proud folk it is. In spite of all the setbacks and difficult situations, you are received everywhere with a lot of warmth. That is an image I like to convey, just like I did with the Mukono project I did in Uganda, and the Karawan project I did in Morocco.
The landscapes in particular struck me as very sublime. Was it an aim of yours to incite this reaction of awe from your audience or just a result of the immense landscapes you were capturing?
It is the first project where the emphasis really lies in the landscape. Of course, the people are inextricably linked to my style and therefore, also to this project. If you walk through the impressive mountains of Nepal for a month, you will not escape shooting landscapes. Of course the ‘awe effect’ is something you hope to achieve, but in the end, it is the result of this amazing view. Nice to hear that my landscapes are well-received. It’s not new for me to do this – I shoot landscapes in all my projects –, but because now the emphasis is on the landscape, it is nice to be recognized for that.
Your work uses chiaroscuro quite intensely and very effectively. Is there any reason for this other than the fact it contributes to your identifiable and individual style?
I use chiaroscuro purely because it allows me to convey my vision. I like playing with contrast, and sometimes I try to give the image extra dynamics by doing so. Of course, I am also inspired by my fellow countryman and one of the greatest painters ever, Rembrandt.
The chiaroscuro is heightened by the fact the images in Peak are shot in black and white. Tell us more about this artistic choice which is present in your other series’.
My eye is always focused on black-and-white photographs. Colour seems too distracting. I believe that art photography should offer a unique insight into the photographer’s mind. Black-and-white helps to remove from reality and, paradoxically, to focus even more on the subject.

Speaking of your style and artistic choices, you tend to lean more towards portraits, landscapes and still life in your photography. Do you think this favouring of more classical subject matter sets you apart from other contemporary artists?
I have no idea if that makes me different. I think in photography, these three subjects are used the most. It's just how you deal with them yourself, what you make of them and how you appropriate them. I’ve noticed that making landscapes was very nice, and in a way, it made me think differently about the work. That’s not to say that it’s something I’m only going to do. People always play a big role in my work, and they always will.
Do you personally view the art of photography as more of a preservation of moments/recording device or as being able to tell a story and possess multiplicity in meaning?
Both sides are nice to use. During travels, it is nice to capture moments, to document what is going on in front of you, although I really don’t feel like being a documentary photographer. I do try to add or manipulate elements in those moments. It doesn’t always have to reflect reality; it is my vision and eye on what is going on in front of my camera. The book tells the story of my journey, but a single image doesn’t always have to convey a story. That is the beauty of art, and that is why I see myself more as an artist than just a photographer.
Having now photographed Morocco, Uganda and Nepal, is there anywhere else in the world you would love to create a series?
There are so many beautiful places in the world I would love to go! Unfortunately, I can't travel easily now and take on these kinds of projects because of the pandemic. As soon as everything is back to normal, I would like to travel more and make more plans. Lately, I am looking more and more to Chile, Peru or Patagonia. Seems to me wonderful to do something there.

Lucy McLaughlin

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