In a digital era with online-shaped identities that show idealistic rather than realistic versions of people, it is refreshing to see authentic photos with personality. Amsterdam-based Belgian photographer Sophie van der Perre is in no way looking for perfection, and that is exactly what is giving her work a careless and free atmosphere.
Your photographs are very natural and authentic, where does your love to show a pure image come from?
I have no idea where it comes from. I grew up in nature and have always been photographing my friends in a diary, un-posed kind of way, something I want to reflect in my photography as well. I want it to feel very close to me, it’s the way I see life. A photograph has to evoke a sense of the past, like a moment captured in time, a memory. If it’s overdone, it doesn’t feel real anymore, but staged, and I don’t want my work to feel like that.
The majority of your work features women, is that a conscious decision?
I think in my subconscious it is conscious, especially in the past. However, lately I've been enjoying photographing boys as well. I'm just very critical in who that may be. I need the boys to be and to feel natural and pure, not posed. And I want to photograph them in a very innocent way. So moving forward you'll see more of a mix between genders.
A photograph is a collaboration between photographer, model and surroundings. The people in your work seem free spirits that are comfortable in their body, how do you find people that fit your style of photography?
In a strange way I attract people who go through life as free spirits. I guess it’s because I’m a free spirit as well, I’m a people person. Not all the people I photograph feel comfortable in their body, but I think it’s the way I approach them that makes them feel at ease and let go of their insecurities. I travel a lot, so I constantly meet new people that inspire me and who I want to collaborate with. Although in my personal work, I photograph many of the same girls who I’ve been shooting for several years now. Soon I’ll put everything together and make a book out of it.
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What are the biggest sources of inspiration for you?
Going on adventures, meeting new people, spending time with friends, looking around and being in nature. Inspiration lies in enjoying moments and learning from mistakes.
If you could be able to go back in time to a certain event or time period to shoot, where would you go and why?
There are so many moments I would love to go back to, if it was only just to relive them. It’s hard to choose one moment, but I wish I photographed more when I just arrived in Amsterdam. Back then I was still very shy and therefore maybe missed certain moments.
The timing of your photos is remarkable; the captured moment seems unscheduled and therefore unique. However, commercial work needs more preparation, how do you approach such a shoot and still remain true to the style of your personal photography?
I like how you define my photography, but this is indeed a very good question. I’ve been working in fashion now for several years and also on very commercial levels. I’m lucky to have a wonderful agency that helps me a lot with the preparation of a shoot (e.g. finding a good location, the right models, etc.), but in the end I’m the one who’s shooting and everything needs to fall into place. I finally got the hang of how to translate my personal photography into commercial projects. It’s all about doing good research. Remembering the models I like working with and connecting them to a brand that fits them. The vibe on the set is very important to me; it has to click so that everybody feels comfortable and creative. Only then, amazing images can be created. The people and brands that choose to work with me know my work and style of photography and therefore decided to collaborate in a very conscious way. They imagine and expect a certain outcome considering my style, so it is great to evolve together towards the images they had in mind.
“Don’t look for pictures, but stay open and allow yourself to be stimulated by whatever hits you.”
What would you say is the most valuable piece of advice you ever got with regards to your work?
That I should stay close to myself and never stop enjoying it. Don’t look for pictures, but stay open and allow yourself to be stimulated by whatever hits you.
You said in an interview with Dutch Vogue in 2012 that you are always busy in your head and rather chaotic. In what way does photography help you find peace?
I mean it more in a way that it relaxes my mind. When I’m photographing I’m really focused and living in that moment, I’m not thinking about anything else. I can get very excited from photography, but also very sad. Sometimes I just don’t get it. But it always keeps me busy and wondering. The essence of a photograph, the colours, the frame… I can play with it for hours. It calms me down. It gives me so many feelings; it’s hard to explain.
How do you imagine people looking at your work? What kind of emotion would you like to evoke?
I think people look at my work in a very honest way. It feels pure and there’s an emotion coming out of the picture. That’s what I hope for, that people can create their own story from what I’m showing in the photo.
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