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"Us and Them" Florian Braakman Interview

We were sitting at the studio of Florian and had a wonderful conversation about photography, about his works and his exhibition titled “Us and Them” that is coming at RAW Streetphoto Gallery. The conversation was running so fast and it was a feeling we could speak non-stop. It was exciting the development of the conversation that was leading to profound meaning not only of photography but of sense being artist and being creative. I liked a lot the reflections about possibilities of art and photography to discuss uncomfortable subjects and propose solutions.


RAW: Can you tell us, how did you start to make your photography project, that you are currently occupied with?

Florian Braakman: After graduating in 2013 from the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in The Hague, I moved to Delfshaven - a neighbourhood in Rotterdam. It was here I started to use photography as a tool to discover my neighbourhood: my relationship with the people and the objects I encountered there on a daily basis, which have all together evolved in a bigger project.

RAW: Why do you prefer to work with photography? Did you try to work with the video production?

Florian: I sometimes make use of video, but what I especially appreciate about photography is the stillness and fragmentary part of it. Photography is a very associative medium, unlike video where you have more context and movement. With a still image, the viewer has space to think, about what happened before and after, and associate this to their own world.

RAW: It is very interesting what you are saying. I was always intrigued with creative process. Your photography has a very strong message that dominates the picture.

Do you have some ideas in particular that you want to communicate to your viewer?

Florian: I always have an idea of what I want to communicate. I combine different subjects in my pictures which I present in series, that work as a narrative. What I show isn’t a literal translation of what I mean. They are open and serve as a tool to engage with the viewer. It functions as way for the viewer to have a more open relationship with the world around them.

RAW: Your pictures are very conceptual and sometimes are difficult to observe. What is the technical side of your photography, that creates your own style?

Florian: I do not know if conceptual is the right word for it, I would rather use the word ‘direct’. I usually use a flash when photographing people, and there is a reason for this. I find flash to be an aesthetically pleasing element, but at the same time a very direct and harsh one, that is why I use it very carefully. What I like about it, is that it reveals so many details of the people and/or objects I photograph, like colours and structures. A tired look, a shine on a face or a little grey hair suddenly become visible and people become very human. It doesn’t always look as pleasing, but does remain very honest to me.

Overall, the technique I use is very simple, as long as it communicates how I feel. The tool I use the most is also simple: a small digital compact camera, which I always carry around. I value the flash because it also reveals me, it is not a sneaky way to take pictures.This is an important factor, since I use photography as a medium to engage with people. When I am on the street I look for energy in people, for eye contact. It is almost like a flirt, without the sexual or romantic meaning of it.

RAW: Being so much exposed to the person that you photograph, think it should be challenging to preserve the character of your subject.

How do you make people not perform for the pictures?

Florian: By spending time with them. After some time my role as a photographer is revealed and people accept me. Then, I try to go further and take photos when they are not looking. But there is no single recipe, sometimes I shoot on the spot. I am working on a series named ‘broer’. This word is mostly used by guys with a Arabic background, as street language in my neighbourhood, meaning ‘brother’. I photographed all the guys on the street in Delfshaven that called me ‘broer’. What I like about this, is that it tells something about acceptance and equality.

RAW: Once your intentions are clear now, how do you think people perceive your work?

Florian: I think if I look at my work in a wider sociological perspective, one of the subjects I want to address is our relationship with ‘the other’. I do not think this ‘otherness’ really exists for me. If I look at my own group of friends, generally, they are all between 25 and 35 years old, white and educated. It is, in a way, normal to commute in your own group, but also very weird to me that we do not engage so much with other people from different backgrounds. There is still a lot of xenophobia and anxiety in our society.


Text by : Anna Mazur and Alexey Shifman

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