23. September 2016

the portrait sessions


I love photography, and so many different aspects of it fascinate me. The technical aspects, the cameras, lenses, films are one side to it, the subject (content) matter the other – the bigger one. On the technical side it’s the reason why I could hardly limit myself to one camera, format and film, I am too curious about trying something different, changing my approach, being confronted with different limitations, advantages ,and how I react to them, personally and photographically. Content-wise I started looking for fashion and beauty photography, but that quickly started to bore me and documentary work got a hold of me, ranging from street photography, to portraits to landscapes.

For my own photography, I have mainly shot models. For a long time this was the perfect subject matter, to stage and create the pictures that reflected what I felt. It is a very controlled environment, you get to chose the location, outfit, pose, expression, light, and both of us are in agreement that we will spend now quite some time taking pretty pictures. After some time doing this, I got more and more interested in introducing more uncontrollable factors into the equation.

mjo36kbagala2The first serious attempt was shooting at a ballet school. This was already organisationally a completely different matter, from convincing the school management that its a good idea to let me photograph their students, to parents’ approval, model releases etc.

When shooting at the rehearsals or during the events you are more of an obstacle to everyone, than anything else. Its a completely different thing than shooting with a person that is dedicated to shoot with you. It was fascinating, I really loved hunting for beautiful moments in all the chaos.

To make this long story short, I love to continue to diversify my shooting and subject matters to keep it interesting for myself, especially towards taking more “true” portraits. In the end it does not really matter if its a flower, a kitten, a model or an old barn, its about creating, seeing, capturing something that resonates with me.

It does not take long to realise that pictures with beautiful girls generate more attention, but in the end I try not to care.

So this is a post about some of the portraits sessions I did together with Stephanie the last few months. Most of the time we invited us into people’s homes to take the pictures.

This is going to be a very long post- I hope you manage to stay with us until the end 🙂


The first session is with Christelle, a friend of Stephanie’s that was obviously pregnant.  The first picture was a quick portrait at a birthday party with the Plaubel Makina, the following pictures were taken a little later at their apartment in Brussels with the 4×5 Chamonix 45N2 and Portra 400.







Stephanie organised backstage access to a big fashion event in Brussels, there we met Lea, the beautiful girl in the wheel chair – probably one of my favorite portraits I have taken to date. The girl in the middle was one of the fashion designers that was so kind to allow me to take a picture.






Alexy is a friend of Stephanie, and they like to take pictures of each other. Now it was my turn, I took the opportunity and carried my 8×10 down and took a portrait of him.




Stephanie’s cousin Franck is a videographer, and very well known in Belgium and France for his music video productions. He invited us over to his house to take some portraits. I have a lot of experience taking pictures of pretty girls, working with very strong characters like him is a different matter altogether, and I am still experimenting and trying to find my way. One of the issues is to direct or not to direct. The first picture, the close-up,  I did not interfere at all, the second one in colour, I directed him and asked for a certain pose, expression etc. completely different results. The last one is his daughter’s room. I liked the idea of the strong, tough guy and the contrast to the children’s room. Its a bit a repetition to the contrast of the two first pictures. All pictures of Franck are shot with the Chamonix 4×5.






Vanessa has 300k+ followers on instagram and even more on youtube. She is Belgian with Portugese and Congolese roots and got famous by posting crazy funny videos of herself. She is a very warm and friendly, yet crazy person and I took the 8×10 to take portraits of her. In front of this camera everything changes, its very serious, slow and impressive, its a bit like cutting a slice out of time …and maybe that is the reason it can reveal more about a person than a snapshot, don’t know, but the pictures turned out much more introverted and calm.






Cynthia is a sprint athlete and attended the Olympic Games in Rio for Belgium. Before she left to Rio we had the chance to visit her and take some picture during and after her training session south of Brussels. All these are shot with the Mamiya RZ 67 and the 2.8/110 lens. Scanned by Carmencita film lab – basically all medium format and 35mm C41 is scanned by Carmencita, everything else by me.








Herman was the art director for a major Belgian men’s magazine and as such we have a lot of friends on facebook in common (Belgian models) 🙂 We knew each other through Stephanie. Once we saw him at a Miss Belgium event and I thought, that he would be interesting to take portraits of, and so we did. Stephanie and myself went to his house and shot a video and a number of portraits. All taken with the Mamiya RZ67.








I know Vlad through facebook already for a long time,  the photographer’s scene in Belgium is rather “überschaubar”  and the talented ones are spotted quite quickly. It took quite some time until we actually met, I think it was on Stephanie’s birthday party, as the two white guys in an African club in Brussels. As you can see, he is quite a character – and when you see his pictures and videos, you see it all. We paid him a visit in his apartment / studio.







Kossi is a friend of Stephanie and since I know him he is constantly busy organising events, presenting shows, working on new projects, he never seems to run out of ideas and energy. He is the publisher for a magazine on African cooking and many other things. The portraits are taken in his apartement and turned out much more serious than he actually is. All taken with the 4×5 Chamonix.

2452 kossi5




Gilles is a manager in one of Brussels finest hotels, and more than once he was kind enough to organise a room for us as photo location. Given his position and job in such a high class hotel, you would expect someone overly serious. He is not, the opposite is the case. The last time we heard of him he was seen half naked at “Burning Man”. All taken with Mamiya RZ 67.





Jan, these images are amazing I have been following your work since I saw you on the Film series in the Framed Network. I am getting back into shooting film photography especially medium format and I wanted to know was the color portrait of Gilles taken with the Mamiya RZ likes the portraits at the end of your post? Reason I’m asking is because the mamiya RZ is the camera I’m leaning towards in getting back to film photography. Have a good day!!


[…] A first few takes of straight portraits of interesting faces and people we found are posted here. I will continue to try to find and shoot interesting and beautiful people (…suggestions […]

I’ve been following you for some time now but i am discovering the blog only now… this is a great series! There’s a lot of humanity in these photos! Love them! Why don’t you post more of these on your facebook? (I am curious 🙂 )

Hooray! I’m so pleased to see that you’re blogging again, Jan. I really missed seeing regular blog posts from you, reading background info and browsing through a set of related images. Social media can be useful for some things but it’s not the answer for everything. I’m a blog fan when it comes to photography and I’m excited to see more from your new direction 🙂

My very first medium format camera was an RB67 which I still own and use. It’s a tank that has never let me down in 25+ years. Around 4 years ago I got an RZ67 kit and couldn’t be happier with it so I’m not surprised to see that you’ve taken to using it for portraits as well 🙂

I wish you a full and speedy recovery. It took me over a year to fully recover from a bicycle accident.

More great photos Jan, I really love the one of Cynthia powerlifting. The colour and depth is so rich. It’s also incredibly powerful, but intensely quiet at the same time. I also love the richness and colour in the shot of Vlad on his skateboard. Thanks for sharing more about these.

Really nice work, Jan. I especially like how you use natural light in the interior locations, and your compositions where you play up some of the geometry of the location, like the first shot of Cynthia, the first shot of Vanessa, the third shot of Vlad and the first one of Kossi. All very nice. (I came to your blog from the FLICKR link you posted.)

Really nice to see new work from you in a different direction. Love your previous work and can still see some of that in these portraits so retains a lot of ‘you’. Some really, really strong portraits here and interestingly I think some of your male portraits are your strongest in these sets. Looking forward to seeing lots more of this work in the future.

Jan, What 4×5 lenses do you use on your Chamonix? Also, what aperture(s) do you prefer? I have a Chamonix as well, but shoot landscape primarily. Would love to know for the odd portrait I may try one day 🙂

I mainly use a 5.6/135 and 5.6/150 – and most of the times wide open due a lack of light. I intend to experiment with stopping down more – as far as light permits.

That’s great to know. I’ve got a Rodenstock 135mm Sironar S that seems pretty sharp wide open, as I experimented on a tree. Will try this on a human. Thanks so much for your reply. Your work is brilliant.

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