It can be said that photography is more than just a click on the camera, it makes the moments, people and emotions live forever. This was confirmed to us by an exceptional Dutch photographer Ferry Verheij, whose photographs represent stories of all those people and places he had a chance to know.
On his travel to Mozambique, Ferry experienced remarkable sights, from those which spurred his creativity, to those in which a person experiences his own catharsis while looking at thousands of people who try to make what we today call home out of ruins.
In the interview for our magazine, Ferry speaks of his extraordinary journey and his creative process, and what he’d like to have known before he started doing this job.
You possess great experience in photography. What were your beginnings like, when did you realize that this was what you wanted to do? What was the first camera you used?
At the age of 18 I joined the army. My uncle gave me a Praktica camera. During my military service I made the first steps in photography. Analog film was a great adventure with always an uncertain outcome. But I learned a lot. Analog is still a lot of fun. Sometimes it’s good to make mistakes. Even if you made them a month ago and just found out. I first started as a graphic designer who took photos. But 3 years ago I graduated at the Photoacademy. Now I’m a photographer who is also a graphic designer.
In your opinion, what is must-have photography equipment, other than a camera?
I like to work with a tripod, even when I have enough light. Makes me slow down my pace. And sometimes rethink my composition. I like to take my time.
First and foremost, you do documentary and portrait photography. Where do you find inspiration for locations and people we have a chance to see in your photos?
I used to live in Mozambique and my father still lives there. So it’s far away, but still feels close to me. And I think that is for most of my projects.
How important is it for you as an artist to hear and understand some of the stories of the people you’ve had a chance to shoot? Is that what makes a portrait better and more meaningful?
I like to make photos that tell a story. Or make you curious what the story is. For me it is important to make contact with my subject. We don’t have to be best friends, but for me it works best if we both feel comfortable. When I went to ‘Grande Hotel’ I took a small printer with me on batteries. Every person I took a portrait of received a print. That worked very well.
What has been the greatest challenge in this profession for you so far? Is it hard to remain true to yourself, with an authentic vision, and at the same time respond to the demands of others and to what is considered socially acceptable? How do you find balance between the two?
We all know there are a lot of good photographers out there. And there is always the danger to try to make what others also made. But there is a difference between being inspired and copying someone else. For me that doesn’t happen if you keep it close to you. I’m mostly driven by curiosity. My camera helps me to look for answers. And look for stories I find worth telling.
What drives your creative process? What is a day on shoot with Ferry Verheij like?
For my commercial work you mostly have to work fast. In my documentary work I try to do the opposite. Take my time. Choose the right time of the day. Rather no flash if possible. For my work at Grand Hotel I always started really early. I didn’t photograph must at the middle of the day and started photographing again at the end of the day. I Holland where I live it takes a long time to get dark. Because Mozambique is close to the equator it is like a on/off switch.
The Grand Hotel in Mozambique was once a meeting place of the wealthiest and the most luxurious part of the society. Today, sadly, it represents a pale shadow of what it once was, and its ruins have become a home to thousands of people who lost their jobs and homes. Was this journey both physical and spiritual for you, given the sights you had a chance to see? What made the biggest impression on you?
If you see Grande Hotel for the first time it is a impressive site. Walking through the building you can still feel the grandeur it used to possess. I tried to capture the metaphor of the Grande Hotel, a story of material decay and human resilience. It is a portrait of the stark reality of life in post-colonial Mozambique, set against the backdrop of a fading dream.
After everything you’ve had a chance to experience in this profession, what advice would you give to someone who has just started doing photography? Is there something you would like to have known when you began doing this art?
Keep making work and gradually start making series. Thinking is series makes you work differently. Choose your subjects that you can relate to or know nothing about. Photograph it the way you feel comfortable and make it your own.
You had a chance to shoot diverse landscapes. In what way do nature and its raw beauty inspire you?
I don’t consider myself being a nature photographer, but I do enjoy making landscape photos. Fog is a big plus. Specially where I live in Holland.
What are you currently working on?
At the moment I’m working on a project in which I explore the thin line between fictional and non-fictional photography. It’s about a woman who drove 1000 km with her dead mother in the car to leave her in the woods. That part of the story is actually true.
All photographs shown in this article were used by the permission of Ferry Verheij. If you want to see more of Ferry Verheij's work check out his website.