Why you must find your photographic heroes

I had the good fortune to stumble across a presentation given by Dutch landscape photographer Theo Bosboom.

His 70-minute presentation captivated me from start to finish. Entitled Shaped by the Sea, Bosboom takes us on a journey through his recent coastal work around Europe.

Bosboom is very much a photographer of intimate landscapes – though that is certainly not all he shoots.

His creative process advocates ‘looking well’ and seeing what you can find that is often overlooked by others. He does not seek out grandiose landscapes in the search of garish images. He trusts that any landscape can provide him with original photographs. You might argue that a similar trust is extended to his own abilities as a photographer.

Indeed, he is a master at finding repetitive patterns in nature. Much of his work is also quite abstract, but not so abstract that you lose interest trying to figure out what he’s trying to say.

His compositions are strong and omit superfluous elements. Bosboom does not include anything in his photographs that he doesn’t want you to see. 

Much of his work is also quite metaphorical. Limpets huddling together on a surf-beaten rock. The bleakness of an Icelandic winter. The revitalising effects of rain. The ubiquitous, assembly-line nature tourist. Even in the title of the presentation itself, one wonders whether it is the subjects of Bosboom’s work or indeed Bosboom himself who has been shaped by the sea.

Not that it really matters of course, but I suspect it is a combination of both.

But in the spirit of metaphors, allow me to continue.

Bosboom goes against the grain often.

When most shoot the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland by facing the sea, Bosboom faces the shore. When most shoot fall leaves while they are still on the tree, Bosboom photographs the leaves once they have been washed into waterways.

Bosboom was a lawyer in a past life, and he seems a relatively reserved yet intelligent individual with an eye for detail. In his presentation, he is softly spoken and his facial expressions only seem to change perceptibly during a carefully inserted one-liner. His words, like his photographs, are unrushed and understated.

Less is more, as they say.

His work is simple, elegant and understated at first glance. But it becomes more powerful with time as it invites further contemplation.

Now I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Theo, but I imagine that he’d tend toward the introverted crowd.

He laments in his presentation that popular landmarks in Iceland and Ireland have been overrun with tourists. However, his lament was brief and somewhat introspective.

Bosboom mulled it over a while and then decided to start a project called Iceland Is Hot – a portrayal of tourists at popular landmarks. Armed with selfie-sticks and clad in jackets from one of the three primary colours, they swam over and around rocks like moths to a flame. 

But I digress… because Theo Bosboom is one of my photographic heroes.

What are photographic heroes and why are they important?

Photographic heroes are not just photographers that you admire or look up to.

Photographic heroes are those whose work, values and outlooks on life align with your own. They are photographers that you feel you’ve known your whole life.

They are also a source of inspiration. Bosboom’s approach to photography gave me the proverbial shot in the arm — to such an extent that I had to leave the house and photograph the forest not more than an hour after watching his presentation.

These are the people you want in your life, if only virtually. They inspire you to get out of the house. They inspire you to write articles about them that go off on tangents with effusive praise.

If hero photographers are a little further along in their journeys — as Bosboom is relative to mine — then they also give you validation that your own work has merit. That you have something to say and that some find value in what you have to say.

I often preach that your work does not have to matter to others before you can feel good about yourself as a photographer.

But in a world where loud, ostentatious, cookie-cutter photography seems far more celebrated, it is nice to know that the quiet expressive types are having their (albeit brief) moment in the sun.

If you’re reading this Theo, I’d like to meet up the next time I’m on the continent. For everyone else, you can find more of Theo’s wonderful work here.

Who are some of your photographic heroes?

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