Iconic shots and shapes by Bart Kuykens
Bart Kuykens on Porsche, people & his passion for black and white
»You start to have this kind of relationship with the car, the love for the car and the sound it makes.«
What fascinated you most visually in your childhood?
My first experience with photography was my father’s passion for it, which was not always the best experience because it took ages for him to take a picture, and I got tired from posing in the garden. I was always curious about what was behind this magic because he was putting in a roll of film, taking pictures, and suddenly the pictures came back, and it was like, how did this happen?!
Many years later, when I did some jobs as a model for friends of mine, I had the chance to join the photographers in the darkroom and see how these negatives became pictures, which was really fascinating for me. I also bought a camera and played around a little bit with it, but I initially never had the dream of being a photographer.
So, after school you started working as a model?
Yes, that was really a coincidence because I had an injury on my knee, and I was forced to stay at home for a couple of months. At the end of this recovery phase, a friend of mine who was working with Kipling at the time called me and asked me to join a show and run as a model, which I had never done before.
And then it was what I did for like ten years. I never came home with the feeling that I had done something exciting. It never gave me intellectual or artistic satisfaction. But at the end of the day, it was fun for some time. It paid the rent, and I developed my interest in analogue photography.
Was there a kind of trigger moment when you decided to quit that career to become a photographer?
Well, my girlfriend at the time got pregnant with our first child, and then I decided to do something that would offer more stability and give me absolute inner satisfaction. That’s how everything started with my path to photography.
Did you focus on cars right from the start?
The initial start was my decision to do my first »A Flat 6 Love Affair« book. But the focus wasn’t on the cars only. As much as I love classic cars as a photographer, it doesn’t give me a lot of satisfaction to only shoot a car. I was fascinated by the interaction between the owner and the vehicle itself. I like it when the owner walks to the car or does something around it, which is visually much more enjoyable. There’s a story going on.
I like to shoot static pictures, and I like this simplicity and minimalistic approach to my analogue photography. Shooting all the owners interacting with their cars was a starting point for me to develop my interest in shooting plain portraits, which I later turned into another book. So, it was never really about the cars in themselves.
But you do have a passion for vintage Porsches as well, don’t you?
Yeah, well, it’s hard not to love them once you have driven one. You can just tell it’s a very special car (smiles).
When did that happen?
That happened two or three years before I started my books. My neighbour had one, and I drove with him and fell in love with it. The handling, the feeling. My first one, which I bought was a 3.2 Carrera, and then you start to have this kind of relationship with the car, the love for the car and the sound it makes and so on.
But I think most importantly when you have such a car like that, and even if it’s a Porsche or something else, there’s a community around it. Through this, you get to know many people who bring you to other people, who bring you to exciting events. So, it was a fascinating and enriching world that I didn’t know about before.
Can you point out certain networks or communities that really stand out of the crowd?
Well, I’ve been lucky. I travelled a lot and met a lot of different communities. In the beginning, it was a small community we have in Belgium. Then I went to Germany where a big Onassis event took place. Then I travelled to the States, and I saw a totally different community with a different approach to cars and lifestyles. If you go to sunny California, they drive their vehicles all year round, and you also have the option to drive different cars. But you cannot compare Americans with European people in this context.
It’s not that I have a particular preference for one group or another. I feel comfortable in all of them, and I like to move between them. When I first saw the Urban Outlaw documentary, I was obsessed with the way Magnus treated his cars and how he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted with them. Now the older I get, I want my car to look like it did on the first day it came out of the factory. It’s an evolution which is exciting and enriching.
»I prefer black and white. My mind is already set up that way to find the perfect image.«
How many Porsche do you own?
I have three, which is too much in terms of space because I like to have my cars at home. If I want another one, I have to sell one. So, having two cars for me is comfortable at the end of the day (smiles).
Do you have a decade, which is your most favourite one in terms of the 911?
The F model is the most beautiful car there is in terms of how they look, how they are designed and how they handle the road – they are really classy. If you think about driving every day, you probably go for a 964 or a 993. But I don’t need to drive them daily in Europe because the weather is not so well most of the time.
Are there any other cars you as well admire?
I’m a big fan of a DeLorean. Everybody says it drives like shit, but even if it’s like that, I want to have one at some point because it’s such a beautiful design.
You do analogue photography and black and white only?
If I choose to shoot analogue black and white, I will always do it because it’s the kind of photography that I think is timeless and that suits me best. If some clients ask for colour, I can do it as well. But I prefer black and white, and my mind is already set up that way to find the perfect image.
So, through the years, I developed my very own style. It’s always rewarding when people see a black and white photo and immediately recognise that it’s one of mine.
You do work with Leica and Hasselblad. Was it a coincidence or a conscious decision, that you chose these high-profile super cameras?
When you start exploring the photography cosmos, these two iconic brands are always there, so I chose them. I felt comfortable shooting with those cameras, and I have stuck with the brands for as long as I can remember. It’s also about that really minimalistic approach of these brands. When there are too many buttons on a camera, I get nervous (smiles).
Let’s talk about light. What is your favourite?
If I can choose, I always go for natural daylight. I try to shoot with the light which is available on site. I don’t know how to set up different lights because I never did it, and I never enjoyed it either. I think it’s too much of a hassle to bring all the lights.
Sometimes it’s challenging because when it’s too sunny, the light can be really harsh. So that can be tricky and challenging, but I like it that way, and this is precisely my kind of photography.
It seems that your book series »A Flat 6 Love Affair« became a kind of overnight success. Were you happily surprised by the feedback back then?
Yeah, absolutely. Because I printed just 911 copies of the first book, I had no clue how many of these books I would sell. No clue at all. From the first one, I sold maybe two or 300 right away and then stuck with the rest, more or less, first of all.
And then, I started my second book, and the people who ordered the second one started to collect the first one. And it all ended up that many people were keen to get the whole series. I was surprised about how big the success was. Maybe it’s because it was something new as it was analogue and black and white.
Please tell us about your »Fast and Painless« book. What is the conceptual idea behind it?
Well, while I was travelling so much and was always interested in portraits because I’m a big fan of Anton Corbijn. So, I started to take portraits of people, and then it went fast. I went from one celebrity to another. Suddenly, I had the chance to work with Macy Gray, and that’s always a good angle to ask someone else. From there, I worked my way.
I always tell people that 20% of the craft is photography, and the other 80% is selling yourself, making sure you get there. If you have a shoot with the Rolling Stones, once you’re there, it’s not that difficult anymore. But getting there is much more challenging than the shoot itself. Most people don’t get that. And then you end up taking pictures of your dog and kids…
Are you one of those photographers who direct a lot, or do you let go?
Most of the time, I go with the flow. I’m not a big talker during my shoot. You have to direct a little bit, of course. If people feel comfortable and safe with you, they’re willing to do whatever you ask.
Who was the most fun to work with? With whom was it particularly inspiring?
I have an excellent understanding with Mark Mahoney, for example, in L.A. So, every time I’m there, we shoot again. I also have an excellent familiarity with Macy Gray. I have this bond there, and I’m in their circle of trust, so to say, which is brilliant because I can shoot them wherever they feel comfortable.
You also photographed Anton Corbijn. Does a photographer like to be photographed?
I think he felt very comfortable. After all, he has become a celebrity in his own right and got used to it. I met him the first time during one of his exhibitions in Frankfurt. And Anita Becker, the owner of the gallery, invited me for dinner after the exhibition with Anton and a couple of other guests.
So, that’s where we got connected, and a little later on, we met on a beach in Belgium, where I took some pictures. It was effortless. Anton was very approachable and very supportive.
Do you have kind of role models or people who really inspired you?
Anton Corbijn, of course, and as well, Bruce Weber. But it doesn’t have to be a celebrity at all. Sometimes I get my inspiration from talking to friends or people I meet. For example, the guy who introduced us …
When Reinhardt and I were on the road together, we talked about cars and life. We always had this one-liner between us, »Action creates memories.«. Because most people talk too much, but they don’t do anything.
So, when we took the car and went on a trip, that’s an action. And through that, you create memories. Something exceptional always happens on these trips, which is the most crucial thing in life – creating inspiring memories.
You do also films. When did that start?
At some point, Porsche asked me to do the commercial for the 992, which was very interesting, and opened a lot of doors as well.
What are your future plans?
Well, the books are all finished, and I’m doing as many exhibitions as I can with those pictures. We had one in Ingolstadt and one in Lisbon, and now I am talking about the opportunity to do one in the UK and maybe one in Hamburg. So I’m talking to many people to see if we can make it happen and show my work in different cities.
Apart from that, I’m thinking about also doing another analogue photography project. Maybe the cars will be a recurrent theme in that I continue shooting portraits. And I’d like to go on tour with a band that I got to know, just to do something different. We are planning to do a documentary as well but at the moment is not finally confirmed yet.