A bout of cerebral malaria 18 years ago made Heinrich van den Berg reconsider his life as a civil engineer and decide to live his passion – photography. Now, with some 20 photography books already published, he’s bringing out a new one called Reflection. It’s a deeply personal book in which, he says, he has used ‘something deeper inside me than just sight, hearing and touch’. In this Q&A with photographer Heinrich van den Berg, he shares some insights and some of the photos from the book.
HvdB: I’ve done various different kinds of book, including guide books, photographic mementoes and books on tourism destinations. But three were from the heart. With Art of Nature I focused on the elements of art, and in Shades of Nature I printed the book in black and white. For Reflection I wanted to go a step or two further.
The theme of the book is change. I’ve just become a father, and change is a theme that has run through my life recently. Photography is also changing with the advances of technology, as well as book publishing. Natural places and species are under severe threat and in constant change. So I incorporated the change theme with text and visual elements – the book develops from pure black and white, to warm black and white, to sepia, and then to all the colours of the rainbow, starting with violet and ending with red. By doing this I could change the mood throughout the book, and take the reader on a visual safari through the wonderful natural world that surrounds us. I printed the book with eight colour inks instead of four, which created beautiful contrast.
HvdB: So many books feature image captions as afterthoughts. I wanted to spend as much time and effort in creating captions as possible. They took me months to write, even though they’re short. I’ve been a full-time wildlife photographer for 16 years, and after all that time I wanted to share more than just images. Good images are a reflection of the photographer, and I wanted to allow the reader into that connection between the mind and the photo.
Some photos are colour and some black and white or sepia. What governs your decision about which medium to use?
HvdB: The kind of image that works in black and white or sepia is totally different from one that works in colour. For black and white you need contrast, texture, side-lighting and most importantly a connection with the subject. With black and white, the reader is immediately given a glimpse into the ‘soul’ of the animal; colour tends to mask many things, and too much reality can block emotion. I found that by removing colour from the images, I managed to add another dimension to them, giving them more meaning.
HvdB: I don’t have a preference. I love photography and everything about it. I love the wild and everything about it. So I photograph everything wild.
Please share some of your favourite photos from the book and tell us some back story and why those photos are so special to you.