Jan van Endert
Loves cars; loves experimentation
Interviewed by Lewis Blackwell
LB: Jan, congratulations on being chosen as the Mobius Photographer of the Year. In particular, we note the great campaign you did for Mercedes Night View Assist. That turned us on to the rest of your portfolio and from that came the decision that you should be given this award in 2013. Can you tell us a little about your work?
Jan van Endert: I love transportation, I love to shoot cars. When I started out I worked two-and-a-half years for a well-known car and people photographer and from this I came to recognise I was more a guy to shoot stills of cars than people shooting. I like cars because a car is just standing there; it is never going to complain about it being too cold or too hot; it is never going to ask you for a drink or for sushi or whatever!
Mostly you are in beautiful places with the car, and you have most of the day to get the shot. I work usually with natural light; I don’t tend to use flashes or HMI. So there is just the car, the light, my little team and me. This gives me the control I like. So most of my main commercial work is done with cars and motorbikes.
But I also like working with architecture and landscape – although these are not so encouraging to work on from the commercial perspective.
LB: When did you start?
Jan: I started 10 years ago, 3rd January 2003, on my own, after working for about four years in total as an assistant or scout. At that point, I had the idea to go to New York and work for a big photographer . . . I had contacts to do that but just before going I fell in love with a girl so I didn’t go, and I needed to start my own business! I got an agent, Claudia Nerger. She was my first agent and still we work together happily.
It is very different and challenging of course, that switch to working for yourself. You are the person who is responsible for everything. It changes your life completely.
It was seven days working, and it felt like 24 hours a day. There was never enough money as you always had to spend all that you got on developing your work, buying more equipment and so on. I was lucky to start with good brands – I think my second or third job was working on a catalog for Mercedes. But you are always challenged to get the money in, and there is never enough to both eat and invest in your portfolio. You always have to keep working on your personal side, not allow it to be only the advertising commissions that are in the portfolio.
LB: How has your work developed over the decade?
Jan: Now I am 38; I have the sense of being a bit older, with more experience, and I feel stronger and safer than 10 years ago when everything was new and challenging. When I started out I was nervous every day that the telephone did not ring, and after three days it was a nightmare! Now I am more relaxed.
And perhaps also because I am a father, with a little son a year old, and my girlfriend has a daughter as well; so two kids… that helps change you a lot. If it happens that the phone doesn’t ring then now I know to enjoy having more time for the family and to develop my book.
LB: Your distinctive aesthetic has strengthened over the years. Can you explain?
Jan: In the beginning I was shooting landscape, architecture and cars. I said I would never shoot people. But then requests for car catalogs came where some of it included people. So I had to change a little. I started to love that in a way, too, even though I am not a people photographer. If I shoot them, I do it in an editorial way and then mix that with the commercial work and that perhaps makes for something distinctive. So you get the clean car photography but with this editorial feel to the people. Then I might work with smaller cameras so that I can react a little faster in some situations, and perhaps with 1.8 f-stop, sharp eyes and everything else getting blurred.
There’s a lot of new work that I have yet to put up to my site. The work keeps changing a lot so there may be a new me to put out there! I think I have found the right way of working for me now, where I can do commercial work that is almost the same as I might create as personal work.
LB: The Mercedes Night View Assist campaign is… beautiful and original. Tell us about how it came about.
Jan: This is a little funny. They asked somebody else to do this campaign, more a still-life studio guy, shooting without real rain or real city, building it all. But he was not available and only then did they ask me. And they had not so much time left.
They told me the other guy had planned to shoot it in the studio but I said, no, I would definitely shoot it for real – and I would shoot it in the actual car being promoted, a real E-Class, with rain in the windscreen, have the camera in the middle between the two front seats and go out and shoot for two or three nights.
We had one assistant as the driver, the creative director in the back with me, and the camera in the middle. We had the open shutter, the focus on the windscreen with the raindrops, and everything else blurred. The first shot looked like magic – it was like a lot of Photoshop work but was for real. Of course, we did work in the end on the computer to get the final effects, moving the dots to build the words that are suggested, but it all started for real.
So just the car, three guys, a camera and a good tripod. The shooting, making selection, some post-production. It was a great project. It all helps create that feeling of being in the car and looking out. And people seemed to really love the campaign.
The idea was great to start with, of course. I like the fact, too, that it is car advertising, but you don’t see the car! It shows you can get away from showing a big shiny car across a double page.
LB: What’s next?
Jan: This year, I started with shooting for BMW in Spain, and I have a lot more coming up. We’re busy. I am also shooting film alongside some of the projects. We started at the end of 2011 in shooting film really. I did a project for the Audi magazine in England, and they needed a little movie for the iPad version. Out of that I got friendly with the cameraman, and we started to work together on other things. So I directed a small documentary about an English helicopter pilot, one of the most amazing guys I have met, who I met on the Audi job.
After that we did a personal project with the BMW M3, making a film using the Canon 5D, to see what was possible. Checking it out, seeing if I liked the outcome. It was fun and the reaction from others to these early films was so good that in 2012 we had a photo story and small movie booked by a high-end travel magazine. That went well and so BMW came and booked me to make a movie around a new motorbike, shooting my idea in Kenya. And this link of movies with stills seems to be continuing. The movie direction opens up new possibilities for me and for clients working with me.
LB: And do you get to develop your personal work still?
Jan: Since I am a father, I love to shoot my little boy, of course. And I have started to shoot on film again. Shooting on digital is great, I love it, but I also hate it! You have all these images on your hard-drive, so many in the archive; it is so hard to look at the work again, particularly when you have gone away for a month somewhere shooting a catalog, and then you have so many shots to go through. You forget them sometimes. With film it was so different; you tended to see all the films, all the contact sheets easier, and you took fewer exposures. But now I go again to the lab with shooting this personal work… and I have the fun to print again.
I also am having fun using a new digital camera, the Fuji X-Pro 1, and I started loving to shoot again in my free time with this… it’s only 16.2 megapixel. I can’t use it for the car photography, but I love it. It is a view camera, and I enjoy working with this, shooting completely different things such as details in my hotel room, flowers in bushes at night, close-up parts in the elevator. The camera is so small, and it makes me feel more of a reportage editorial photographer. I never had the eye for that before.
I am also shooting on Polaroid again, with no great project in mind, just collecting them into old shoeboxes. Perhaps books or exhibitions might come out of it. But I just love to shoot at the moment on this personal work without a concept. It’s fun, and who knows where it might lead.
View more of Jan’s work at www.van-endert.com.
Lewis Blackwell is an author, director and a photography expert. His experience includes being Chief Creative Officer/Partner of Evolve Images, as well as the editor-at-large of photography book publisher PQ Blackwell. His resume includes industry-leading roles as the global creative head of Getty Images, and before that the Editor/Publisher of the magazine Creative Review. His critically-acclaimed volume “Photowisdom” features exclusive interviews with many of the world's most notable photographers.