Recently a friend in the US requested photo copies of the Rockers series for a poetry project and I started looking at the sheets with negatives. Most of these images are digitized, but I like to look at the old sheets. The first sheet had a date on it. April, 1977. That is 40 years ago… The tagline of my site reads ‘a collection of over 30 years of photography’ while in fact I am a photographer for more than 40 years. The Rockers series was not my first project. It was the first successful one. Looking at the copy of the invitation above it is obvious that it took me a year to get the series exhibited.
The Rockers series has always been special to me. At first the series bankrupted me. I shot over 600 rolls of film while I was supposed to work for an advertising agency doing product photography. I hated that. The products kept piling up in my studio while I was drawn further into the world of these greasers as I called them, or in my native tongue vetkuiven. The title of the series was altered to accommodate an international public in Brussels. Soon after the exhibit – which left me broke but convinced of the fact that advertising was really not my thing – I was asked to photograph for several magazines.
In 40 years the Rockers created more income than any other series I have produced.
As requested I sent my friend the photo copies and I also digitally remastered the main series of 32 images to print them and put them in a box that went along with the photo copies. I do not know exactly why I did this, but remastering and printing the rockers felt necessary. It was almost like editing the works of a different photographer, although I have to admit that my style of photography has not changed much since 1977. I am still photographing people against a neutral background.
I often refer to myself as the most boring photographer on the planet because I never changed my way of working. Despite that my photographs often ignite controversy in many countries. Maybe by printing the Rockers once over I was going to find the reason for my consistent approach to photography. I soon realized it was never ‘all’ about photography. I used to hate the technical stuff and especially working with nasty chemicals – until professional digital photography came around in 2000. I was looking for ways to understand others, mostly people I would never meet in day to day life. Until I reached 30 I photographed mostly men. It was obvious I was looking for my own identity.
After 40 my works became sexually charged and the people I photographed were mostly women. It seems logical now. I never understood much about intimacy. This may very well have been caused by a long period of being sexually abused in a hospital during puberty. Sexuality is or can be the ultimate expression of intimacy. Very old wounds rarely heal completely so expect me to create sexually charged photographs until I die.
Most importantly I now realize that I have to apologize to my art teacher who once taught me that all art is about the person creating it. I laughed at him and told him my work as a photographer was about the people I photographed. I now have to admit he was right and I was wrong.