Variety is the Spice of Life: Interview with Peter Kool

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Eric’s Note: I first noticed the work of Peter Kool on Flickr (and in another interview with Leica Liker) and loved his jolly, whimsical, and fun street photographs. He has a superb eye for details and timing.

Peter was born 1953 in the Netherlands, and moved to Belgium in 1973 to get married. He started to shoot from the birth of his first son, and went to the academy from 1980-1985. He also says, “The life expectancy of a Belgian male is 77 at the moment, so still 17 years of photographing to come.” Read the interview and see his images below.

1. Hey Peter, great to have you. To start the interview, you formally studied photography at the Academy of Fine Arts. What are some lessons you learned in school which still stuck with you today?

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At the academy I discovered the kind of photography that I liked and still like to do.

There were some lessons in technique, but making a good photo is not something you can learn, like baking bread. The teachers mainly were giving guidance by commenting our photos and by demonstrating the work of known photographers.

But I can remember the advice; “Don’t get cramps in your fingers”, meaning– don’t hold back because you think it won’t be a good photo, take it anyway.

2. You have been shooting street photography since the 80’s, took a break between 1990 and 2005– and took it up again. Can you take us along your photography journey, through the ups and the downs?

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I started to like photography by taking pictures of my children.

My wife already went to the academy drawing and painting and pointed out to me that also photography was teached there, so I was off for five years of focusing and developing.

Meanwhile I worked in a steel factory. By doing shifts night and day I was slowly getting tired both physically and mentally, photography went downhill with it.

But meanwhile said farewell to the factory and I was back, alive and clicking.

3. Your earlier work is in black and white film, and now you have transitioned into shooting mostly color digitally. Can you share how you feel your black and white work is different from your color work — and why the shift?

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In the film period I was more amongst people, making portraits and stuff.

I’m more of an outside peeper now.

With the arrival of digital photography my cursing has dropped to an acceptable level, because I’m no longer ruining photo paper in the darkroom. Digital is less work, healthier (those chemicals), much cheaper and I’m sure quality will get better and better. Waiting for the built-in camera with the eyes as lenses, already have an idea where to put the usb-port.

I switched to color little by little, not entirely sure why. Maybe because it’s more realistic and color often adds to the composition. But winter mood is coming, might do b&w once and a while then.

4. Your photos are very whimsical, strange, and surreal. Do you go out “hunting” for these moments or do they come to you? Can you also share how often you go out and shoot. Are you the type of person to always have a camera with you?

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I’m not especially looking for such moments; I just scour the streets and wait for something to happen or might happen.

Sometimes my own presence triggers a certain situation, often it comes together because of the photographing itself. In that context I often tell myself to take more photos, but I do not always obey myself.

The times I go out shooting is very different; when I’m at home once or twice a week.

I’m abroad maybe four or five times a year and then I shoot every day, that’s a feast.

I always have a camera with me except for burials and food shopping.

5. Visually, your photos are a combination of very simple minimalistic images– and more complex multi-layered photos that incorporate shadows, reflections, and multiple subjects. Can you share your thoughts on your simple photos versus your more complex images?

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I like pie, but a simple cookie can be nice too. I don’t want to limit myself with a certain style and I think making a good simple picture is as difficult as a complex one.

Variety is the spice of life.

6. To go off the last question, I think that you have a superb eye for composition (whether it be simple or complex). Can you share your thoughts on how you compose in the streets?

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At high school I was good in mathematics; maybe it has something to do with that.

Anyway most of the time it’s the feeling instead of the rationality that makes the picture. In most situations there’s too little time to think it over.

7. I read in another interview by Elizabeth Wang Lee that you don’t work on projects– but focus more on single images. Can you share why you prefer to work in this manner- and any potential project ideas you have in the future?

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I have no ambition for a social project of some kind. I just want to compose music for the eye with each single photo.

If I would go shoot in a home for mentally disabled drag queens I would probably come home with some impressive photos, but because of my purpose that would not feel right. Somebody has to do this kind of things, but then “because of” the subject; to illustrate a story for example.

If I will get an idea for a project, the photo itself has to be the purpose.

 8. You live in Belgium and sometimes travel while you are shooting. Describe your experiences at home and abroad.

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My travels now are mainly in the neighbor countries like Spain, France or Germany.

Abroad I find new inspirations; walking the same streets for a hundred times I get the feeling that there is nothing left to photograph. Which is not true of course, but still it’s stiffening my trigger finger.

9. If you could start street photography all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

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I would get rich very soon and be a globetrotter with a camera and no responsibilities. Any like-minded out there, hahaha.

10. Who are some contemporary street photographers you recommend us to check out– and also share what about their work touches you.

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Your question is also the answer; a photo has to touch you. It has to evoke some kind of emotion; astonishment for different reasons.

After my “come-back” I discovered on the www what was going in photo-land. It was overwhelming to discover all those great photographers.

I have mentioned some of my favorites before, but now I don’t want to exclude anyone, so the list would be too long.

11. Any other last things you would like to mention – or people you would like to give a shout-out to?

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Yes, have a nice shoot-out dear photo friends.

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