In conversation with Bastiaan Woudt

by Unseen January 02 2018

Despite a lack of formal training, emerging Dutch photographer Bastiaan Woudt – whose works were presented by Kahmann Gallery at Unseen Amsterdam 2017 – has established a pronounced artistic signature through a process of constant experimentation. With his sophisticated use of both camera and post-production techniques, Woudt provides a graphic and wholly contemporary twist to his often classical subjects.

In October 2017, Woudt travelled to Mukono, Uganda in collaboration with the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation. In line with its commitment to improving access to clean drinking water, the Foundation has initiated several projects in Mukono, including the construction of rainwater tanks, community wells and toilet blocks for primary schools. During his trip, Woudt visited one such project, turning his lens to the locals it serves, and producing a beautiful series of images connected to the relationship between community and water.

In the below interview, Woudt outlines his impression of the visit, his motivation, and his plans for the visual material he amassed there.

Mukono_20171002_low res_© Bastiaan Woudt_www.jpg

What made you decide to go to Uganda with Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation?

It immediately appealed to me. I have been to Africa before, but I’d never visited Uganda. In 2015 I climbed Kilimanjaro with another charity, but a tight schedule meant I wasn’t able to see much of Tanzania. Despite the short trip, the continent inspired me enormously, and I have drawn inspiration from Africa in various shoots and styling ideas in my work in the Netherlands. Beforehand, I knew the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation through Linelle Deunk, an artist from the same gallery as me. Ernst Coppejans and Robin de Puy are also familiar names to me, and they had both travelled with the Foundation before. Besides that, the whole project is linked to a good cause – it’s about more than just ‘travelling to Uganda’. This provides for more stories behind the photographs, and you get to visit places you wouldn’t otherwise see.

What was your first impression of the life in Mukono?

Although the people there have a lot less when compared to us, they really make something out of it. For example, I was struck by ‘The Queen of Mukono’; a real princess that walked around the village with a pearl necklace, wearing some sort of headgear and a beautiful dress. You would think that she was perfectly styled for the photo. Her dress fluttered in the wind, and it looks like she came from another time. She was a real queen; a unique shot. It struck me that, despite challenges, people do not throw in the towel, but they display a lot of positivity and power.

Mukono_20171004_low res_© Bastiaan Woudt_www.jpg

How is travelling an inspiration for your photography?

If I prepare myself too much for a trip, I am disappointed when I don’t succeed in what I had planned to shoot. What works best for me is going somewhere without expectations. In Uganda, I shot forty portraits in only one day, so I knew this trip would be photographic success. We were very lucky to have a local partner, George, who travelled with us through Mukono. He knew all the places we visited and spoke the language, which gave me access to many special, intimate situations. For example, when we arrived at a family home to see a rainwater tank, the whole family was waiting for us and were open to having their picture taken. They were extremely grateful to the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation for what they made possible. Their lives have really changed through the water project. Without a guide on previous trips, it was extremely difficult to talk to people in this way.

Mukono_20171003_low res_© Bastiaan Woudt_www.bastiaanwoudt.com_0064.jpg

What does photography mean to you?

It is my way of expressing my vision and of sharing what interests me. For me, photography is a fast, easy medium with which to tell my story; I can directly shoot an image or capture a scene. When I shoot a portrait it’s always my own interpretation of the person standing there; I can’t capture a person as ‘real’ as he or she is. To have a clear story behind a photo series is interesting, but I think it's also good just to do things intuitively because you like it and it suits you.

What are your plans for the near future?

An exhibition is coming up and I’m going to publish a book as well! We are currently working on the composition of the book, which contains over 100 images from Mukono. In addition, we are working on a limited edition box with a small selection of prints from this project. I’m very happy to donate part of the proceeds of my prints of the Mukono series to the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation to help even more people access clean drinking water.

Mukono_20171005_low res_© Bastiaan Woudt_www.jpg

A selection of images from the Mukono series will be exhibited at Haute Photographie (8-11 February 2018) in Rotterdam.

All images © Bastiaan Woudt