Koos Breukel: photo portraitist of real life

Looking through the lens of Koos Breukel

Why? I still ask myself WHY!? Why did I NOT go to the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam during Museumnacht 2 years ago. Apart from the fact that it’s an amazing museum, one of my favorite Dutch portrait photographers was there. Now you might think: Okay, so what? Well, he wasn’t just there to chit-chat with the visitors. The main reason he was there was because he made PORTRAIT PHOTOS of the visitors! So, what was my motivation for NOT GOING? It’s not that I see myself as a fabulous model, but SERIOUS…. Nobody would reject a personal shot made by this hero! I still cry internally…

Lucian Freud, Londen © Koos Breukel

Famous British portrait painter Lucian Freud, Londen © Koos Breukel

The traces that a struggling life leaves behind

I met Koos Breukel (1962, The Hague) and his photographic works a couple of years ago during my internship at the Rabobank Art Collection. He was invited to open an exhibition which presented some of his commissioned works for Rabobank Bergeijk.

Frans Schoone Koos Breukel

Koos Breukel, Zonder titel (Frans Schoone, Carnavalsvereninging Rommegat, ‘t Loo 11-12-2004), commissioned by Rabobank Bergeijk © Rabo Art Collection

Koos Breukel became famous in 1994 with the confrontational photo series he made of his close friend Michael Matthews who suffered from AIDS. His earlier works are all black and white and shot with analog cameras. Nowadays he shoots color photographs with a digital camera.

The reason why I get attracted to his work is because of the super INTENSE and confronting portraits he photographs. In his pictures Koos Breukel examines the deeper layers of human existence. He has a true talent in capturing the individual without denying the traces life left behind. Not superficial but also not sensational and certainly not voyeuristic.

Michael Matthew © Koos Breukel

Michael Matthews, Amsterdam (1995) © Koos Breukel

As a person and in his work, Koos Breukel is fascinated by the plodding human and the capability of humans to adapt to different (unwanted) situations and overcome adversity. Being a survivor and the limitations of peoples resilience. Especially the large scaled photos are really impressing. As if somebody is looking right through you and vice versa. I can’t explain his vision better then the quote on his website:

The major difference between other studio photographers and Koos Breukel is that he photographs people because he wants to find out if they have suffered some form of injury as a result of setbacks in their lives, and if they have managed to come to terms with this.

© Koos Breukel

© Koos Breukel

Survivor of an air crash by Koos Breukel © Rabo Art Collection

Survivor (Rijk) of the air crash in Faro (1999) © Rabo Art Collection

Inez van Lamsweerde by Koos Breukel © Rabo Art Collection

Dutch photographer Inez van Lamsweerde (2005) © Rabo Art Collection

Rineke Dijkstra, Amsterdam 2009 © Koos Breukel

Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra, Amsterdam (2009) © Rabo Art Collection

At a time in which Photoshop reigns (nothing against Photoshop, though I always have to laugh about the failed ones),  I find it very refreshing to see pictures like those of Koos Breukel because of the real, raw and authentic representation, seeing the person behind the image and perhaps also the recognition by seeing something of ourselves.

Hopefully one day I’ll get my second chance at his mobile studio in the Nederlands Fotomuseum or another museum…. Or I’ll save money until I can visit his studio myself… Or just walk around his house until I get noticed ;) Fingers crossed!

Want to know more about his work (in progress)? Watch the video below made because of his retrospective at the Fotomuseum Den Haag in 2013/2014!