Discover the exciting interview with photographer Jan Vermeer about his new Coffee Table Book "Wonderland". The book takes you into the fascinating world of mushrooms and focuses on the beauty and peculiarity of the creatures. The Dutch nature photographer went on a mushroom hunt, which results in a book full of intoxicating colours and shapes.
Whether it's exciting background information on Jan Vermeer's everyday work and photographic technique, future projects or the greatest challenges during the work on "Wonderland" - our interview lets you dive even deeper into the spectacle of nature:
You don't use any additional photo tricks, such as artificial watering with a plant sprayer or the use of excessive light. Why is naturalness so important to you?
Mushrooms are so beautiful from themselves, so it is not necessary to use props and trics. Our world is already full and overwhelmed by unreal stuff like ai today, so I decided to stay close to the natural world. Sometimes I use a little artificial light, but the goal was from the beginning to stay as close as possible by the nature itself.
Animals, landscapes, mushrooms - your enthusiasm for nature photography is not limited to a particular specialty. How does your approach and technique change with varying surroundings? How does your preparation change, depending on the photographic subject?
I’m used to make stories about nature, so all aspects of photography comes together. For all kind of photography you need a camera and a lens. So there is not a big difference if you shoot landscapes or details like mushrooms. But when I jumped into the colorful world of mushrooms the need for special lenses, tripods etc. shows up. To get low as possible to groundlvel were most of the fungi are, a regular tripod can’t do that.
You offer photo tours and individual photo expeditions. Your next trip is to Spitsbergen. What learning experience is particularly important to you on these tours? What do you want to convey to the other photographers?
Most important is to have respect for the nature. Images are informant, but disturbing wildlife and the environment is a no go. Technical I try to learn that tools like camera’s are important but seeing it is more the goal. If you have a bag full of equipment, this is not a guarantee that you make good pictures. Understanding nature and the behavior of wildlife is also without doubt important .
One of your quotes is: "Self-doubt makes a good photographer". Do your self-doubts become more or less with time?
I think whatever you do, from time to time you have to look into the mirror and ask yourself;. Is it still good what I am doing or can I improve myself as a photographer. Pushing borders, trying and do’t be afraid to make mistakes, this is al needed for making next steps. This is what I did with Mushrooms, they are so common, so easy to find and that makes you lazy, to lazy.
The pictures in “Wonderland” were all taken in the Netherlands, your home country. Does the idea of exploring mushrooms in other parts of the world appeal to you?
There are around 6000 species in the Netherlands. Most of them are also growing in many other European countries. So the need to search all over Europe was not there. But after I finished the book I am thinking to make a next step. There are also in the rest of the world, like the tropics amazing fungi tho find. I’m serious working on it to make it happen.
Are there things that you have learned to appreciate in your home country?
In the last centuries I visited many countries. Traveling back home is always nice to meet my family, but it also learns me that the small things in life are also very important. Wildlife in Africa is outstanding, but red deer and wild boar are also great to see in the wild. And they live in the area were I live.
The natural diversity of the mushroom world is limitless. Over the years you have accumulated an enormous wealth of knowledge. Is it still possible for you to walk through nature without a scientific or photographic view of things? Are you unconsciously looking for the next photographic object?
If I say no it sounds silly. I am always looking with images in my mind, but when I’m walking with my wife in the forest for example, I leave the camera bag at home. Only a small camera is with me, just in case we see something rare like a wolf. They spreading out in the Netherlands, also were I live but still I haven’s see one.
“Puffin in the Snow” is your most famous photograph to date. It shows the unique moment of a puffin flying straight into the camera lens. Did you feel when photographing, that this picture would change your career?
At the moment itself I did’t notice that this will be my most famous picture. When I am in the nature I don’t look to much at the images I shoot. When you do that often you missed the perfect moments. Later in the evening when I was checking the pictures I understand immedelity that this images was very unusual and special. The reason is quit simple, puffins turned black to there breeding grounds in spring when snow is rare. The place were I make this image is up north and there is a good change of snow in that period.
In the Netherlands, picking wild mushrooms is forbidden by law - in Germany, the mushroom season attracts many hobby pickers to the forest every year. The number of collectors of edible mushrooms has increased significantly. How do you view this trend?
It is not allowed to pick flowers and mushrooms, also it is not allowed to collect wild berries. That’s the rule made by the nature reserve owners. We have countless owners and they have all the own rules. But, it is in some nature reserves allowed to collect a handful of berries, mushrooms and other fruits. Just for your own use, trade is forbidden. Holland is extremely overcrowded, if everybody collect mushrooms other people don’t see them anymore. That’s for me the most important reason why you don’t collect them. Many people like to see mushrooms, in the autumn it’s on a sunny day crazy full in all nature reserves. So, leave them for others is friendlier.
You have visited more than 50 countries. Which destination is still open on your list?
I am very blessed that I have seen such an amount of beautiful countries and places. Stil I have some places in mind, most of them are or extremely dangerous or highly expensive to visit. Central Africa is a dream but with a family at home not very wise toe go there, there are conflicts and good kidnapping is also a huge problem.
Which mushroom is the most difficult to capture aesthetically and why?
Sometimes I find a specie but the mushroom is not perfect, rotten or just finished. It is more difficult to fin the perfect ones without any damages. If a fungi is not perfect, I font’s take a photographs and search for a better one. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes there is only one.
You would like to put every mushroom on a pedestal of honor. Is there a special mushroom that is on your personal pedestal of honor?
Without discussion there is one specie high in that list. Its the Rhodotus palmatus, this one is also listed in the world top ten. Especially when they are in the young stadium it is the most wonderful creation made by nature. When I am working on this specie like I did for four years in row, it makes me restless and sometimes I have sleepless nights. In the youngest stadium they are very fragile, when it is raining the lines on the hood disappeared and the beauty is gone and don’t come back.
What did the work on your book "Wonderland" teach you?
In a world that is constantly feed by millions of images every day, I understand that focus on a subject like mushrooms pays back in quality. I invest a lot of money and time into this project. When I find a nice subject, I can stay for hours at one spot to get the best out of it. It works to invest a lot because there is a huge interest in this nice project. Many magazines published articles including National Geographic, and now Wonderland is published!
Is there a certain time of day or special weather conditions that you preferred for your "Wonderland" photographs?
The best weather is dark, grey and even a bit rainy is the best. The colors are more deep and bright, if the sun is shining it created shadows and in the macro world that’s not what you want.
What was a normal working day like during the production of “Wonderland"?
In the peak season - autumn - I spend nearly the whole day in searching and photographing. It depends of the weather, when it’s to sunny I went back home for a break and continued in the afternoon when the light turns out the best. After the season I spend ours editing ad processing images in my office.
What are some of the most difficult things in your job? What are the biggest challenges for you?
The most difficult part is how to finance the next project. In the beginning of my career, lets say 30 years ago that was not an issue. But the income dropped dramatically since digital and mobiles takes over the world.
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