28 July at 10:27
Vibrant, Interesting, Urban, Storytelling, Creative, Observant… these are just some of the words that come to mind when describing the photography of this month’s Spotlight guest. She’s quiet , but her photos pack a huge punch with brilliant colors and clever POV that make you see the world in a different way. I am so excited to present to you my Spotlight on Hélène Cook.
Who are you?
I am a French national born in 1972 and living in Brussels, Belgium. Photography is my hobby and I am mostly an urban photographer. I love street photography – I know this is not very original in this group – and also cityscapes and architecture. I am an optimistic person and I like to reveal beauty and positive emotions in my photography through catching scenes, vibrant colours (I mostly shoot in colour although I love black and white shots too), dynamic compositions and humour. Street photography is very challenging for a shy and discrete person like me but it’s fun trying and very rewarding when you get a good picture. Photography allows me to concentrate on the world around me and forget about the daily frustrations. And it is also a great way to make new friends everywhere, including in this group which allowed me to discover, follow and actually meet and become friends with some fantastic photographers .
How did you get into photography ?
I have always liked taking snapshots since I was a kid, first with cheap point-and-shoot cameras and now with better gear and manual or semi-manual modes. I remember that, as a teenager, I had cut from a magazine a print of Steve Mc Curry’s Afghan girl with the powerful green stare and stuck it on one of my school books. But my photography adventure really started about 8 eight years ago when a colleague talked to me enthusiastically about a photography course she was following and showed the progress she had made in relatively short time. As I was not satisfied with my own shots, I decided to enrol the course and was immediately hooked by the photographic magic. This course not only taught me the basics of the light triangle and composition but also focussed on creativity and building an artistic approach. I felt in love with the photography masters and the power of strong images and wanted to get good photographs as well.
How much time do you dedicate to it?
Not enough, haha! More seriously I am not shooting as often as I would like to because of a demanding job and family duties but I try to maximise my chances by always carrying a camera in my bag, even a small one, for example when I go to work in case an opportunity occurs such as in the public transport. When I have time during weekends I take my bigger camera, a set of lens, sometimes a tripod and I go and shoot with more precise intentions. Occasionally, I would go on photo weekends with friends. And family holidays are also an occasion: when we visit a new place, I try to arrange a moment for myself to meeting with a local photographer to get an original flavour of the place.
What inspires you ?
The photography masters are a constant source of inspiration for me: Henri Cartier-Bresson for its sense of timing and composition, Vivian Meier whose fantastic street candid shots were just starting to be revealed when I started in photography, Dorothea Lange for her emotional portraits of American families during the great depression, Helen Levitt and her photos of kids playing in the streets of New York in the 30’s and 40’s and her subway shots, Saul Leiter for its original view points and his use of colours, Joel Meyerowitz (for its striking scenes) and Steve Mc Curry both of whom I had the chance to meet and talk to on the occasion of conferences in Brussels, Matt Stuart for his humour and his incredible eye capturing gestures in the street (I was lucky to follow a workshop with him and I learned so much), and many other great photographers including in this group.
In my photography, I am attracted by colours, lines, strong contrasts, timeless or funny scenes. I never get tired of watching kids, and I like to catch their innocent expressions. It’s not easy to take pictures of children nowadays but parents are usually less suspicious of women photographers. Public transport and especially metros with colourful stations are a constant source of inspiration for me. I find it fun to try to find beauty in the underground world where commuters usually don’t pay attention to their surroundings. I also find elderly people very touching and photogenic.
Your advice for new photographers ?
I will not be very original here and repeat the good advice I received from experienced photographers and that was relevant for me: put on a pair of good shoes, take your camera with your favourite lens, and practice as much as you can. If you can’t shoot every day, at least look at photos every day to learn from others and get some inspiration from street photography books or online photography groups. I learned a lot from following the Inspired street photography group! Learn the technic you need to get what you want to achieve but don’t be obsessed by it, technically perfect photos can be boring if there is no emotion in it. Be very critical on your photos before posting: are they really interesting and why (or why not?)? Are they telling a story? Is their quality, and composition adequate? If your photos are bad, try to understand why to get better ones next time: were your settings and composition right? Did you press the shutter at the right moment? Is there a disturbing element in your frame? Practice close to your area and try to find a photo project that will force you to go back to the same places again and again until you find the perfect settings and scenes to get what you want. It’s OK to miss street shots, even the best photographers are not successful every time.
Tell us about your recent expos!
A few years ago, I joined a collective of photographers – it is called Bruxelles Pixels and we aim to show Brussels with fresh eyes and exhibit new series every year. So far I showed different series related to the architecture in the metro but the most interesting ones for this group are probably my “Happy feet” and “Brussels rain” street photography series which I exhibited in 2019 and 2021 respectively.
Happy feet: travelling in the metro, I like to watch passengers and especially look at what distinguish them from each other, starting with original pairs of shoe. The series was built among the most peculiar or beautiful shoes I ‘chased’ on the metro platforms and when people step in or out of the metro. The most difficult part was to only get one pair within the frame and to catch at the same time the yellow line marking the limit of the platform to have some continuity in the series. I selected my favourite ones for the exhibition. It was a lot of fun and I am still continuing this project occasionally, mostly on my way to work.
Brussels rain: in the spring and summer 2021 when Brussels was finally emerging from the numerous lockdowns and starting to live again the weather was particularly wet with days and days of rains. I started taking busses under the rain and shoot through the wet windows in manual focus to get the rain drops on the windows very sharp and give an abstract look to the people and background behind.
More recently I was invited at the Parliament of the French speaking community in Brussels to show a series called “Brussels: Third type encounters” which plays with the modern architecture of Brussels to reveal ovnis, aliens and other strange creatures. Yes, I have a lot of imagination
Building an exhibition requires a lot of work but I find it really motivating to share my work and receive feedback from the public. For now I am a bit struggling with new ideas for the next ones, but inspiration will eventually come back!
Thank you so much Vanessa for your interest in my work
Thank you so much dear Hélène for taking the time to do this, your photos take my breath away and am so eager to see what you’ll be doing in the future. Our eyes are on you!
Thanks to all of you for stopping in, and as always and unconditionally, thanks to ISP for giving me this platform!
Cheers and good light xx