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A Portfolio Cartier Bresson Would Be Proud Of

An interview with Envato Elements photographer Fre Sonneveld

Fre Sonneveld has always been fascinated with images, whether drawing, painting or taking photos with a camera. “My first picture was an attempt to frame some shells on the beach. But mostly ended up being filled with my jungle print sneakers, which is now an Instagram cliche.”

30 years ago, however, this “cliché” was nothing more than a happy accident, and it accelerated into an interest she fully developed around a decade ago following a trip to Halle, Germany. “Here I explored many abandoned buildings with my roommates,” she says. “The adrenaline rush of exploring these places and really having to scan and try out what works for a photo and what doesn’t. It feels like treasure hunting.”

She found a love for street photography, exploring cities and seeing what the maze of streets has to offer. “It’s a great way of seeing new and familiar places.” And she drew her biggest inspiration from the work of Henri Cartier Bresson, the pioneer of street photography. “The longer I’m taking photographs the more impressed I am with his sharp eye capable of seeing little, strange things in everyday situations.”

Sonneveld has clearly tried to develop the same eye through her work, using various tactics to try and see those strange little details so easily missed. “I love to see if there are other angles,” she tells me. “Can you place anything in the foreground or does a weird perspective put the place in a new light?” She’s found, at times, simply turning and facing what’s opposite your assumed subject can reveal the more interesting shot you were missing. “The only disappointing landmark image is the exact one that you can also buy at the postcard stand next to it.”

With that said, she still manages to take photos in some very iconic places. I wondered how calculated the approach to results like this are. “For me holidays come first,” she responded. “The moment you are photo hunting on holiday, the place you visit might be disappointing because it isn’t as photogenic, even though just being there might be great. I also feel that looking through the lens full time makes you overlook the atmosphere which is a big part of the image for me.”

That atmosphere is the key to what separates Sonneveld’s photos from others. “…it’s usually the situation/environment that will naturally guide my style choices: I like the photo to have the same specific atmosphere that the place had when I took the image.”

Her entire setup process is also centered around capturing, and not disrupting the natural authenticity of a moment. “I like to travel as light as possible, just a camera in my hand at all times. So there is no delay between spotting a situation and taking the shot. If needed, there is usually a natural tripod in the form of a wall or rock available.”

She sees this photo as a great example of taking advantage of an opportunity.

“I was just strolling through Chinatown in Bangkok when I spotted this hardware store. I love the geometric shapes and colors. The owners were having lunch in the backroom and couldn’t stop laughing [about] why this weird girl was taking pictures of metal pipes and profiles.”

The photographer has also seen her work used in an interesting variety of ways. In fact, she created a Tumblr blog to document the multitude of uses people have found for one of her photos, taken on a road trip a few years ago. “…something like a road has so many meanings, from very literal uses for travel agencies to more psychological interpretations as the road ahead in life. I find it interesting to see how the images are interpreted.”

Thinking back to that photo of shells on the beach with feet in the frame from thirty years ago, to her work today, one can conclude Sonneveld has well and truly found her voice. “They show that an image doesn’t always have to be technically perfect to capture the soul of the situation and grab your attention,” she says of two more of her influences, Weegee and William Klein. What’s beautiful is that these very words could just as easily describe her work today. A portfolio that no doubt Cartier Bresson would be proud to endorse.




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Dom Hennequin

Dom Hennequin

Murmurs on tech, media and culture.

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