The Transition

Kees Rijken: Art Director turned Photographer

By Connie Fluhme

Kees Rijken and his dogs. Source: Fonk Magazine

Recently we worked together with Kees Rijken for a special photography project in Fonk magazine. Kees can look back on an interesting career. He has worked, among others, as sr. art director at Ogilvy & Mather, he was creative director at McCann for 6 years and finally partner and art director at Lokomotive. Today, Kees uses the many years of experience in Art Direction and Creative Direction in a different profession. A great understanding of branding, technical knowledge of photography, a solid network and a feeling for what clients really are looking for — this all helps Kees Rijken to create memorable work as photographer. We wanted to find out more about what moves him, and showcase some of his work.

Can you give a short introduction about yourself?

Kees strives to show people his vision on his living subjects. Romance and transience are the main themes in his work. Photos are to be felt. Finding extraordinary treasures in the things of common life.
The essence in this is emotion, whether originating in a personal touch or simply a location. Where Kees goes, his feeling is translated to a photo. — Pieter Bas, Gup Magazine.

You started out your career as art director/creative director. How did you come to become a photographer?

I’ve always been interested in creating beautiful images. For me photography was a logical follow-up from my work as an art director/creative director. I wanted to be able to create images on my own.

What was the exact moment that you decided to fully concentrate on photography and say good-by to advertising?

When my own advertising agency ended up taking more energy than that it was giving me.

How did you find your very own style, and how would you describe that style?

I still feel I’m searching for my very own style, but some people recognize my work immediately.

Did you have a mentor in your transition from Art Director to Photographer?

I’ve learned a lot from other photographers.

And I also saw a lot of good work during my time as art-director/creative director that kept my eyes peeled for new ideas and styles.

Would you say that becoming a photographer influenced or changed your personal lifestyle, and if so, how?

The biggest difference is that I am on my own on this. I’ve worked in a team my whole life, but this is all me and no one else.

It seems like you cover a quite broad field, from corporate portraits to travel to editorial photography, horses, dogs… What’s your big love in photography?

My biggest love in photography is traveling, meeting new people and capturing their lives and environment /surroundings. I also love to take portraits.

Describe how you work professionally. Do you prefer to work alone or in collaboration? Do you organize shoots all by yourself, including styling, make-up, etc?

I usually organize shoots all by myself, and if I work in collaboration I make sure it is with the right people. It’s important to me that they have the same vision as I do and can add something to what I am trying to create.

Has your former career in advertising been helpful in finding commissioned work as a photographer?

Absolutely, my former career makes it easier to relate to the wishes of the customer/client.

Looking back, which advertising project was your most memorable one?

It’s hard to summarize the last forty years, but what stands out are definitely the Verkade campaign and the ‘Flexa Couleur Locale’ introduction campaign.

Verkade: Ogilvy & Mather Amsterdam; Kees Rijken, Harold Hamersma, Hans Kroeskamp (1988) — Source: Lürzer’s Int. Archive
Flexa Couleur Locale introduction campaign.

You have covered Romania 5 years in a row. Where does the love for Romania come from, what’s the story behind?

I think my love for Romania comes from my childhood in Brabant (1960), where I grew up in the countryside.

Kees as a child in the countryside in Brabant.

Recently you have captured VBAT’s Creative Director Graham Sturt and myself with our dogs for Fonk Magazine. Can you share your approach to this project and the idea behind this particular style? How do you get the dogs to do what you want?

I try to look at the characters of the dogs and their potentials. This was a challenge, giving there were two people and two dogs. I wanted to create a sincere, businesslike portrait, with a touch of humor, from the dogs as well as from you guys.

Connie Fluhme and Graham Sturt for Fonk Magazine. Foto: Kees Rijken

What was your first paid commission?


Work for Kempen & Co by Kees Rijken

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in everything.

What’s from your point of view the most beautiful and strong picture you have ever captured?

My favorite picture is the one of the cyclist at the bicycle underpass of the Rijksmuseum.

What advice would you give to a budding photographer looking to make their name in the industry?

To do what you love.

Are you often surprised, amused or annoyed about where some of your photographs end up?

No, I usually know where my photographs end up and how they are displayed.

Who is your favourite photographer and why?

Stephan Vanfleteren en Nadav Kandar. Stephan knows, like no other, how to captures someone’s character. And I admire Nadav because of his aesthetic work.

Left: Rem Koolhaas; Right Conny Palmen. Photography: Stephan Vanfleteren
Work by Nadav Kander, curated by Sarah Filippi, New York, June 2016
Norman Foster by Nadav Kander, 2016

If someone wants to have his photo taken in a special way by you, how do you call the style of these portraits?

My style doesn’t have a name, but I describe it as ‘The Rijksmuseum’ according to Kees Rijken.

If you could choose any project in the world and capture it, what would it be?

I would travel all around the world on my motorbike taking photo’s with my camera.

What are you working on right now, and will we be able to see the outcome?

I am currently working on a project called ‘The almost still life’. This project will soon be online.

The almost still life by Kees Rijken.

Thank you very much!

You’re welcome, it was nice working with you.

If you want to see more work from Kees, you can find it online:

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written by Connie Fluhme

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