WIM VAN CAPPELLEN
My grandfather was the one who helped me out when I started as a photographer, even though he would have preferred to see me as an engineer or a diplomat, my first career choice. My urge to go out into the world was just too strong. He gave me his Nikon F, his 50 and 135 mm lenses and his blessings. Thank you, Papy.
I was destined to be a privileged European kid, until a financial crisis hit my family and we lost almost everything. With my last savings I bought an extra 24 mm lens and a ticket to the Philippines. I wasn't really too much of a photographer, though. My degree in political science hadn't prepared me for the delicate balance between camera aperture and shutter speed. Enthusiasm and optimism didn't quite compensate for my minimal technical knowledge.
Early on my trip in Manila, I met Mon, a renowned local photographer. When I explained him I would be traveling in and out of the capital in between trips, he offered me his studio for the processing of my slide- and black and white negative films. "You shoot like a millionaire", he said dryly, because of the multiple shots I had made to be sure of at least one correct exposure. "But you have a good eye. let me help you out." He did, with patience and perseverance. I'm grateful for these aha moments, and I promised myself I would pay it forward and help other newbies whenever possible.
Back in Europe, I contacted well established photographers and asked them to let me accompany them during their reportage work. I would carry their equipment for free, in exchange for stories, trips and tricks. I'm still grateful for all their advice.
Undeterred, I contacted local magazines, boasted a bit about my adventures in the Philippines and got a first assignment. My first report was a hit: I had to follow a neofascist group, who loved the attention and acted in a bold way. It made the headlines.
I suddenly felt on top of the world. I left for a reportage in Haiti, but there I quickly landed back on my feet. I found myself in the frontline of gunfire, hid a night behind a refrigerator fearing for my life, but I learned how to control my panic. And I got my first publication in an international magazine.
In the process, I had become friends with photographers and journalists from all over the world. It was time for the next step. I made an appointment with the legendary agency director Marcel Saba, who introduced me to his partner Michel Rudman at REA in Paris, France. Michel became my mentor and friend. He guided me through some difficult choices and kept me with my feet on the ground.
Thanks to an intense collaboration with the agency staff, I covered major events all over the world. For more than ten years, I lived with my backpack ready at all times, deciding to fly out on a few hours' notice, genuinely feeling my worked mattered, telling stories about forgotten conflicts but also enjoying the adrenaline rush of being part of history in the making.
I got international recognition and won multiple awards (the Fuji Award twice, they must have like my preference for Fuji Velvia film) and featured in museum exhibitions. In the meantime, I had joined Reporters, a press photo agency in Brussels. We were one big family, working day and night and having fun in the process.
In the early 2000's, I joined the management team of Reporters and built their international network. We obtained the syndication rights for the Associated Press, Magnum Photos and more than a hundred partner agencies and photographers. I had fooled myself into thinking I could combine a job as an administrator with a life as press photographer, but the company staff had grown to twenty employees and that idea quickly became an illusion.
Photo agencies around the globe were bought for millions, in a bidding war between the billion dollar companies Corbis (owned by Bill Gates) and Getty Images. A one way ticket to a well deserved road to success, or so I thought. But by the time Corbis and Getty were done bidding, they had forgotten about Belgium. In the meantime, market conditions for photographers and photo agencies became more difficult. We made the transition to digital and video, we booked success into the corporate market, but every year we lost revenue. When I had to fire some of my friends in order to save the company, I suddenly felt alone and lost.
I seriously considered leaving the profession altogether. Yes, I had been able to guide younger photographers and help them on their way, as others had done before with me. Selling other photographers' pictures, however, how rewarding it could be, didn't fulfill me anymore. The continuous struggle in a difficult market had drained my energy. When I was able to sell my shares to my former business partner, for pennies instead of millions, I felt relieved.
The pandemic brought change to us all, and I found my passion back. I bought new gear, a Fuji Tx4 and a few lenses, and I was good to go. Or so I thought, since the photography landscape has changed a lot since my glory days. It was a challenge, but I'm up to a challenge: like in my very first start, I went back 'on the trail' and contacted potential clients. My order book is full again. I'm busy making portraits, shooting an entire image bank of local subjects or going out for reportage work.
Earlier this year, I discovered 'non fungible tokens' or NFT's. I gained insight in how a decentralised network could be beneficial to photographers and creators in general. In just a couple of months, I found a vibrant community of artists, all with a positive dynamic, sharing common grounds and entering in direct relationships with buyers and collectors. I felt the spark and my 'hungry young wolf' attitude sprang back to life. In an organic and natural way, I could share my experience and my innate optimism with other, sometimes much younger artists around the world. Paying it forward.
In November 2021, I joined Obscura, a leading NFT photography platform started by Alejandro Cartagena, Cooper Ray and Tony Herrera. The inspiration and positive energy in this vibrant community are contagious, and I feel my journey is leading to a common creative horizon. The spark is back.
Early June 1991, Mount Pinatubo Volcano in the Philippines started to wake up in all its intensity. I had been following the evolutions in the area since my first trip abroad, a six month long journey through the country, from the northern highlands to the turbulent southern islands. I witnessed a failed coup attempt, the struggles of two rebel...