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Ivo Eman

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Ivo was born in Amsterdam and earned a degree in Mathematics, though after a few years working in the field he realised he had neglected his creative side. His interest in photography led him to complete a BA at the Academy for Photography.

He says, “This was a change of life. It was so inspiring and fascinating. Then after finishing this school I decided to spread my wings and go to England three years ago. I still earned my money as a mathematician, but I knew I wanted to become a professional photographer.”

Now 35, Ivo has given up his maths job to start his new life, and his focus is fine art and illustrative photography. We asked him some questions about his work.

LIP: How do you find your inspiration and ideas for pictures or series of work?

IVO: I find inspiration by looking around me. That could be people rushing to jobs they do not like, rough locations in industrial areas, people mowing their far too small garden or a forester next to a dying tree. In fact, I get inspired by people’s ‘failure’ to act upon their desire. Most of my ideas are about the dream, the contrast between desire and reality. Other than observing my surrounding, I look at art. I visit museums and galleries, read books and explore the internet.

LIP: Do you shoot candid pictures at all then? Some of those scenarios sound like unmissable opportunities!

IVO: The scenarios I describe are just sources of inspiration. When it comes to the final shooting I organise the setting to get the best and most striking image. The reason is that I try to get away from pure reality and add my own imagination to the final photograph. In that way I am not a street photographer or journalist. That’s a different discipline.

LIP: Could you explain what process you go through once you have a concept in mind?

IVO: When I have a new idea or theme, I work things out on paper. I make little drawings and write up ideas. Before I go out to take the picture, I have a rough idea of what the final image would be like. Then I need to find a location, the props and a model. During the shooting I am pretty organised and spend time in finding the right composition. This is very important and every detail counts. Fortunately, there is a lot possible in the post-processing stage, so sometimes I can ignore a disturbing lantern or can change the color of a door.

LIP: Do you think being a mathematician has brought something significant to the way you approach this creative work?

IVO: I think my meticulous approach and the idea of having this almost final image in mind before shooting is related to my maths background, I do a lot of research before shooting.

LIP: So are you shooting film to start with? Any strong feelings about shooting digital?

IVO: I would like to shoot digital in a way. It is quicker and easier. But I love the film feeling. It is also a matter of price. If I want the same quality and ability to get big enlargement it is going to be expensive [for top quality digital equipment]. I was considering a digital back for a medium format camera, but that’s expensive and you also lose the wide angle effect. And that is something I don’t want!!

LIP: Your pictures have a bit of both humour and tragedy, and are theatrical in that way. You’re often the actor in these roles you create too. Is there a particular reaction you want to provoke?

IVO: I want the viewer to think: what is going on? As my theme is about the dream, I want to shake people up a bit and wake them up. Humour comes naturally and is a way to make people wonder and keep wondering.

LIP: It seems you enjoy using props, could you tell us a bit about that or what’s the meaning of it?

IVO: Yes, props are important and I choose them carefully. In the series with the rowers, I choose an oar as an absurd element that connects the portraits in the series. It was a sort of metaphor for the silent thoughts people have. Again, this is about the dream of being someone that you are not in reality. The oar stand for passion. Another example is the man with the party lantern near a leafless tree on a beach. This shows a nice contrast between happiness and the confrontation with reality.

LIP: I imagine in your image of the woman with the handbag – she has forgotten where she is, has amnesia… or has she just finished a cup of tea at a roadside tea stand?

IVO: This is a series I am going to work on. The concept is ‘being lost’ and it is based on some short stories I did about a grandma and a grandpa. The grandma was always doing weird things and the grandpa felt embarrassed about what his wife was doing. He didn’t understand the world she was in. He liked reading his newspaper and smoking his cigar. Again, a sort of contrast between reality (grandpa) and a dream world (grandma). For the pictures I will only use grandma.

LIP: The landscapes you shoot are also significant in your images. What appeals to you about a particular location?

IVO: Locations are very important. They represent the world in which the personage lives. So in most of my creations, they are empty and hopeless. I like industrial areas, large fields and forests.

LIP: Do we really live in a hopeless state? Is that what you perceive as reality or part of the dream?

IVO: I am not saying reality is that hopeless, but I look for contrasts. The location is a sort of symbol of reality. Another reason to select empty places is that it draws the attention to the person and props. I don’t want disturbing elements in my pictures.

LIP: Now that you have committed to pursuing professional work, how do you see things evolving? What would be a dreamlike commission for you?

IVO: I would love to create some great artworks for a public space like an airport. I would work within a theme and do some sequences. That would be a real challenge.

I am in my early days and I guess my approach has to change a little. My work is very personal and I need to focus on commercial works which is very exciting. I believe in my approach and I think it is applicable. Though it will be tailored to the person or company I work for, I would like to stay as close to my personal style as possible. It will be very interesting to see how this will differ from my personal work. I will definitely not change 180 degrees, but I am open to new developments and styles.

LIP: You have just recently joined LIP. Could you tell us how you came to find the group and what experiences you have had as a member so far?

IVO: When I decided to start as a photographer, I was looking for a group in which I could share my ideas and get inspiration. In my search I came across LIP and it looked very interesting, especially the monthly meet ups. I went to my first satellite group meeting recently and it was very motivational, there were friendly people and lots of good work.

LIP: You brought a really lovely printed portfolio book to that meeting (City & Shoreditch)… could you tell us a bit about how you made it?

IVO: This was my portfolio book with my academic work. I printed the images myself on Hahnemuhle double-sided matt paper. Then I had it bound by a book binder. This man is a real artisan and uses traditional techniques. I was very pleased the way he did it. The disadvantage of the book is that all pages are fixed and you can’t change images. At the moment I am working on a book that I can update, but I want to try to keep the same feeling as the other book. I will bring it to the meeting one day.

Ivo’s website

Interview by Tiffany Jones