Interview | Willem Jonkers' Fisheye Street Photography

I first came across street photographer Willem Jonkers' fisheye street photography back in July 2015 in an article in The Huffington Post. "The Fisheye Master of Street Photography" as they call him seems pretty spot on to me!

Q: Willem, tell us a little about you:
First of all I'd like to thank you for this honor Nico! Much appreciate this... Well, I'm a street photographer from the Rotterdam area in the Netherlands. I started doing this some three years back using a telezoom. Like most of us start out I guess... Taking a workshop, the teacher told me that I needed to go closer to make my work more interesting for the viewer. I didn't understand, my pictures were good right? Wrong... Looking at photography from guys like Gilden and Cohen did make me understand what he meant. I changed towards a 23mm prime and started to move much closer to my subjects which I managed quite well and had not much of the anxiety people talk about. So I started pushing myself and still am... I do this for a hobby and am an investment advisor in daily life.

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Q: What drives you to shoot?
It's the vibe in the cities, the people, the interaction I often get. Besides that, I get a lot of stress on my work being exposed to the financial industry and politics. It has a therapeutic effect and changed my view on society in a good way.

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Q: You achieve a less conventional look using a fisheye lens. Do you know of other street photographers who do it? What was your initial inspiration to try it out?
It was Steven Gonzalez from New York city who inspired me to start using this lens. He's the only one I know who uses that lens how it should be used in street photography. Sometimes I see shots that are taken with the fisheye, but people take way too much distance and crop afterwards. This kills the whole purpose of getting your subject framed in a gigantic way as opposed to their surroundings. It actually works the other way around if one does that. Street photography is about the people in it, the surroundings are of secondary meaning imho. After using my 23mm, I changed towards a 14mm to get closer to my subjects. The 8mm pushes me to the limit. 

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Q: You often shoot from the floor it seems, don't you get weird looks from your victims and passers-by?
I get looked at like I'm some kind of weirdo all the time, but that doesn't matter to me. I'm not afraid and it just isn't a part of my personality to worry about what people think of me. Also I'm not afraid of aggression and that's the reason that hardly ever happens to me. If you're afraid of something all the time, you send that signal in your vibe and it will eventually happen to you. I did get the cops called on me once though... They were under the ridiculous impression that I was shooting underneath women's skirts. After I showed them my shots and explained what I was doing, it was all good.

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Q: Do you have a particular workflow to achieve this specific look, with quite dramatic skies?
I use Lightroom and Silver Efex as a plug in. Using a lens this wide inevitably gives a frame lots of negative space so I convert my aspects to 1:1 square most of the time. Then I push back highlights and shadows if necessary. Then I load the photo into Silver Efex and use a standard template and film filter (Fuji). Back in Lightroom I push back highlights, shadows and increase contrasts and light. Get rid of noise if any and that's about it. It all depends on the weather conditions I was in while shooting the photograph of course but especially in the Summer the highlights can be to high. Also I like to keep details in my shots like the texture in their clothing, faces, body-parts, surroundings, etc. 

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Q: How close do you have to get since you shoot so wide?
You'll have to get extremely close. To get a 'ground shot' right, I often get right in front of someones feet in a distance of 20 or 30cm (1ft or less). To take someones portrait with a fisheye, I go so close that I almost bump into my subject. Not going this close with that lens makes no sense like I described earlier.

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Q: What do you think of street photography today?
A lot of sameness I'm afraid. Real RAW street photography is becoming rare. Your work on 'The Great Londoners', the works from Mark Brown, Sean Pomposello, Steven Gonzalez, Mo Gelber, Freddy Vasquez, Mariana Maodus and my wife Sandra Jonkers to name a few (I could go on for a while, sorry to all the others :) is what I mean with RAW street photography.

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Going close, smell the street, get interaction with the camera, feel the street vibe, see an emotion or expression and so on. A lot of what I see is about silhouettes, shadows, architectural with a person in it from a far away distance and so on. This can be very nice of course, but to see actual people with expressions and/or emotions makes a shot more interesting to watch for me. Besides this, there are so many people bringing their camera to the streets and just take pictures and think that's street photography. It really isn't much more that just a 'registration' of something not interesting. Street photography is probably one of the hardest forms of photography.

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Q: What would be your ideal location for street photography if you could choose any?
I like big cities and crowded areas. I shoot in Rotterdam, in Antwerp during my lunch breaks at work and often visit the Eastern part of Berlin. To shoot street portraits I like to blend into very crowded areas like markets and such. To go for ground shots, I like it a bit less crowded, but interesting surroundings. It depends on how I feel that day I guess. Sometimes I go out on a photo walk if I meet like minded people on Facebook for example... Have had some nice experiences with that ;)

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Q: Finally, what would be the single best piece of advice you could give anyone looking to develop a unique style in street photography?
Lots of advice to give I think, but looking at other peoples works, look at work from the masters... Look at work that suits your own personality. If you find something that interests you and you want to take on the same style, you better be better then. All has been done before so copying makes no sense unless you can enhance the style and push yourself to rise above it. The most important is to shoot who you are. This way you'll keep having fun doing it and that's what counts the most. Making a living out of street photography is for the very tiny few and money shouldn't be your goal.

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Thanks very much Willem, love your work!

Check-out more of Willem's work on his website and give him some of that social media love by following @willemstreets on Twitter and liking his Facebook page!

All photos in this interview © Willem Jonkers