In the Beginning There Was Nothing

In the Beginning There Was Nothing

a story by Jack van Heugten

I was lying in the arms of my mother and I could barely see.

Soon after however –well, after some years—it became clear I was put on earth with a dreamy character and a predilection, not so much for the ongoing and never ending movement of life, but, for static moments,; for those very moments when life was brought to a stop.,  All the while, when real life was on its incomprehensible and inscrutable way, I could spend an eternity looking at and dreaming of, still images and memories.

Had I known then, I would have gone to a photography school at the age of five. But of course I didn’t know. I was unaware of the existence of photography and its imaginative and romantic powers. Maybe it was only in the deepest layers of my subconsciousness that I felt something. I must have.

I was seven years old on our yearly summer trip to Italy; my parents, my brother and I, cramped in a little old car, trying to cross the Swiss Alps. My father, who had just bought himself a new Voigtlander camera, gave me his old ‘Agfa Clack’—a funny squared box—with one roll of film. There were eight frames on the roll. I could take a picture every two days!

I took pictures of my parents, of my little brother, of the surrounding mountains. I loved it, not only taking pic­tures, but, and maybe even more so, I loved having that beautifully designed ‘machine’ in my hands, I loved look­ing at it when it was on the side table near my bed, I loved it being between me and the world.

I was instantly in love: with the instrument; with the required handlings (the act of taking a picture); with the (then unknown) outcome, with the whole underlying connotation and philosophy of ‘stopping time’. With the freedom accompanying the whole process, and with the attitude of the photographer. I couldn’t speak that at that time, but I felt it, I really did.

Strangely enough (but that’s hindsight talking), I didn’t be­come a professional photographer. I should have. But it is certainly too late now as  I’m no digital man. I can’t even really, I mean really, understand a tiny tiny bit of how it is really working.I want to travel back to analogue times (and handwritten letters as a matter of fact).

The next summer, on another trip to Italy, my father gave me two rolls of film. And I came to discover the old masters of photography: Cartier Bresson, Capa, Kertesz, Newman. Still the great masters if you ask me. Unsurpassable. I could look at their pictures the way others watch a movie. Since then I’ve had lots of camera’s, of all brands. And now I’m mostly using the camera I would consider as my more modern version of my ‘Agfa Clack’: my iPhone. Back to the beginning, only this time with an unlimited amount of frames per roll.

And I am still doing the same thing, at a faster pace though;  some days I shoot no less than a hundred pictures, which seems rather ridiculous.!

I went from ‘wonder’ to ‘passion’ to ‘obsession’ (and trying now, by the way, to take the inverse path) all with the same subconscious goal; to stop life from going on. Trying to give up to the romantic notion of everlasting moments, of keeping and beholding them, striving to be Henri Cartier Bresson.

I’m so much older now, but I haven’t really changed. I’m still a dreamer, happily watching life passing by. I’m still seven years old. Life is still, in essence, incomprehensible and inscrutable, to me at least. I’m still an amateur, and happily so.

But, I captured it, I caught it, I stopped time! With thousands and thousands of pictures, I’ve  made a meaningful story, I’ve  materialized my dreamy character into pictures, and they are everywhere; in my house, in other peoples houses, on the world wide web, and, above all, in my mind.

Taking pictures is part of my way of living, my way of giving meaning, my answer to life and all that it comes with.

I did the same thing ‘at the beginning’, although without the interference of a camera.

When I’m old, and can’t see any more, I’ll do that again.

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