An interview with Antwerp-based fashion photographer Frederik Heyman

We sit down with 27-year-old photographer Frederik Heyman in his Antwerp apartment to discuss a possible move to London, learning to let go of his ego and why he enjoyed shooting Kenzo‘s last accessory campaign.

The first time we met was in 2008 in Antwerp. It feels like centuries ago, doesn’t it?

Yes, it does.

Do you still enjoy living here?

I do, but have been considering a move to London lately. I feel like I could benefit from a change of scenery, even though I’m very attached to Antwerp. Let’s say that if I had to move somewhere else now, it would be London, even if it’s a lot to take in. It’s an intense city.

When did you start taking pictures?

It was 6 years ago, I think. I graduated from the Academy in 2007.

I remember you were quite critical of the fashion industry when we met. Has that changed at all?

Yes, it has. I have a different perspective now and am much more interested in collaborative work. Let’s say that I’ve found ways to keep my ego under control. I wasn’t comfortable with compromising before, but it’s a challenge doing something creative and still pleasing a client. There’s something exciting about that and I also know more about fashion now, having gained experience within that field. People didn’t see me as a fashion photographer then and part of me wanted to prove that I could do it, using my own vocabulary.

Is it about making clear separations between your private and commissioned works?

Yes, it is. I can keep the cryptic, slightly twisted and more private stuff for myself, whereas my commercial work is a totally different arena. It’s great having the balance between the two.

How do you keep the commercial work exciting?

I guess it’s about finding your own signature and being true to your style. My commercial work feels cleaner, but there’s also a surrealistic dimension, which means images stay strong.

Can you tell me about shooting the upcoming Kenzo accessory ad campaign? What was that like?

I enjoyed it actually. We shot the campaign in Paris and it will be published in magazines from September onwards. The new thing for me was to shoot simpler photographs, while keeping personal elements in mind. I guess the pictures are pretty postmodern, and I like the fact that they’re sleek and easy to understand, even though they have their own little twist.

Nothing is left to chance and I draw every single image before the shoot takes place.

Do you plan your images in advance?

Yes, I plan everything in detail. Nothing is left to chance and I draw every single image before the shoot takes place. I love building my own sets, too, which is something I can do here in my studio. After 5 years shooting at least 3 times a month, it’s nice being able to delegate some of the set design to other people, but I guess my approach is very hands-on. In Antwerp, I can manage to do these things on a shoestring.

Is there still room for surprises when you shoot?

Of course, there is. It doesn’t matter how carefully you plan an image in advance, there’s always something you cannot predict, but I don’t let that bother me so much. For instance, the Kenzo campaign was too last-minute to have a set built on the day of the shoot, but I still had to imagine what the 3D production would look like. In this case, the 3D imagery replaces the set, but it’s not the same thing for me. I guess it’s hard shooting something if you don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m getting better at improvising.

Who do you have to deal with when you shoot a fashion editorial?

You work with a stylist and the editor-in-chief is also involved. For certain jobs -such as look books or ad campaigns- designers step in and you get to have a discussion.

Do you still draw on a regular basis?

I draw every night. It’s something that relaxes me. There’s no one else involved when you’re drawing, just you, a pen and some paper. It’s a free space. If you want to draw a hairy bum, you don’t have to justify it to anyone. That’s a nice feeling. I can draw until 5 in the morning and go to bed with a smile on my face.

Does drawing feed your photography in any ways?

Yes, it does. In my recent personal work, I’ve used drawings as a starting point, turning them into actual photographs. I don’t work like this when it comes to fashion though.

Are there certain themes you always go back to?

At the beginning, I was into having this graphic language, using nudity, hairs and bodies. I used to shoot in the forest, too, working with this idea of a tableau vivant. These night shots became my trademark, but I felt like I was getting stuck in them and that became restrictive. I don’t want to be pigeonholed and need to keep on evolving. That’s where the fun is for me.