We’ve spent the past week showcasing upcoming talents and their interpretation of the Spring-inspired ‘new beginnings’ theme, and we finish with a flourish thanks to Thomas Nolf, a young self-taught photographer living in Ghent. Armed with a Mamiya 645, Pentax 67 and Kodak Portra film, he’s been strolling around trying to capture these perfect moments, because “taking a good photograph is about wandering”, at least according to this young maestro…

How would you describe your work?

The relation between people and objects and their social and intimate environment. I tried to represent a timeless, refined and intimate portrayal of people  and objects and their environment. I’m really interested in soft light and in soft tones. In a way, I’ve really become a wandering photographer. I really can’t take a good photograph unless I’ve totally explored a situation or place. Actually, I discovered that a few weeks ago, and it’s totally affected my working method. I go back again and again to those interesting spots, wait ’til the good tones come, change the framing, etc. I really believe taking a good photograph and especially a good series is about that wandering, waiting for your connection with the environment.

What forms the basis of your work?

My basis is the lyrical side of photography. I think it’s not quite documenting, there’s not something happening in the picture. I love to take portraits of people in their social environment. I really take my time, try to make some changes to the scene, and wait until the model is in some sort of rest, forgetting they’re being photographed.

Where were you born, where did you grow up?

I was born and grew up in Kortrijk. Moved to Ghent at the age of 19 where I’ve had six incredible years.

Do you study photography? If so, where? 

I didn’t study photography. I mainly learned photography by looking at pictures of others, and a lot of trial and error! Everyday I study photographs by people that really inspire me. I think I know some photographers’ portfolios by heart. Their work never lets go of me.

Why do you prefer to work on film rather than digital? 

When I started taking pictures, I was really touched by the smooth feeling some photographers gave with their pictures. Especially medium and large format film has a quality of tone I’ve never seen in digital photography. But I have never liked the digital v.s. film debate, it’s not that important. Most photography is about storytelling, and the choice depends on what you want to tell and how you want to tell the story. But personally, I don’t like discussions about how large I can print and how much information I can get. Secondly, because I like the fact that it costs me a lot of money and takes a lot of time. Like a photographer friend told me: you’re literally paying for a picture, it makes you a more thoughtful photographer.

Which photographer would you say most influences your work? 

There are a lot, especially the craftsmanship and storytelling of Alec Soth. I share his opinion that photography is a small art form and is not as good at storytelling as a novel. I’m also very inspired by the intimacy and the tranquility in the work of Bryan Schutmaat. I look at his work over and over again. You see he works hard and is in love with light. And the Dutch painters from the Golden Age affect me too.

Do you remember the first time you picked up a camera? What was it that you photographed? 

I did it several times when I was a kid, my father did some photography and taught me the basics. But I wasn’t committed to it, the first things I photographed, at the age of 24, when I started taking photography seriously were buildings. I was searching for interesting lines to fill the image.

What equipment do you work with?

Mamiya 645, Pentax 67 and Kodak Portra film.

What were you aiming to do with this series?

The theme ‘a new beginnings’ is quite an interesting one. I focused on the abstract ‘mental’ side of the theme. Anyone who has something new going on is in a quite exciting, dreamy state of mind. I didn’t want to give that much room for the physical side of it, the new ‘thing’. I tried more to focus on the feeling of being at the coast or on a rooftop, seeing how the sun hits the terrace of a bar, a spring morning with your new girlfriend, etc.

How did the theme new beginnings inspire you? 

It was fun to do something besides my own new projects and to work on a subject in such a short time. And Spring is a great time, it’s very motivating, you have some new things to look forward to.