Focus on Willem Wernsen ~ Philanthropist Photographer

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Dear dPS readers. This is the first of a series of articles about photographers I have either long admired or recently discovered. Some may be famous, others unknown. Either way, I find inspiration in their work and I hope that you do, too. Valérie Jardin

Focus on Willem Wernsen ~ Philanthropist Photographer

Edward Steichen once said: “Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face […] It is a major force in explaining man to man.”  Those words particularly rang true for me the day I opened Willem Wernsen’s latest book Timeless.  I could feel a connection with the subjects portrayed in those big, beautiful, square black and white images. I felt drawn into their lives and wanted to know more about them, and their photographer.

When you look at Willem Wernsen’s work, you clearly see his love and compassion for mankind. He doesn’t care about photographing beautiful people who are good looking or fit; instead he finds in every human being something beautiful.  His idea of a good photograph is to tell a story in a single frame. He never works in secrets, preferring the interaction with his subjects and constantly looking for interesting faces wherever he goes.

Wernsen wasn’t always a photographer. He bought his first camera at the age of 32 and joined a local photo club in his hometown of Amersfoort in the Netherlands. He soon discovered the joys of developing and printing his work in his own darkroom. After attending a few workshops led by Dutch photographer Kees Tillema, it soon became clear to his peers that Wernsen had a talent for portraiture. While working as a butcher 6 days a week at the time, he had little or no free time to devote to his new passion.  He applied himself to the craft every chance he got and photographed people in his neighborhood. Wernsen became known around town, always seen carrying his Mamiya C330 and a black cloth to use as a impromptu backdrop over a fence or a tree branch. He rapidly gained experience and assurance, studied the work of others and started taking his photography to the streets with a Mamiya 6 MF, a 6×6 range-finder and a 50 mm lens.
He soon defined a style of his own with natural light, high contrast, square format B&W images and always with the utmost respect for his subjects’ dignity and individuality.

Wernsen accumulated hundreds of images made in his country as well as those from trips to Paris and China in the late 1990s. His first book, titled Beautiful People, was published in 2003 by Jansz Media BV and was much acclaimed.

Very attached to film and his own darkroom, Wernsen did not convert to digital for a long time. It was only when he was certain he could get the same results in the digital darkroom that he made the switch. He now enjoys the flexibility of the new medium. He currently shoots with a Pentax K5 and a Panasonic G2 and still favors the square format in post processing. This is how he see the world with his sharp photographic eye.

Seven years after the publication of Beautiful People, Wernsen added a second book to his repertoire. It was also the wish of his wife of thirty years, Margareth, who passed away in 2009. Margareth had always been a great motivational influence in his photography. She was his greatest supporter and used to say that his work was “timeless”. To honor her memory, Willem set to work with his publisher Fred Jansz and Timeless was born in the Spring 2011.

Willem Wernsen's latest book

In his latest book Timeless, his subjects all have one thing in common, they had either crossed his path in his hometown of Amersfoort or in far away places such as Istanbul, Paris or New York as they went about their daily lives. Wernsen is constantly looking for the slice of life that will tell a story in a frame and he captures the moment in a non aggressive way. Sometimes the result will be a candid street scene, often there is a connection and a street portrait is made. Willem will only take one, maybe two, frames, before moving on. He says he sees the moment before taking the actual picture. There seems to be an understanding, a connection between him and his subjects, and you can feel that when you look at his work.  I find that amazing!

To learn more about Willem Wernsen’s passion for mankind and for social documentary photography, I urge you to visit his site to see more of his work. I hope you will be as touched and inspired by his images as I have been!

Willem Wernsen

Visit Willem Wernsen’s site here.

Timeless is a large hardcover book with about 150 large format B&W images and the text is in Dutch and English. It is available for purchase through this link

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Valerie Jardin

I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it’s an obsession, almost an addiction. When I’m not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website
Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

  • Hi

    This is the type of photography I would like to start to explore – I think it is captivating. Closest I could conjure would be this shot of a proud Papa with Baby – focus on the feet only!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/image-of-the-day-family-101610/

  • I’m looking forward to this series as I thoroughly enjoy being introduced to other photographers’ work. You can tell in your writing how captivated you are with his work. Thanks for the introduction Valerie.

  • Very interesting photographs, thanks for introducing this to me!
    The closest picture I have to this style is this lucky shot:
    http://experimentsinexperience.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/making-the-best-of-it/

  • Orlando Uy

    Very inspiring story, Valerie. Thanks for sharing.

  • Scottc

    There’s some inspiration here! Great candid photos.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5287963104/

  • Interesting, I got some ideas about my next shooting adventure.

  • Ben

    Very good to introduce Willem here, Valerie. Thank you.
    I’ve known Willem for a while and admire his abilities to communicate, and then visualize his encounters in his warm photography.

  • Klaas van Huizen

    A very nicely written story about a good and inspiring photographer with Timeless photography and Wonderful people. Thanks for sharing Valerie. A bientôt!

  • Dennis van Gijzel

    Thanks Valerie for this nice article, i am since 2005 a big fan of Willem, hé and his work deserves the compliments. Congrets Willem!

  • Very nice article, thanks for this. I love the photos; the girl running by the merry-go-round has a real ‘decisive moment’ quality about it.

  • Carol Mager

    Love this personal and evocative bit of writing about a extremely talented artist. Well crafted with images and editorial it draws me to look further into the artist’s work. Well done, Valerie!

  • I am very happy with this article Valerie. Thank you so much …

    Greetings,

    Willem

  • Here’s a photo of Willem Wernsen made during the PhotoFestival Naarden 2002.

    [eimg url=’www.efn.org/~hkrieger/willem.jpg’ title=’willem.jpg’]

  • naz

    very much looking forward to more posts on this topic- there’s ton s of photographers over the years, but only a small group of photographers that really shined and knew how to capture photos that went way beyond being mere snapshots- I hope you’ll concentrate mostly on not so well known, but great photographers that deserve to be featured.

  • Thank you for the compliments on DPS and E-mail;-))

    After receipt of order of Timeless, I will contact you personally per mail on how payment and shipment can be arranged.

    Willem

  • Thanks Ben 😉 a lot of mail to day, nice people photographers;-)

    Willem

  • thanks so much valerie for introducing this photographer to me. i am always super curious about the personal circumstances of somebody’s “success”, and i thought it was interesting that a) he worked 6 days as a butcher in the early years AND still went about his passion and b) had a partner who supported him. i am very much looking forward to more posts – and will be especially curious about the stories of women.

  • Thank you: Daniela-Nas -HermanCarol- Dennis-Klaas-Ben-Nylamp-scottc-Orlando-Verena-Claudia and Erik;-

    Greetings,

    Willem

  • Good strong images, are they truly candid or is permission sought?

  • Elie Brisaert

    Merci, Valérie. Ceci constitue une piste intéressante. Tes articles sur les photographes= brillante idée!

  • Thank you all for taking the time to leave a comment. I am already working on the next ‘Focus On’ article for October.

    @Paul: As you read in the article, Willem enjoys shooting both street candids and street portraits. There is an interaction in a street portrait. The subject grants permission to make the photograph with a smile or a nod, it often takes a few seconds or a conversation may follow. In my option both types of street photography are important to tell a story. They require slightly different skills as it is quite a bit more intimidating to make a street portraits than a candid shot. Yet the candid shot requires the ability to see the decisive moment.

    Thanks again everyone for the nice comments. Make sure you visit Willem Wernsen’s website to see more of his work!

  • Wonderful article enjoyed following the link. Thanks you for sharing this photographer, I’m looking forward to your next installment.

  • Thank you for al your nice words;-) If you order “Timeless” You can pay with PayPal now I will signed your book;-)

    Greetings,

    Willem

  • Thank you so much Valerie for introducing us to the wonderful work of Willem Wernsen who was unknown to me. He has such a sympathetic connection to his subjects which results in such evocative images. It inspires me to pick up my camera and start walking.Thank you Valerie and Willem.

  • love your work Willem
    grtz, Nico

  • Thanks Nico;-)

  • Henk van Tilburg

    Valerie knows exactly what it’s all about in Willem’s photography: his deep commitment to humanity. Willem is a real artist in the way he looks before he takes his pictures.

    Thanks for your article, Valerie! I hope that many people get inspired by Willem.

Some Older Comments

  • Henk van Tilburg November 14, 2011 03:27 am

    Valerie knows exactly what it's all about in Willem's photography: his deep commitment to humanity. Willem is a real artist in the way he looks before he takes his pictures.

    Thanks for your article, Valerie! I hope that many people get inspired by Willem.

  • Willem Wernsen November 14, 2011 12:14 am

    Thanks Nico;-)

  • Nico Ouburg November 13, 2011 07:23 pm

    love your work Willem
    grtz, Nico

  • Chris Porsz October 25, 2011 06:37 am

    Thank you so much Valerie for introducing us to the wonderful work of Willem Wernsen who was unknown to me. He has such a sympathetic connection to his subjects which results in such evocative images. It inspires me to pick up my camera and start walking.Thank you Valerie and Willem.

  • Willem Wernsen September 28, 2011 09:01 am

    Thank you for al your nice words;-) If you order "Timeless" You can pay with PayPal now I will signed your book;-)

    Greetings,

    Willem

  • cjaaron September 21, 2011 07:10 am

    Wonderful article enjoyed following the link. Thanks you for sharing this photographer, I'm looking forward to your next installment.

  • valerie Jardin September 19, 2011 03:33 am

    Thank you all for taking the time to leave a comment. I am already working on the next 'Focus On' article for October.

    @Paul: As you read in the article, Willem enjoys shooting both street candids and street portraits. There is an interaction in a street portrait. The subject grants permission to make the photograph with a smile or a nod, it often takes a few seconds or a conversation may follow. In my option both types of street photography are important to tell a story. They require slightly different skills as it is quite a bit more intimidating to make a street portraits than a candid shot. Yet the candid shot requires the ability to see the decisive moment.

    Thanks again everyone for the nice comments. Make sure you visit Willem Wernsen's website to see more of his work!

  • Elie Brisaert September 19, 2011 02:19 am

    Merci, Valérie. Ceci constitue une piste intéressante. Tes articles sur les photographes= brillante idée!

  • Paul September 18, 2011 07:44 am

    Good strong images, are they truly candid or is permission sought?

  • Willem Wernsen September 18, 2011 12:52 am

    Thank you: Daniela-Nas -HermanCarol- Dennis-Klaas-Ben-Nylamp-scottc-Orlando-Verena-Claudia and Erik;-

    Greetings,

    Willem

  • Daniela Reinsch September 18, 2011 12:04 am

    thanks so much valerie for introducing this photographer to me. i am always super curious about the personal circumstances of somebody's "success", and i thought it was interesting that a) he worked 6 days as a butcher in the early years AND still went about his passion and b) had a partner who supported him. i am very much looking forward to more posts - and will be especially curious about the stories of women.

  • Willem Wernsen September 17, 2011 06:56 am

    Thanks Ben ;-) a lot of mail to day, nice people photographers;-)

    Willem

  • Willem Wernsen September 16, 2011 05:33 am

    Thank you for the compliments on DPS and E-mail;-))

    After receipt of order of Timeless, I will contact you personally per mail on how payment and shipment can be arranged.

    Willem

  • naz September 16, 2011 05:27 am

    very much looking forward to more posts on this topic- there's ton s of photographers over the years, but only a small group of photographers that really shined and knew how to capture photos that went way beyond being mere snapshots- I hope you'll concentrate mostly on not so well known, but great photographers that deserve to be featured.

  • Herman Krieger September 16, 2011 02:55 am

    Here's a photo of Willem Wernsen made during the PhotoFestival Naarden 2002.

    [eimg url='www.efn.org/~hkrieger/willem.jpg' title='willem.jpg']

  • Willem Wernsen September 16, 2011 02:03 am

    I am very happy with this article Valerie. Thank you so much …

    Greetings,

    Willem

  • Carol Mager September 15, 2011 11:58 pm

    Love this personal and evocative bit of writing about a extremely talented artist. Well crafted with images and editorial it draws me to look further into the artist's work. Well done, Valerie!

  • Photography Art Cafe September 15, 2011 08:13 pm

    Very nice article, thanks for this. I love the photos; the girl running by the merry-go-round has a real 'decisive moment' quality about it.

  • Dennis van Gijzel September 15, 2011 07:14 pm

    Thanks Valerie for this nice article, i am since 2005 a big fan of Willem, hé and his work deserves the compliments. Congrets Willem!

  • Klaas van Huizen September 15, 2011 07:08 pm

    A very nicely written story about a good and inspiring photographer with Timeless photography and Wonderful people. Thanks for sharing Valerie. A bientôt!

  • Ben September 15, 2011 05:49 pm

    Very good to introduce Willem here, Valerie. Thank you.
    I've known Willem for a while and admire his abilities to communicate, and then visualize his encounters in his warm photography.

  • Nylamp September 15, 2011 05:07 pm

    Interesting, I got some ideas about my next shooting adventure.

  • Scottc September 15, 2011 10:39 am

    There's some inspiration here! Great candid photos.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5287963104/

  • Orlando Uy September 15, 2011 10:27 am

    Very inspiring story, Valerie. Thanks for sharing.

  • Verena September 15, 2011 08:07 am

    Very interesting photographs, thanks for introducing this to me!
    The closest picture I have to this style is this lucky shot:
    http://experimentsinexperience.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/making-the-best-of-it/

  • Claudia September 15, 2011 07:10 am

    I'm looking forward to this series as I thoroughly enjoy being introduced to other photographers' work. You can tell in your writing how captivated you are with his work. Thanks for the introduction Valerie.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck September 15, 2011 06:14 am

    Hi

    This is the type of photography I would like to start to explore - I think it is captivating. Closest I could conjure would be this shot of a proud Papa with Baby - focus on the feet only!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/image-of-the-day-family-101610/

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