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October 06, 2004

Memories of an Online Friend and Influence

I learned over the weekend that an online photographic colleague and friend passed away. While I never met Jacques, he was a very, very big influence on my photography and way of seeing things, but oddly, I'm not sure how effectively I can convey his influence and vision within the structure of a blog like this one.

Jacques and I, along with Ed and several others, joined the Samples and Galleries forum at dpreview four years ago, at a time when digital photography was just hitting its stride. But we shared photos because of the joy of sharing them so easily in a virtual community, without any agendas of film vs digital, or boasting about equipment (at least not most of the time), or meeting some ratings standards. (It's hard to appreciate now how much fun this was at the time, because most online photo-sharing forums have since devolved into ratings morasses filled with numbing, nitpicking critiques and politically motivated cliques).

Jacques does have galleries up now that are worth perusing, and I definitely have my favorites (though many of my favorites from the early years don't seem to be online at present...he was amazingly prolific). But unlike many of the recommendations I make in this blog, his influence can't be appreciated by clicking on a link and making a quick thumbs up/thumbs down judgement or categorization, as I know many people do (myself included) with the links I provide here. Jacques was best appreciated within the regular rhythms of the online photo sharing community, where he would share photos that spanned genres and made him almost impossible to classify: unlike so many others who contributed travel photos, portraits, still lifes, macros, flowers, and all the other usual favorites of beginning to intermediate photographers.


At dpreview, as with many online sharing forums, you'd see the usual posts, some good, some really good, some less inspired or reflecting the typical early photographer mistakes, and then you'd see a "Jacques" photograph: a landscape, or perhaps a detail of a door, or a pair of shoes, or an unusual perspective of a person in low light. And these photos stood out frequently for their quietness, their casualness, their eccentricity in composition, their relatively flat light, their peculiar choice of details, when so many other images were screaming to be recognized for their strong technical qualities and/or their prettiness. The nitpickers at any number of forums these days would no doubt have had a field day flailing away at their checklists and all the violations Jacques committed in the areas of shadow detail, rule of thirds, sharp focus, consistent color, visual clutter etc etc.

And Jacques' eccentricities were not mannered or calculating in the way they defied photographic conventions...he didn't have an artist statement spelling out why he did what he did. He just did it. And he didn't take sides when it came to genres -- didn't proclaim the superiority of large format landscapes or 35mm high speed, low light street stuff, or any other genre with religious conviction -- he liked many, many styles of photography. In the early days of his posts at dpreview, some of his images made no impact on people (which happened frequently when he first started posting), some of them actually elicited hostile reactions, and the ones that came closest to convention or that formed some sort of series (and hence had some sort of hook for viewers to latch on to) got the most positive responses.

But a funny thing happened as people came and went from the forum. Jacques made himself heard, and more and more forum members started to understand that he was really seeing things in his own way with a camera, and wasn't afraid to share it (in fact, he was often refreshingly and unselfconsciously enthusiastic about the whole experience of sharing and critiquing photographs). Moreover, he often expressed his own blunt opinions (made more blunt sometimes by his direct English online) about others' photos, especially when he felt there was something false about them -- his comments about technique were thoughtful, but he seemed to really care more about people being honest with themselves and challenging themselves when they photographed, and not blindly photographing what was pretty or fashionable.

It was an eye-opener for me to see someone who stuck to the way he saw the world with little regard to what other people thought, while valuing photography and community so much. And I still consider it one of the great things about the online experience to actually see people I had made my own snap judgements about, people with seemingly narrow preferences in photographs, come to appreciate and praise photos from Jacques they never would have attempted themselves. Some even started to break out of their own patterns and take different types of images, having had their eyes opened (so to speak).

Personally, Jacques really taught me to see beyond the numbing categories that photo forums and camera clubs impose on photography, and even now, I learn a lot from him in reflecting on his passing because he didn't do it in the name of "art" or being an "artist" -- he seemed very much the opposite of the type that craves sales of his photos, or gallery representation, or who inflates their self-worth based on participation in some group show. He did enjoy following the artistic pursuits and experiments of friends he respected, but most of all, as corny as it sounds, he truly, truly loved photography and never stopped exploring.

The way he worked, without guile or pretense, and forced others to appreciate his unique way of seeing, was a very positive example for me, and I'll miss him greatly. So often, teachers, mentors and peers tell those of us who create to do what is important to please ourselves, and not what will please others. Yet I've seen very few people who manage to be true to this dictum without considerable insecurity or pressure to compromise. Jacques was not immune to the slumps or occasional insecurities that plague anyone who takes photographs, but he was considerably truer to himself than the majority of photographers and other visual artists I've encountered.


(Dirk Vermiere, one of Jacques' closest friends and a frequent shooting partner and extremely talented photographer himself, has shared a thoughtful tribute on his 2.8 website -- look for the section "In Memoriam")

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What a perfectly fine article on jacques..
very well defines my experience of the man.
Though my interaction does not go so far back...
certainly the essence you express resonates.
I do come by every now and again
to visit your blog Robert...
usually when I am low on inspiration.
I discover renewed photographic energy
in doing so.
Excellent work my friend...

Posted by: Bruce at Oct 6, 2004 2:11:51 PM

Thanks very much, the words are so warm and bring peace. We are missing our good friend.
Miel Pieters

Posted by: Miel Pieters at Oct 6, 2004 7:29:13 PM

Dear Robert,

Thanks so much my friend for bringing such a great tribute online for our friend 'Jacques'. I read this fascination, you are also a gifted writer Robert. I've mentioned also your text in the In Memoriam section on the 2.8 website. I'm sure that his family will appreciate this tribute very much and estimate it very high.

With warm regards and respect,


Posted by: Dirk Vermeirre at Oct 6, 2004 9:12:03 PM

It's a pleasure to hear from all of you, Bruce, Miel, Dirk, even if an unfortunate event is what brings us together. It was impressive how Jacques managed to persist through all the generations of members at dpreview, while many came and went from the forums, touching us all.

Posted by: Robert at Oct 7, 2004 8:57:56 AM

I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. What a wonderful tribute to your friend and mentor! This has also introduced many of us to a "new" old name in the field.

Posted by: panasianbiz at Jul 21, 2006 8:28:23 PM

the place on that photo looks familiar. i mean, i've not been in that area but seems like i've seen it.

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