The search for new perspectives and new ways of seeing the world has been an ever-present driving force in the evolution of photography. Since the turn of the century, the look-up has established itself as a powerful medium, by which the photographer can reveal, not only the architectural detail and form of certain buildings but also transmit to the viewer their scale and imposing nature. By contrasting the heavily ornate Romanesque and Gothic interiors of European cathedrals, built in the 15th Century with minimal, modernist architecture of the late 20th Century, the BigKids have developed an enviable mastery of the look-up. We caught up with the BigKids to find out how they go about creating their striking images and why they favor a minimal approach.
Who are the BigKids? And where does the name come from?
My name is David Werbrouck. I’m Belgian and I am currently living in France. I’m a graphic designer and photographer. I didn’t want to exhibit my work with my full, real name because I’ve never liked the egocentricity of that approach. Instead, I wanted a name that reflected everything in the make-up of my DNA. This includes my child-like behavior as a “kidult”.
That is why the name, BigKids, is so meaningful.
How did you first get into photography?
I’ve always been more interested in visual forms of expression but I entered the world of photography via a process that took several years. The main steps that I remember involved talking with my grandfather about modernism and the technical aspects of photography: he always carried a camera with him. He taught me all the basics and, above all, he gave me my first camera, which I still use today: a Yashica-Mat.
From that moment on, I spent my time composing shots of everything around me, without necessarily taking photos (due to the costs involved). I was fascinated by it and everything seemed to be more beautiful when reflected on the frosted glass, captured in a 1:1 scale frame.
Later, I discovered the work of Frank Miller via “Sin City” and the films of Orson Welles. Their composition, their work with light, foreground and background is just insane and completely bowled me over.
Those are the worlds that I built for myself. I’ve been constantly taking photos ever since. I observe the light and possible compositions all the time. That’s just how I see things now.
Where does your interest in architecture come from? And are there any photographers who have inspired or influenced your work?
An architecturally successful building generally brings together all the different aspects that I am most aware of: proportions, perspective, materials, geometry, light and shade, contrasting colors, and organic or minimalist details.
Although it’s static, that means I can move around it, inside, above and below it. That lets me take my time to create a composition and wait for the ideal light.
With a building, the possibilities are endless. I also explore the surrounding areas, which are often every bit as interesting and always try to bring a new perspective, rather than reproducing a photo that I am already familiar with.
I often plan my trips around the buildings that I could visit and photograph. For me, they’re like celebrities that I can’t wait to meet. It makes no difference if the architecture is contemporary or classical, religious or otherwise.
My work is mainly influenced by film noir and music. In fact, there aren’t really any photographers who are a major influence on me. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of work by Boogie, Gil Rigoulet and Khalik Allah, without necessarily being inspired by them.
The look-up is incredibly popular as a genre in its own right on Instagram. Where do you think this popularity comes from?
I think that this genre amply illustrates the first hurdle to overcome as a photographer: looking at different things, differently. You can grab an eye-catching photo very quickly, there’s no doubt about that.
This series includes the incredibly ornate interiors of classical buildings such as churches, as well as the stark minimalism of modern architecture. What do you see as the appeal of these contrasting forms?
These two styles have an incredible depth and richness to them: the possibilities are just enormous. Sometimes, it’s tough not to get too wrapped up in it all: sometimes I’m like a kid in a candy store.
Apart from that, ever since I was very small, whenever I go into a church, I always imagine what it would be like if the ceiling became the floor and I could walk through the vaulted ceiling. It becomes a world in itself, somber and almost organic. That’s one of the reasons why I often return to my photos, to see them from a new perspective.
What I find so incredible about contemporary architecture is the ability to take an abstract perspective to its limits. Some buildings provide a really rich source of material; you just have to frame the subject correctly, get the right light (sometimes you need to wait or come back) and that’s it.
It’s a bit of a cliché to say so, but it’s like a painter with paint brushes, paints, and the model.
Your minimal approach is reinforced by your choice of black and white. Why do you favor this particular form of photography?
Both because of my visual culture, and my way of expressing my preference for a minimalist approach. I prefer to focus the attention on the subject and the composition of the photo.
I feel that a black and white photo is always easier to read. It’s more direct, more easily accessible, more honest and more timeless. Quite honestly, I just can’t take color photos. Seriously. I find it impossible, because there is too much information to deal with and my few attempts in color have been weak and flat.
I also find that, from a graphical point of view, the shadows and contrasts in a well-executed black and white photo are just sublime.
How do you go about finding and composing these stunning look-ups? Can you tell us a little more about your process?
Whenever I travel, I visit as many buildings as possible. When I arrive at a building, I immediately look at the shots I could take, without even thinking about it. It all happens naturally. Then, what matters to me, is to be free to take my time, to walk around, explore, and get lost in the building. I want to wait for the ideal light, or until there is no one around, so that I can use my camera to reproduce the shots that I’ve already pictured in my imagination, to ensure that the results have the biggest possible impact. Sometimes I don’t have my Leica with me and I miss an opportunity, which makes me sick each time. Happily, that happens less and less often.
Which camera(s) and lenses do you work with to capture these shots? What do you see as the advantages of your set up?
I primarily work with a Leica SL and a Super-Elmar 18mm ƒ3.8. I love its completely unique form factor, as well as its minimalist interface. Then there’s the superb EyeRes viewfinder (which I have set to black and white), which gives me perfect control over the composition and the final result of the photo that I take.
For me, the Leica SL is also the perfect body for M-mount lenses. It’s clearly the best camera that I’ve had so far.
Your use of heavy contrast is a feature in a lot of your work. What do you think this technique brings out in your work?
I love the contrast between black and white, with hard light and deep shadows. I have the most fun with the creative aspect of my photography.
That must come from my background in graphic design, wanting to minimize the amount of useless information. It’s my signature stroke.
I mainly use this technique to create detachment from the identity of the original building, so that the detail photographed becomes a building in its own right.
How much are you reliant on available light when shooting the interior shots of this series? What settings do you work with to get the most out of the light both while shooting and while editing your images?
Light means everything. It’s my main tool. Light is what defines the majority of the composition.
Sometimes I visit an incredible building, but outdoors, the weather is gray, with a very diffuse light – so it’s game over.
The ideal setting is a sunny day, around noon, with brutal shadows that cut cleanly. Wow!
I try to use the lowest possible ISO to keep a really nice, plain transition among the shadows, with a high shutter speed because I do everything with the camera in my raised hands, without a tripod.
There are often spotlights in churches, and I avoid lighting flare at any price because they ruin the photo completely.
I also try not to edit my photos, or at least to keep it to a minimum. Instead I will try to get all the work done beforehand.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m preparing a shoot for Typecell, who is a German drum and bass DJ, producer and composer. I am working with him on the visuals for his next album.
I’m also preparing a selection of photos for a photography book that will be published in early 2019.
What one piece of advice would you offer to your fellow photographers?
SSS – Shoot. Select. Share.
Shoot – All the time. Wherever you are. Even in the worst possible conditions, outside your comfort zone, the results are often spectacular.
Select – Ultimately, there must only be one shot remaining.
Share – For a photo to come to life, it needs to be seen and shared as much as possible, absolutely everywhere. It needs to occupy as much space as possible.