There I was, standing in one of the first color photo labs, in Belgium. Playing with negatives and damaged photos. Each time I was with my father and grandparents, I was in the lab. My grandfather bought this brandnew monster machine, back in the sixties. It was huge! With a big iron cylinder at the end, to dry the photos. It must have been about 9m length - 2m width, something. They called it the ‘Packo’. My father used to take pictures at festivals, weddings and even -in the black and white period- funerals. That was his job. He worked with Leica cameras with big capacity chambers for long films. I do remember the late night work. Although I don’t think that has anything to do with my photography though...
No, I think it started at the Academy of Fine Arts, when I was about 16 years of age. I wanted to draw and invent, you know. Photography was one of the courses. The smell of a mixture of Metol, Phenidone and hydroquinone, in the morning. It keeps you awake and alive. I remember, my teacher almost had a lifetime of migraine and burned up fingers, growing, from since she started her career in the darkroom. Yep, also my father has problems with his lungs, because of the darkroom days and all its’ chemicals.
What can I say, I love the darkroom! Creations come to life. You can call it the chamber of birth if you want but it was always great fun for me. Assignments went very fast through the ‘room’ so I could work on my own photos.
After the Academy, I went to St-Lucas, Ghent. Publicity. I was lucky. Photography, again. Studio photography and street photography. I never cared too much for studio photography though. Measuring light is all it was for me. No, I wanted to go out in the streets, visit life, that could not be found in some studio. At least not for me. I was, from the beginning, made for the outdoors. And afterwards I experimented in the room. I loved it.
I’ve learned a few things in analog photography: 1) you get to know the true basics of how the camera works 2) you don’t just shoot around, no! You take your time and only shoot what is really worth shooting. (very important lesson)
Films of 12-24-36 pics don’t last long. I loved to play with films. Always 400 ASA for me. Fuji when you needed cold green-blue colors. Agfa when you wanted warm colors. And Ilford when I wanted to shoot black and white. Ofcourse I went to 800 ASA and more when I wanted to shoot jazzy kind of b/w pics and so on... it was an open world to me.
Afterwards, when I graduated I stopped photographing. Because I didn’t have a darkroom anymore and prices started to grow for developping films. The digital camera was coming. I was always depending on borrowed analog cameras. This time I had to work for a new digital camera I wanted to buy. The Nikon D70s. Great camera. Afterwards came the Canon 5d. Anyways, that’s what I work with at the moment. And I don’t feel like changing this camera. A sweet full frame camera, like I was used to, with the analog ones. Lenswise.
Well, here I am.
My work. Yes, I like to play with the fact of what is real and what is not real, in the photo. So that people can wonder and wander. I use photography as photography. I also use photography as a tool for images I want to make, with the help of photoshop, which is also an important tool for me. I want to make my own story. And I do love a little bit of dark side to it somehow, from time to time. I guess I like the mystical feeling in my images, with an urban ghostly hunch now and then. That’s how I see things at the moment. I say ‘at the moment’ because one does always evolve, I believe...
Robin Roels (1974 - alive and shooting)
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- Bruges, West-Flanders, Belgium