A conversation with Jef Boes

Obviously the crisis is running its course through more than a handful of sectors, but what about photographers? How do they keep their business running by working from a distance? Is it even possible? We sat down – from a distance – with photographer Jef Boes, represented by Initials L.A. and regular man behind the cam for De Morgen, KNACK, and numerous commercial ads. 

What was your first reaction (especially future-oriented on a professional level) when you heard the news of the lockdown?

“Actually, I was already a bit prepared for the bad news. Friends of ours live in Signapore and had already warned us. There was a production on Monday with a large team and I actually had to decide whether we would carry on or not. A real lockdown wasn’t the case yet. Another photographer was already in option if I’d choose not to go. I didn’t mind making that decision for myself, but what I found more annoying was the doubt of whether it was still appropriate to let the shoot continue.

In the end, I was fairly relieved that the producer made the decision to contact the entire team and cancel the shoot. Some members of the team actually already felt under the weather so the question arose if they would endanger their colleagues. The first few days that followed were especially intense. Family matters, conversations on how we could carry on, a lot of bad news, but no matter what, I have always remained positive – and still am. There’s certainly a tough time ahead, but in the end, the far end, we will all come out stronger and hopefully smarter.”

Are there government measures that help the self-employed in any emergency?

“Yes, we (befriended photographers) actually started looking for solutions there. In the beginning we had something like: “OK, they are going to forget us (creative sector) again”, but in reality it wasn’t so bad. The amounts we are allocated do not outweigh the budgets we usually work for, but it is still a compensation for the loss suffered. From the start I tried not to worry too much about that. I was more involved and motivated to find ways to continue working.”

How did you come up with the idea for the FaceTime portraits?

“It’s not something new but something that I started doing at the right time, I guess. In 2016 (because I didn’t get into a Trump rally), I took photos of his victory speech on live TV at a motel in West Virginia. I then used those images to create a collage to challenge his views on women.

But it’s getting a little out of hand now… A lot of people now ask me to make such portraits. Also a big customer of mine, so we will probably see it appear somewhere, somehow, soon …”

Can you predict an evolution in photography through the corona crisis? And if so, what does it look like?

“I hope even more creative than it already is 🙂 And simpler … fairer.”

What impact do you think the crisis will have on your sector?

“In the beginning very hard. We can’t do big productions anymore. But I’m convinced we have to stay creative. There is a solution for everything. And once everything goes back to ‘normal’, all those brands will want to tell you again how fantastic the world is, and I think there will be more content to be made than there was before the crisis. Whether we all want to support this and whether it is all ethically responsible is another story. But we are not going to be able to change the world and how things work. As long as we remain honest with ourselves, I think that’s okay.”

Is there a future for “digitisation of culture and art” in your opinion?

“Certainly, and rather sooner than later. We can do so much from a distance. I am happy that people are finally starting to see that it works remotely. Even if you’re just talking about meetings … seriously. Suddenly it’s all possible via zoom or hangout… Can’t we just continue doing this this way? It saves a lot of money, time and stress.”

Are there things you are trying to do that were previously completely out of the question? Or ideas that were suddenly gaining momentum?

“Working with material at hand …  And realising that the story and what you want to tell is sometimes more important than what it looks like.”

>> Stay in the loop. Check out Jef’s website here