Art of the Middle East

Photographs, artwork, journals, clothing and writing concerning the cultures, traditions, places and events in the Middle East.

An interview with Mike De Lange

Eyal Nahmias Eyal Nahmias 277 posts

: Mike de Lange is the winner of our Markets challenge with his Damascus Souk #0101 image

I asked Mike a few questions about his history, background, connection to photography and his views. Please visit his portfolio, get to know him, and give him your support. Mike Image is featured in the group front page, and he earned a spot as a featured photographer / artist

• Tell us about yourself, some history, education, family, hobbies, work, etc.

Well, to start with, I was born in 1968, and brought up South Africa, and following 12 years of schooling and 2 years of “National Service” in the Infantry, I obtained a B.Architecture degree in 1994. I’ve been a practicing architect ever since. A temporary 14 month project contract brought me to Dubai in January 2002, which turned into a more permanent opportunity whereby I’m now a partner owner in a Dubai based international architecture firm. Hobbies – really only one – photography consumes me completely when not doing my day-job or spending time with my family.

• When did you first become interested in art / photography. How would you define your own art? How did your art evolve?

I’ve always been interested in the arts, and achieved some marginal success in the fine arts and sculpture fields in the late 1980’s. I think the turning point came when my father passed his old Ashi Pentax SLR, and a couple of lenses, on to me in 1986. I was fascinated by it, and this taught me a lot about the fundamentals of photography in it’s raw form. I upgraded myself to a Pentax ME Super, but further pursuing serious photography , the costs of film, processing and printing at the time, proved prohibitive to a young student. It was only when digital became mainstream that I started photographing again around 2003, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Someone recently described my photos as “hyper-real”, which, when I think about it, rings true on a number of levels. Firstly, my favourite subjects are mostly very “real” in terms of character, weathered by time and circumstance. Secondly, the way I prefer to process my work on these subjects is to bring out all those “real” “patina” layers so that the photo almost tell a life story that hopefully forces the viewer to look a little deeper. Thirdly, the viewer then hopefully appreciate the outcome of this combination of “real” characters / subjects and my processing technique to get that sense of “hyper-realism”, something that accentuates the “real” that is not necessarily noticed in their daily life. My photography really evolve all the time, constantly stimulated by new subjects which I’m in a fortunate position to pursue by traveling to where I want to find that new inspiration.

• How has your cultural heritage affected your “Artistic eye”?

Wow, this is a “deep” question. I grew up in a fairly privileged middle class home, sheltered from “reality” by apartheid. Following a 3 month stint as an infantry soldier in a “black” township, at the climax before the collapse of apartheid, I realized that my cultural perception of “reality” is not the same as anybody else’s. This revealed “reality” from other’s perspective to me, and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since. To a great extent, the Middle East is today the victim of one-sided western propaganda, but the reality on the ground is that it is occupied by real people, in very real circumstances that are not at all bad, just different. In my art, I try to show this to the best of my ability, specifically with my environmental portrait work.

• Can you recall the first photo you took that made you go WOW!?

Difficult to remember, but a turning point for me, where I realized that “something is going right” is probably the photo “The Coppersmith”, shot in Damascus, Syria. It was technically a very difficult photo to get, as it was a chance encounter and I didn’t have a tripod with me. I felt that the result just managed to capture everything I wanted too in one shot. The shot maybe flawed in many technical ways, but I’ve been striving since then to repeat that feeling, but have never really managed yet.

• What medium (camera or programs for digital artists) do you use? What techniques and manipulations do you use?

I prefer to travel light. I have a Canon EOS 400D with battery grip, Sigma 18-20mm and Sigma 18-200mm lenses. I also have a Leica D-Lux 3 as backup and “carry everywhere” for those unforeseen moments. I almost exclusively use Photoshop Elements 7 and always shoot in RAW.
I get asked often to reveal my processing techniques, but find it difficult to give a short answer. I’ve been working hard to achieve something of an own “style”, but even this is ever evolving. I can spend anything up to 3 hours on an image until I’m satisfied with it, only to see it “failing” when I post it for viewing. I think the lesson is that it’s not just the post-processing, but people have to like the whole picture – that is more important than anything else. I don’t feel ready to give my PP technique away yet, sorry ;)

• What inspire you and how do you translate this inspiration into art?

I’ve mentioned a lot about my inspirations elsewhere, but I’m mostly inspired by the real, gritty nature of people, places and things. It is to a great extent an escape for me from my work, which is the opposite of contributing to progress in a slick, sanitized way. My photography is not inspired by my work, and neither the other way round. My background as an architect however does influence my photography, probably that I also view each photo as a “design”, which contributes to how I would approach, composition, proportion, texture, colour, perspective, etc. to achieve a “whole” image.

• How does your personality change when you look through the camera? What kind of personality you exhibit in daily life?

When looking through a viewfinder, or scouting out opportunities, my mind is VERY busy and I feel almost cold, analytical and critical about what I see. I am very focused on trying to get as much as possible right in-camera. Guess I will never be a good wedding of fashion photographer then. In my everyday life, people would probably describe me as quiet, introverted, but focused on achievement. Wow – that was difficult …

• What is your favorite image, either your own or someone else’s or both?

There is one photo by anybody seen my muse (real name Victor) “after party II" which I came across right at the beginning when I joined RB. I was fascinated by it’s simplicity, and it reminded me to open my eyes and have a better look around for those obscure photo opportunities. Thanks Victor, I have a very high admiration for your work.

My own favorites – apart from “The Coppersmith”, I think it is “The Boilermaker Shop”. I came across this scene in Damascus and thought that I did get the shot (again my errant way of not liking tripods). Upon my return home, I saw all the picture’s potential waisted by my sloppy technique. A couple of months later, a business trip came up to Damascus. I managed to make some time one afternoon, found the shop, and took about 15 shots (again without tripod) just to make sure I get it right that time. I think it must be my obsession with getting THAT shot right again that makes it a favorite.

• Looking through your gallery it seems that you’re passionate about people, travel, objects and urban photography with a very definite “Signature” style. What attracts you to these areas in photography and what is your personal vision when photographing someone else?

Again, I think I’ve answered a lot about this previously, but yes, my passion lies with all those elements listed. I’m attracted to “rustic”, “real” subjects because these are so easily overlooked by people running their daily, often sheltered lives. In the case of people, how many of us really know anything about the life of others, who have completely different work and circumstances. If these are considered “menial” jobs, these people are sometimes completely overlooked and even dismissed, not realizing that they all contribute to the world in some necessary way. Similarly, old buildings or abandoned things can be overlooked as junk by some, but there is probably a depth of history or stories behind it. I try to capture these different layers of reality. Fortunately, the Middle East have so many prime examples of “layered depth”, which I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to travel around and experience such interesting and diverse places, people, cultures and things firsthand.
As for the “signature” style, I’m flattered to be recognized in such a way. Though my post-processing technique is developed to enhance the “real” and “rustic”, any other “signature” style elements maybe coincidental by way of how I approach different angles, compositions, subjects etc. that somehow just show some common thread when viewed together.

• Have you had exhibits in galleries? Are any planned for the future? What are your plans for the future?

I haven’t exhibited yet, though I’ve been building relationships with a new and exciting photography specific gallery in Dubai, which hopefully can lead to an exhibition somewhere in the future. I’m currently featured over 8 pages in a Dubai-based photography magazine called Soura, which is also distributed internationally, and maybe some more features to come (Look for featured artist, and magazine #25). As photography is not my main career, I have the luxury of patience to make or take opportunities as they come, and if “mainstream” opportunities arrive, I’ll be ready to react to those too. I don’t think that my work is really “commercial”, in that a wide audience likes it. I don’t make many sales on RB either, but that’s not my objective either. I just want to do what I love. Any credit is an unforeseen bonus. Ultimately I foresee that photography will remain a passionate indulgence until I cannot hold a camera anymore. Where? I don’t know yet where I will end up, as Dubai is not a “retirement village”.

• What has been the single biggest obstacle against growing as a photographer in whole?

Obstacles are in the mind. In photography, you cannot really blame your equipment for bad pictures (it’s not the nail, but the hammer behind the nail …). There is always something around you immediately that can be a potential masterpiece if you think and look at it in a different way.
Exposure (or lack of it) is another example. Through site like RB, it’s there for you to use to your advantage, and from that other opportunities may come.
I would love to upgrade my main camera though, but it’s a catch 22 situation where I can only gain real quality improvements by jumping to top-level cameras, an expense that is hard to justify as long as my photography habit doesn’t pay for itself. I feel an impulse buy coming closer …

• Tell your funniest, scariest, most bizarre, most touching story from a photo shoot!

There is one touching story that I still have to conclude. While shooting in Damascus, an old barber, with an amazingly neat hairstyle and thick glasses, came to me to show me two old, weathered black & white photographs that he keeps with him all the time. The one was of his father as a barber, and the other of himself as a young boy when he became a barber himself. After communicating in my broken Arabic, and his non-existent English, he proceeded to pose in his shop, holding the two photographs. He was so incredibly proud of his heritage. It is not a great photo, but I promised him that I will get the photograph to him, which I will ….

• Do you think of yourself as an artist and what do you think of the word artist?

Yes, I think my work does lean more towards the artistic side of photography, as opposed to documentary. I approach each photograph from an artistic and design perspective, with a clear objective to create an artwork that hopefully will also appeal to an audience on many different emotional and aesthetic levels. I also never profess to representing the truth, but rather my own subjective interpretation of “reality”. Obviously I fail in conveying this a lot of times, but I feel that viewers don’t necessarily have to like my work to still experience some form of emotion towards it, even of just fleeting. Artist present a subjective point of view, leaving the viewer to interpret and evaluate the result from their own subjective framework.

• Tell a little secret about yourself that no-one knows …

Well … ummm … I don’t have any criminal record … (yet)…

• What would you have done differently during your photography career so far and could this be an advice to others?

Photography is not my mainstream career, affording me the luxury to completely indulge myself without worrying about earning an income from it. I don’t have any regrets, and can just continue to do it purely for the love of it.
I think that the majority of well known photographers have one thing in common – a fairly distinctive “style”. To achieve this, it is best to focus on subject matter that you have the best affinity with and try to perfect your skills in a particular genre. Natural “evolution” / “migration” towards new or other genres will surely happen over time, but it would be natural progress rather than forcefully trying to be a “jack of all trades”. Also. if you lack inspiration, try coming up with a concept for a series. and then do it. Who knows, something good may come from the entire series, or maybe only one good shot, but that makes it worth it too.

• Anything else you want to add that can tell us more about yourself?

Lots, but hey … rather than reading all of this, go out and shoot some great photos instead. RB is filled with some of the greatest artists I’ve ever seen – I can’t wait to see the next great shot from someone.

SanjaXOXO SanjaXOXO 28 posts

WOW!!!! Your photography is breathtaking!!! Really enjoyed your interview….I can’t wait to see your future works!!!

Victor Bezrukov Victor Bezrukov 64 posts

Hey Mike !!!!
i would to say you my HUGE thank you about your special words in the interview ..
it was really the best surprise to be inspiration for such great Artist like you !
btw. i have Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F – very old and working like crazy anymal.. – i learn to work with film both 120 and 35 format… so Holga and Pentax are my best friends…
Congrats on the feature in Magazine – 8 pages is not going so simple !!!!
Thank you far all again – have a niiice day !
Vic (people/are/strange)-(anybody seen my muse) !!!!

Greenhorn Greenhorn 6 posts

that was a top read, well done.

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