Interview: Alice Van Kempen
Q. You were one of our first Winners in Dog Photographer of the Year 2005 (now 10 years ago) what was it like to place in Dog Photographer of the Year back then?
I was very excited back when I received the message that I had won the Dog Portrait category, although I had won photo contests before this one, it was special as it was a picture of our new puppy Jay. I shot the photograph when we took her to the beach for the very first time, she loved it and the picture showed that.
Q. What made you enter Dog Photographer of the Year?
Thought it might be a great opportunity to show other people my photography work, although I already worked as a dog photographer it's not an easy way to make a living. It wasn't then and it still isn't easy. Another reason I entered is the simple fact that I love competitions. Since I was young I entered all sorts of competitions and won quite a few. Recently I won two photo competitions; a holiday for two to Botswana & Zimbabwe and a photography holiday for one to South Africa. The last one was first prize in a photo competition organized by a leading Dutch Photography magazine.
Q. How has your career grown since 2005?
Tell us about your dog photography work now. A lot has changed since 2005 when I started as a photographer; long before 2005 I worked with conventional DSLR and medium format cameras. It is a time consuming and quite expensive method of photography; knowledge of equipment, correct exposure times and composition were essential. The final result could only be checked days later when the negatives were developed. The photo I took of Jay was one of the first pictures I took with a digital camera; a Nikon D100. The life of a photographer became easier, being able to check the result on the spot; no more expensive rolls of film, delivering your work faster. That's one part that changed a lot since 2005. The other part that changed for the better is the fact that the subject of my winning picture became quite well known in the dog show world. Our little puppy, imported from the UK in early 2005, became a beautiful specimen of the breed so we started showing her. She won titles under breed specialists from the UK, European Continent, America, South Africa and Australia and became quite well known as Ch Sea Lavender. Thanks to this and my photographs of her, more and more people got to know me as well. I think being active and being successful in the show ring certainly helps towards a better understanding how to photograph dogs, and put as much as possible in the pictures. Don't think my career has grown since 2005 but it has changed a lot. I photographed all sorts of breeds then and still do so. I still have the dog magazines as my main clients but lost quite a few as well, due to the simple reason some of them no longer exist because of the recession. I lost others because they changed policy; using photos supplied by amateur photographers they can use for free. The digital era is both a blessing and a curse. That's why I recently decided to make a little switch, concentrating more on photographing my own dogs to try new techniques, to develop new ideas and distinguish myself from the crowd; to make artistic work instead of just dog portraits.
Q. Do you specialise in any particular breeds?
I am blessed to have Bull Terriers at home, so my main focus at the moment are Bull Terriers but I am still photographing all sorts of breeds and a keen interest in rare breeds. Chateau Zakspeed is a portrait of my model Claire, just to show how photogenic she is.
Q. What is it about Bull terrier breeds that you like to photograph most?
Everything about them is unique, their egg-shaped head, the piercing glint in their coal black eyes, their strong bodies; muscular and very athletic and last but not least their fun loving attitude. All these characteristics make them very interesting models to photograph. I consider myself very lucky to have a top model at home; Claire (Ch Izimbali Moonlight and Roses). She loves modelling, she really does, I have never seen a Bull Terrier or even a dog like her. Beauty with brains, immediately knows what I want her to do. Claire is so smart that I even taught her to hunt for truffles in less than four days!
Q. What is your favourite photo that you have taken?
I had my favourite for a long time but lately I favour a photo called Grande George. Grande George is the Urbex name of the location where I made this photo. I might change my mind again thanks to all the new exciting adventures that lay ahead of me. I gave it the title "The morning after the night before"; this photo is part of a series of photographs I am making at Urbex locations (short for Urban Exploration) which is the art of finding derelict, abandoned, decaying buildings and locations, exploring them and taking photos whilst there.
Q. Would you have any tips to offer new dog photographers just starting out?
I think it's useful to learn about all sorts of techniques. Almost anyone can be taught how to use a camera but not everyone will become a good photographer. You need to have a 'good eye.’ A good eye in dog photography is a combination of many subtle talents. Most importantly not just a good eye for a dog but things such as composition, lighting, detail and an understanding of different temperaments in dogs are equally important. Some of these things can't be taught in my opinion and that makes the difference between a photographer and a bloody good photographer. I think you might consider yourself an established photographer if people recognize your work. When they see a photograph and they know it's made by you. You don't need fancy logos or watermarks to establish your work to be recognised. For me Sally Ann Thompson is the best example of an established photographer (although retired now), if I see her photographs I know it's made by her, I have never been wrong about identifying her work. Try and not compete with your professional colleagues it's better to join forces. Respect each other’s clients, it's for nobody's interest to sell photographs cheaper for the sake of being cheap, we will all end up earning less and less. Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten. And secondly; Never let go of your dreams.
Q. Are you working on any new dog photography projects?
Sure do, actually several projects. Last year I published my second book, a coffee table book called "Bull Terriers in Action". Now I am working on another book, my urbex dog photography will be part of that book. As well as that I am working on a book about Bull Terriers; interviews with stalwarts of the breed; photographed standard; colour inheritance; historic facts and lots more. These books will be self-published just like I did with my first two books. Another plan is to write a book about photographing dogs, for this project I am looking for a publisher as I want it published worldwide.
Q. Where do you share your photos with the public?
For now I share my photos and interesting news on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/alice.vankempen. You can also find some of my images on the Kennel Club Picture Library website www.dogimages.org.uk for purchasing prints and licensing.