My mentor Harry van der Brugghen.
In October/November 1988. I left the military at the end of August and wanted to continue with photographic studies. I had my work published on most Heavy Metal bands from 1982 until 1987 and during my military service (1987/88) I had my camera with me at all times. After my stint in army green I sort of had grown out of shooting gigs a bit and wanted a new challenge, and above all learn more on how to become a pro.
So after enlisting at a school which meant studying from home as that was how the school functioned, I had quite a bit of spare time. I wanted to get more involved and was looking for an apprenticeship in a studio. The pace of the study was too slow for me and I wanted to learn all the tricks of the trade. I wrote to four people, one had died, one never bothered to answer and one contacted me after I had already said yes to the other guy who had gotten back to me.
His name: Harry van der Brugghen. He rang on a Thursday asking me if I wanted to come in on Monday which I did. I was dressed fairly smart and when I arrived I was offered coffee promptly (as my mom predicted) and was told I would join him on a job he was commissioned for that very same afternoon. The job was for ad agency AGH in Den-Bosch and consisted of shooting a X-Mas card for Audi and was meant to have a snow covered back window of an Audi car with the year 1989 cut out. We went to a field between Vught and Den-Bosch where we tried to shoot the vehicle, but that did not work at all. Actually it went a lot worse after that, the shoot was a complete disaster. It took 4 long days and loads of travelling, hiring of gear, get bigger studio etc. And the snow would just not stick to the window……… In the end he had to give the job back. A first for Harry. This was all pre-photoshop days, nowadays a job like this would be a piece of cake.
That was my introduction to professional photography with Harry.
Harry had passed his exams at the photography academy “Gotze Institute” in Haarlem with honours and had been in business for roughly 4 years when I walked in. What I remember from that period is that the first six months, all I did was photography. I ate, drank, slept you name it only photography. The darkroom was my second home and all I did was process and develop. I even pulled the mattress, which was used as a prop, of the balcony and slept on the studio floor. He gave me directions and I just followed them up and I got stuck too cosily in that method. Then one day he bollocked me for not paying attention and then I did and not much later I started to become a proper assistant and sometimes give him my advise on how to light when it came to shoots and made prints for his clients. His folio he printed himself, something he excelled at.
After a year Harry had another apprentice join, her name was Petra, and with Petra I ended up shooting untold packaging shots while Harry went out showing his folio to clients and getting more work in. It drove us mad shooting everything on a white back ground, job after job. A great learning school though, as every object placed on a white formica sheet would sometimes have a few challenges in store.
His studio was in the Taal straat in Vught, just underneath Den-Bosch. It was good for fashion and table top photography, but trying to get a car in proved to be a serious mission (we used a jack to reduce its turning circle and swing the car around).
It had a dressing/make-up/editing area. With a darkroom behind that and an office at the front. In that darkroom I spent many hours printing and developing b&w film (Ilford FP4 and HP5) of my own and also for the jobs we did. He taught me how to print badly, as prints for newspaper ads needed to be a lot softer in contrast than one would normally deliver to the client. And I would observe him in that darkroom as he had some great printing techniques.
One day while making some prints, he came in all rushed and said ”Come on”. We got into his car and drove to Den-Bosch and outside a huge building was a skip and it was loaded with really old cast iron radiators. Harry had managed to borrow a small trailer and we lifted 6 of them into the trailer. They weighed a ton as we could barely lift them ourselves. Harry was a hoarder, anything that could be possibly used as a prop for a shoot in the future was stored.
With Harry I also learned how to explore various techniques available within the trade. Every job had to be lit or processed differently, a fabulous way to learn.
We shot a penguin in Artis Zoo in Amsterdam on a roll of white paper. Out of about 1200 this one was supposedly the calmest one. Well the penguin was not having any of it and bit the care taker’s hand 2 or 3 times and wanted to wander off and not cooperate at all.
We took pictures for an insurance company where we had to re-create the scenes of traffic accidents and we did all this in Vught without asking for a permit or any permission. Harry had even the balls to knock on the door of a random house and asked to tap of some electricity to be able to use the crane vehicle since the campaign was to be shot from right above. These days a drone would capture the whole thing in 4K, no problemo.
Harry had asthma and during the time I was there he was admitted twice to the hospital and was in there for almost a week, I held the fort then and did whatever was needed on the photographic front.
The second Harry came out he wanted to do something for fun in his studio. We ended up doing two shoots that lasted each about 4 days. The first one involved a glass and a bottle underwater in a massive aquarium. The idea was to pour air bubbles from the bottle into the water and going into the glass, so the opposite of pouring water into a glass. This involved a lot of manoeuvring all items about and get the right amount of air to go through. Then we had mirrors upside down resembling spillage like on a table. It was incredible to do,and Harry combined his photographic skills with his love for engineering, amazing really. And so was the next one where we wanted to create a setting of a fisherman standing at the edge of the water on pebbles with a bottle of Glenfiddich lying at his feet, in this case a pair of wellies. The most challenging thing was the splash of water hitting the label, to control this splash and capture it took two days. Tough analogue world 🙂
I ended up doing all the motorway driving. I was to drive his Saab 900 ‘on the side as a learning experience’ without a license nor insurance. I drove a few thousand of miles across The Netherlands while Harry was having a kip on our way to a client.
In Aug of 1990 I left Harry to travel to Milan and try my luck over there, a real friendship had developed during my period as an assistant and I would come back during the summers of 1991 and 1992. The weather was too hot for my liking down south and I would end up do some job or shoot some girls at his studio.
I lived for weeks rent free above his studio and helped him out while he had work. This studio was in Den-Bosch, an argument with his previous landlord (another photographer) made him move out the one in Vught. The studio at The Papier Straat was as big as an air plane hangar and was an absolute joy to work at.
In 1991 Harry and I drove to Belgium and the north of France on two occasions (Knokke and Dunkirk) to do a shoot with a model called Natasha. We made some wicked pix and when we were in Knokke and just driving away we had a dreadful accident. A young girl on her bike riding the pavement decided to cross the road a few meters in front of us. We drove about 20 miles an hour and she got lifted up by the collision with her face smashing against the window shield right in front of me, her bike went underneath the car and was catapulted 30 feet away.The speed of the car was enough to have a devastating impact. Leorna, only 8 years old, descended into a coma and died about one month later. A dreadful event that left quite a mental scar on both of us, even though we had no blame for it, it was a terrible tragedy that cost a young girl’s life.
Shortly after I made my way back to Italy and stayed there and other European cities to work and had regular contact with Harry.
In January 1993 he called me while I was in Milan, and told me that he had had a fire at his studio, in the dark room to be specific and that everything in there was just molten plastic and charred metal, the rest of the studio was covered in soot. I lost some negatives in that fire. Harry lost lots more, he was in the middle of a massive job for bathroom specialist Willux which involved shoot one bathroom set while the other is being build. This whole campaign was being in danger of being cancelled. Could I come and help him out? Of course!
When I arrived he had gone back to the Brabanthallen as the studio was of no use while the clean-up and painting started, the Brabanthallen was the same place we tried to shoot the snowed under car 4.5 years before. Should have known better, but in that area it was the only thing that was available that big and on short notice.
The job itself went ok, sure it was slowed down but we managed to get things going again and deliver the results within the deadline. But then the client messed us about and even went bankrupt and a shit storm ensued. It bankrupted Harry, it took a few years but the debt caught up with him. This all happened in the mid to late 90’s while I was living in London for a few years already and we sort of lost touch for about 4-5 years.
That was until about 14 years ago when I managed to find him on the net and found his email address. We have stayed in touch ever since. If there was anything photoshop related I needed to know I would go to him and he would talk me though it. Shortly after Harry had spread his wings and was getting good at InDesign as well and started to produce books for kitchen and furniture companies.
In 2014 Harry was diagnosed with cancer and changed his entire way of life and started to take it a lot easier when it came to work. I have visited him from time to time since his diagnosis, and this year I managed to see him quite a few times. In July I saw him twice after initially was thought that his health had rapidly declined, so much so that his wife Monique and his children. The first time in July I passed by with the missus and that very same day they had a little celebration as Dax, his youngest son, had passed his exams. It was a lovely afternoon, and cherished by me and my but I think most of all by Harry
Having taken various experiences from my time with Harry at heart and in the head, to me the most important bit was to concentrate on pre-visualising the photograph you are about to make,
His initial prognosis was Stage 4 and that he did not have that long to live. He managed to stretch that prognosis already 5 times over due to a drastic change in diet and lifestyle. But it caught up with him. His situation had worsened early July. I have seen him once or twice a year for the past 3 or 4 years, and before that as well. When I saw him last week he weighed roughly 56 kgs and looked emancipated. He himself said he looked like a WW2 concentration camp survivor and sadly I have to say that he did. Just before we left on July 20th he told me “I ga nog lange niet weg” (I am not going anywhere for quite some time).
But……Harry passed away on Monday Aug 1st 2016. He is survived by his wife Monique Veenstra and his three children Denise, Manon and Dax.
I have lost a dear friend, colleague and above all mentor who to me was irreplaceable and I miss the fucker already…..love you loads m8!