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An Interview with Teun van der Heijden

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This is the third extract from an interview with Teun van der Heijden,  the designer of Stanley Greene's book, Black Passport. 

Why did you and Stanley Greene decide to do a book together?

"One day Kadir called. "He wants you, baby. You really have to work with Stanley because it's a unique opportunity." So in autumn 2005 I went to Paris. I admired Stanley. I found him fascinating in his long leather coat. By that time I had become curious about those people who photographed war. They always did their best to stand out from the photographers who dressed up smart when they were awarded a prize. I've always wondered to what extent that rock 'n roll behaviour is related to the goal of making the world a better place. Somehow I felt this was something to explore.

I went to see Stanley initially, of course, to find the hook for a special book. On the first day I discovered in a glossy Russian magazine an almost erotic picture of a girl biting a strawberry. I found it strange to find this image in between his pictures from Iraq. Stanley photographed fruits and erotica. It was amazing. All those folks I'd met, Kadir van Lohuizen, Ad van Denderen, they would never photograph a girl with a strawberry.

I mentioned it to him and Stanley said, "You know, I've been a fashion photographer". Then he opened all of his boxes. He showed me the first book he had made. I saw photos that were artistic and stylish and really different from what I had seen until then. Before then, to me Stanley was a war photographer, but now I saw there was another layer. In the evening we went to eat. Stanley was talking  and I was pretty quiet. At one point he interrupted his monologue and asked why I was so quiet. I told him I was thinking how interesting it could be to mix war with all those girlfriends.

I made a small dummy. Stanley still has it, a thin notebook that unfortunately I did not get back. We found that it worked well. Then a half year later I made an extensive dummy. It had to be a visual biography of which I was the director. Not to put myself into the picture but because I was more neutral than Stanley himself."

Did you study books that could help you with the visual biography concept?

"No, but from then on I started to learn more. I read DelCorso's Gallery, a fictional story about a war photographer, by Philip Caputo. It very much influenced the way I've used text. The conversations Stanley and I had about movies was also inspiring. Stanley is a huge film fan. We often talked about our mutual love for Tarantino movies. For me it is always the soundtrack which makes a Tarantino movie, but Stanley is into the dialogues. I downloaded the script for Pulp Fiction, those dry exchanges contain so many images and emotions. I wanted the text in the book to be that way, short monologues, easy to read."

Kim Knoppers 

The final part of this interview will follow tomorrow.

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