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How Restrictions Fuel Creativity: Loes Heerink

From jobless graduate to darling of the blogosphere

Loes Heerink graduated at a bad time. She got a Bachelor’s in Communications in 2011, when the industry in the Netherlands was tanking and senior people were losing their jobs.

But, as is often the case, what looked like bad luck actually wasn’t. She moved to Hanoi to teach English, and from there, through a series of freelance gigs, found a position in her field.

That’s not where the story ends, though. While in Hanoi, Heerink indulged her passion for photography. Her Vendors From Above series earned a flurry of media attention, including a feature in My Modern Met, where I first saw her work.

I was transfixed by the artfulness of the fruit, vegetable and flower arrangements Heerink caught as they sped beneath where she perched on bridges, often for several hours, waiting for them.

The vendors are genuine artists, Heerink says, although they might not know it. “I think we always assume we’re not special. We always assume we’re maybe odd, but I don’t think anybody thinks what they are doing is special,” she says.

Heerink initiated a Kickstarter project to make a photo book from the series. “I work in PR and Communications, so I made this whole communication plan. I googled some of the magazines and blogs that might be interested in writing my story, but the first thing I did was I posted the pictures on Bored Panda, and pretty much from there on, I threw away my media plan,” she remembers.

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© Loes Heerink

“I woke up in the morning and I got an email from The Guardian, and I’m like, ‘What the fuck happened?’ Overnight, I mean, I put it on Bored Panda, and it was everywhere.”

The funding goal for Heerink’s Kickstarter project was €3,700. So far, she has raised €12,231.

Grateful for her day job

Missing her family, Heerink returned to the Netherlands this year. She still works in PR and Communications, and has no plans to quit. Her job lets her maintain creative freedom as a photographer, she says.

“I take pictures of what I find intriguing …  I mean, if someone asked me to shoot at a family gathering or something, I don’t enjoy doing that. I do what I like. I don’t know if that works as a photographer. So now it’s just a little bit of a hobby that’s gotten out of control.”

She adds that, for her, photography is a way to stay enthusiastic about life. Making time for it isn’t easy, she acknowledges. She often works late, she still gets emails every day about her Kickstarter project, and scheduling shoots for her current photo series  – people and animals with heterochromia, (two-toned eyes) – is a challenge.*

“Thursday, I came home at nine, and I had my next appointment at a quarter past nine because I wanted to photograph an animal that was very specifically beautiful, so it’s kind of been very hectic.” After our interview, she adds, she’s scheduled to shoot a cat, and the following day, she has an appointment with some birds.

Still, she says, she’s grateful. “I think it really enriches my life in a way, like, I don’t have to photograph. I like the fact that I earn a living, and that my hobby is photography. I like that I can do it in my spare time, and I enjoy it a lot. I get very enthusiastic about it. I get these ideas and then I’m just happy about it, you know, I don’t know how to explain it. I just feel like I have a bit of a good position, let’s put it like that.”

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“Take Your Dog To Work Day”, © Loes Heerink

Setting art free by setting boundaries

Maintaining a day job isn’t the only way in which Heerink frees herself by placing boundaries on her work. Using constraints to enhance creativity was a major goal of In Them Shoes, in which she photographed her own shoes every day for one and a half years.

She was looking for a daily photography project “where it seemed difficult to be creative,” she explains.

Then, while flying kites with her boyfriend in Hanoi, she saw a heart painted on the street, and photographed herself standing in it. “I realised, it’s a very basic, simple picture. I’m always carrying myself around. There’s always some kind of floor. How do you keep creative in that sort of framing?”

She found several answers to that question, one of which was to theme her images according to obscure holidays like “Houseplant Day“, “Sauntering Day“, and “Bubble Blowing Day“, all of which actually exist.

The sheer volume of pictures she had to produce also sparked creativity, she says.

If you asked her to take a good picture of a lamp, for example, she says, “I don’t know if I could. But if you tell me, ‘Take 20 random images that are different of that same lamp,’ I will come up with a whole different set of images that are probably more interesting than that one good image you asked for.”

“Fairy Day,” © Loes Heerink

Although her schedule no longer supports taking photos every day, she recommends such a project for aspiring photographers.

“You gotta practice, which is why I did it every day, to just practice, get to know myself a little bit with the camera, lighting, that kind of stuff.”

Most importantly, she adds, “Shoot what you find interesting.” Doing so is what lends her the patience to wait long hours for her subjects, she says. “I just find them so beautiful that I don’t mind waiting for them.”

*Note: Heerink is currently seeking models, both human and animal, for her heterochromia project. If you or someone you know has two eye colours and is based in the Netherlands or Hanoi, you can find her contact info here.

Featured Image: From Vendors From Above,  © Loes Heerink

What about you, Reader? Do you have a creative hobby? How does it enrich your life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

PS: I’m writing a book about the creative process. Subscribe for free, and when it’s done, I’ll send send you the first chapter.  

PPS: I’m off to a transcendental meditation retreat at the Brahmasthan of India for a few weeks, so I’ll be pausing my posts again until Feb. 24th, when I hope to share some insight about how to sidestep our egos during the creative process (I don’t know about yours, but mine’s a pernicious little sucker).

2 Comments

  1. Beautiful photos by Lois! Thanks for sharing her story. After a full life involving careers in teaching high school and then moving on to teach meditation (TM.org), I am now reviving my creative interest in both writing and photography. This is purely a personal pursuit for my own enjoyment but it certainly does enrich my life. The purpose of life is the expansion of happiness and sharing my creativity does that for me.

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