Thursday, 26 January 2012

An Interview with Teun van der Heijden - Part 01

Book presentation © Teun van der Heijden

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

How did you start making photography books and working together with photographers and photography institutions?

"At the St. Joost academy I was not a brilliant graphic design student. In the fifth year I dropped out because a friend of mine started an advertising agency in Oss. He thought, 'Teun is doing art school, he can help me'. In contrast to art academy this was about going to an office and just working. There were normal people that wanted you to design logos and were enthusiastic about it. I felt right at home.

After this I did a postgraduate course where I discovered the world of concept design. I wanted to be an art director at an advertising agency in Amsterdam, but this was in the days when people were being fired. And I came from the provinces. It didn't work so I moved into the magazine world. Via Margriet (a Dutch women's magazine), I ended up at Vrij Nederland. This was really the beginning of my interest in photography. I talked to photographers and made edits. While I was at Vrij Nederland I started at World Press Photo where I did small design jobs.
I arrived at the beginning of the expansion of World Press Photo (laughs). Marloes Krijnen (now founder and director of Foam) was then director.  At the time they were looking for a new designer to make the annual book. I had a conversation with Marloes but she was very clear. "One, I do not make the decision and secondly we are looking in the top levels of the national and international design world". But Marloes promised at least to pass on my name to the publisher. And then I got lucky. One of the designers in the pitch pulled out of the project. I was totally inexperienced at making  books but I did have a lot of flight hours. A design office in London had made a visionary design but it was a bridge too far. I just happened to be second in line. "

What a great story of the underdog who runs off with the prize. Though, of course, you worked already with World Press Photo. I suppose it was actually an advantage?

"Yes, that's probably true, but I discovered that I knew nothing about photography. I had never made a book before. I had designed a grid and pasted images into it for three months, to put it in basic terms. The first time I went to edit with the World Press Photo team was quite a shock. In the time I had chosen two pictures, they had already done half the book."

Now you have trained yourself in book design. What is your judgment based on? Seeing endless pictures and so understanding traditions?

"I still make most of my decisions based on a gut feeling. At some point you find that you are short of knowledge. I had never heard of all those classics. You realize that if you want to do your job well you need some reference. I started doing a photography course at ACF. I learned all about the practice but also some art history. At ACF I got to know many people that still work in the photography world. I immersed myself in something I felt fantastic about."

Why were you so fascinated by photography?

I realized that I could lose part of myself in photography. I really like to tell stories and with photography you can do that. As a graphic designer who is doing something with photography, you are in line with the narrative. For a catalogue like the World Press Photo yearbook you make the best flow of images but it doesn't have a real narrative. That's why I got more interested in this kind of story-telling.

Kim Knoppers

The second part of this interview will follow tomorrow.


  1. Your academic life was awesome as designing student you get a a lot of things,you was really a working hard i am also a working in my and your academic life almost same.

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