Black and white – these photos look you in the eye. Some of smiles and some of question marked faces, but all with subjects caught fully present in the moment with the man on the other end of the lens. Stark, bold – sometimes bare naked and raw. Joy, bliss, pain, despair; nothing shielded; nothing held back. A journey into life and its balancing forces. Life revealed in Nepal and Bangladesh. Powerful stuff.
Fokkens is a native-born Calgarian but his parents hail from Australia. Theirs was a household bursting with five children and so outside is where they ended up spending much of their time; from infancy onward. Camping and trekking through a Rocky Mountain playground. This is an artist who was never coddled.
On the contrary he was chased off the beaten path by his siblings on a regular basis and he grew to like it there.
He hated school; never saw the point in it. He was never happier than the day he finished grade 12. He’s an adventure seeker and explorer.
He chose Bangladesh and remote corners of Nepal for his solo sojourn because he saw it on the map and knew that neither he nor the world really knew much about these places. Originally he hoped a year would let him wander in India as well but he was swallowed up in the first two countries and never made it to that third world. It’s still waiting…in the corner of his mind.
After high school he trained and travelled the world as a professional dancer. This is where he taught himself photography and where he honed his craft with real – pre digital – film and notebooks filled with setting notations. He read National Geographic as a child and soaked up every story. Now, he emulates the writers and photographers of those glossy pages; not just following stories but creating them so the rest of us may still discover people and parts unknown.
Fokkens is doing it on his own.
This dream of having a genuine body of work to contribute to the world led him to leave the creature comforts of Calgary and a blossoming reputation and business behind to wander for a year. Twirling the globe he searched for unchartered territories. His goal is to see what stories his camera can help him tell about the people he encounters in his travels.
A year would be needed for this gentle soul. He likes to establish rapport with locals before catching their photo.
It shows. As I slowly leaf through my copy of the book, most of Fokken’s subjects look incredibly relaxed or oblivious to him. It seems like he’d been hanging around so long, they didn’t even notice him and his camera anymore. The images are a peak into a world most of us didn’t know existed.
That makes a good book.
After having gotten to know people this deeply in such a far away land – where he could barely speak a word of the language – Fokkens has decided to spend the next five years slowly gathering stories from Canada’s ten provinces and three territories. Canadians are often stereotyped but we do have a deep identity. Fokkens may help the world gather insight into what makes us tick. He’s already started catching up with some westerners – as seen in the photos below – by camping and walking the back roads of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
I’ve already invited him to go and stay with my parents in New Brunswick. There’s some great old characters in my hometown for him to find. I think my Mom won’t mind having his handsome mug hanging around the house for a bit (he kinda looks like Tom Cruise) – even though she hates having her own photo taken.
Spend a little time with Fokken’s work, it’ll help you savour it all.