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Interview with Frederik Heyman

With a woolen hat being part of his signature style, Antwerp fashion photographer Frederik Heyman is quite easy to recognize.

Enjoy his appearance while you still can, for opportunities may lead him elsewhere. With clients like Kenzo, Vogue Homme Japan, L’Officiel Paris, Bruno Pieters and Hendrik Vibskov up his sleeve, Heyman feels he could benefit from a change of scenery. We’ve known Frederik for quite a while, when he was still studying graphic design and photography. Happy to see his work is now winning international acclaim.


You shot Kenzo’s latest accessory campaign. How big is that?

I knew it was going to be massive, for Kenzo is a hot brand that gets a lot of exposure. I don’t necessarily consider it as my big break though. I do not like to think like that, but I received a lot of positive reactions and agencies now show interest in what I do. It definitely put me on the map. And I’m very happy with the result, because the campaign shows who I really am. 

How was it, working for Kenzo? Did they give you a lot of freedom?

Yes, they did. They had seen my shoot for Vogue Japan and asked me to work in a similar kind of atmosphere. So when it came to set design, textures and colors, they were very open to new ideas. The Kenzo campaign was too last minute to build a set on the day of the shoot, so a lot was done in post-production, a new and exciting process.


For someone who is known for building his own sets, 3D and post-production is quite the challenge.

Yes, it was. But it was a nice challenge though. When you don’t have a lot of time and the budget is limited, CGI (post-production) comes in handy. This way you have more time to think about the composition and the images become more natural and more balanced, always with a surreal twist, which has become partly my signature style. But I still enjoy building sets in my personal work.

You are trained as a graphic designer and a photographer. Where did you learn to build sets?

I’ve been doing it for a very long time. I love the physical building process, but I don’t do it often anymore when it comes to commissioned work.


And why is that? Has setdesign become too time-consuming?

Partly it has. For Kenzo I worked with David White, a set designer from London and working with him gave me a different input and vibe. But when I work on shoots, I like to be in control. I have a specific image in mind and plan everything in advance. When you look at my sketches and the final results, there’s hardly any difference between the two. But once I build my own set, I’m very attached to my creation and then it’s hard for me to let it go, create a distance and focus on the act of photography. Now that I make 3D sketches and delegate more often, there’s more time to play around.

So every image is planned in advance?

To me it’s very important to know where I am going. I am very hands-on. I love to execute and perfection the image I have in my head. When you have to shoot 7 images with a big set in one day, you don’t have to luxury to fool around. You have to be able to focus and to know exactly what you are doing. It’s about creating an atmosphere and you do that by adding different layers such as light, pose, composition, the set. But it’s not that rigid. Lately I am more open to unexpected alternations.

Getting away from your comfort zone and moving away from Antwerp, is that also part of your evolutionary process?

I just feel it’s time to leave Antwerp, my hometown. I need to get away from my comfortable position and opt for a new challenge. Working abroad has always been more exciting, people expect more from me and therefore it’s a bigger challenge and consequently the quality of my work is getting better. I just feel I’ve reached that point in life that I need a change of scenery.

Next to fashion photography, you make videos, drawings and installations. Is it because you work in fashion, the naked body has become so important in your personal work?

As you’ve observed I show a lot of nudity in my personal work. And it’s because styling and clothes determine so much in my commissioned work, that I enjoy using naked bodies in my personal work. There’s nothing shocking or vulgar about a naked body, although my mom was quite shocked after seeing ‘Man descending stairs’. She didn’t understand why I had to show an enlarged scrotum (Laughs.) But I’ve always been interested in the human body and how it works. And showing it in all its glory is a natural thing for me to do.



So there a clear distinction between your personal and commissioned work?

Yes, there is. And I have found rest in my soul by keeping those two separated. Yes, I am a fashion photographer and yes, I am an artist too. They are both important to me, but I like to keep them apart. Although they have a similar starting point, the execution is completely different. One is free and I’m able to draw outside the lines and the other is about collaborating. But you know what, I’ve come to terms with that. And since I did, I’ve found some inner peace.


How come we know so little about you personally? You’re quite difficult to contact and you only reach out to show your work. Well done is better than well said, right?

Correct. Fashion photography is quite often about image building. People love using social media to say which shoot they are working on, but I personally find it more exciting and mysterious to show my work, once it’s done. This way its impact is bigger. People don’t need to know how the shoot came about or who I am. People don’t have to know me to understand my work. I think social media are fantastic to keep people updated. But I choose to use it differently. Who I am is not important, but what I do is.


Text: Magali Elali
Photos: Bart Kiggen, Frederik Heyman



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