Customer in the spotlight: Bart Kuykens

After the success of the seven-volume ‘A Flat 6 Love Affair,’ photographer Bart Kuykens is back with a new art book: ‘The Essential Love Affair’ compiles the best of the previous editions to form the ultimate tribute to his great love, the Porsche. We spoke to the Antwerp native shortly after his return from Das Renn Treffen in Miami, a large-scale Porsche event where he exhibited and was frequently allowed to sign his latest throw.

Man vs machine

Narrowing Bart Kuykens down to Porsche photographer is actually doing him dishonor. Kuykens is a creative entrepreneur at heart, who once dropped his own clothing line and still runs a casting agency. Before his lens trot not only special cars, but also buzzing names from the film and music industry. Yet he remains best known for his artful black-and-white books dedicated to the Porsche’s timeless form. The Antwerp native himself has several vintage models in his garage, including a 1971 911. “The design and silhouette of that car are iconic,” he says. ‘So simple, so timeless, even a child recognizes it. I find it fascinating that a car from the 1960s or 1970s is still relevant today. But a pure collector I am not. There is much more to life than cars. That is also the point of the books. I am not so much concerned with the vehicles themselves. The images show the intimate relationship between the individual and the car, between the man and the machine. It’s about the interplay of those two characters. About people telling their story through their Porsche.’

“I am not so much concerned with the vehicles themselves. The images show the intimate relationship between the individual and the car, between the man and the machine.”

Kuykens traveled the world for seven years portraying owners and their cars, not infrequently in mysterious and atmospheric locations. From the little guy down the street to celebrated celebrities from home and abroad. From Tom Boonen to Jay Leno, Patrick Dempsey and Paloma Picasso, yes, the daughter of. Throwing those familiar faces in there is of course very nice. Over the years I’ve built up quite a few connections, but a star in front of your camera remains something of an honor. Being allowed to photograph these people gives me a feeling of contentment every time.

Analog black and white photography

Kuykens almost always photographs in black and white. ‘Such images are the most beautiful. They are timeless and always remain relevant,” he says. The results are dark and raw, almost cinematic images. They have a coarse grain, but also exude a certain playfulness and sex appeal. He shoots most images with an analog Leica or medium format Hasselblad. So the traditional way of working, which makes him an outsider in today’s digital world. ‘I also take digital photos, though,’ he clarifies. ‘For commercial assignments, for example. Because sometimes there is less time and then you work faster. But for free work, I always choose analog. That’s the real craft. ‘It slows you down’: it has a certain flow that calms me down. I also come home with far fewer images than with a digital camera. When I shoot analog, I somehow look sharper.’

Printing process as teamwork

‘The Essential Love Affair’ is a ‘best of’ book. The ultimate paean to a subject that moved the photographer for seven years. For that reason, it was also allowed to be a little different in terms of printing. “I chose Buroform because I wanted something totally different from the previous books, in terms of paper, in terms of feel, you name it,” Bart Kuykens explains. ‘Besides, it’s nice to work with a printing company from the neighborhood. I live in Hemiksem and can pop in whenever I want. Feeling and smelling the paper, testing, testing again, adjusting technical things…. Everything was briefly followed up, together with your team. I must admit that I am certainly not the easiest person during such a process, but this interaction did lead to a result I am proud of. Creating a book with a team is a process of feeling and trusting each other. Of discussing, pushing through, buckling down and coming to a consensus, with the sole goal of delivering a top-notch product. Surely we succeeded in that in my opinion.

The making of: The Essential Love Affair