about me

I guess this is where it all started. This is the pile of passports that my grandfather Cees Kostering (1904-1993) left me. The first time I went through them I couldn’t believe what I saw. This man had been to all far corners of the world long before tourism became a business. India, Burma, Argentina, Siam, Russia, Morocco, China.. You name it; he had been there. Presumably it had all to do with his business as a trader in chemicals. But I have always suspected he ran his business to do something he loved much more: travel.


It took me a bit longer to find out what my grandfather always seemed to have known. I worked as a laundry driver, newspaper reporter, lawyer, commercial copywriter and travel writer before picking up photography. And it was only ten years ago that I decided that photography would be my choice. I can still remember the party where somebody asked me what I did for a living and - for the first time in my life - I answered: ‘I am a photographer.’ That was nice!

Why do I love this so much? The simple answer is one word: freedom. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy feeling myself free. When I’m bushcamping in the Australian outback or the Namibian desert I’m alone most of the time and solely responsible for myself. If I get bitten by a snake, chances are I’ll die. And if my vehicle rolls over, I may not be found for the next couple of days. Simple as that.

In fact, it is exactly this simplicity and sense of responsibility that brings me much closer to nature - and thus to myself. I guess I just find it easier to feel that I’m alive when I also feel that I can die. Sipping a coffee and reading a newspaper in an Amsterdam café is not the best way to experience that feeling; but visiting the hectic fish market on the beach in Nouakchott, Mauritania is. A visit to the local supermarket in my hometown can hardly be called exciting, but waking up to the roaring of a pack of lions while camping all alone in the Kalahari desert definitely can! And so is getting stuck in the middle of the Australian outback with three flat tyres…


I like islands - the remoter the better. I like big, chaotic cities. I love markets - especially if they are busy, messy and noisy. The jungle, deserts and oceans make me happy too. So do the cold, remote areas of the earth far north and south. These are the kind of places where I can sense in every fibre of my being that I’m part of the Earth, and that it is part of me as well. Valuable moments, where I may experience this strange mixture of loneliness and happiness at the same time. And a complete lack of fear.

So where does photography fit in? Not sure. I was never educated to be a photographer, I simply became one. It just happened. I find it challenging and exciting to try to capture that miraculous feeling of freedom that I just described. I love it when I take a portrait of someone and even before pressing the shutter button I know that the image is going to be good, because the connection is there.


My images are always about life and the beauty of it, simply because that’s what I enjoy most. When portraying a city or a country I want to show what it's really like out there. I'm not interested in the cliché travel images with just shiny happy people or spotless beaches. To me, photography is something organic, something natural that just happens – or not. It’s not something I want to think or talk about too much. Like travelling, it’s most rewarding when you proceed without a plan. Just open yourself up and let it happen. That’s what works best. For me, at least.

I only work with available light, I don’t like styling and I don’t use Photoshop, Instagram filters and the lot. I find it important that my images show you what I have really seen myself, not what I have imagined. I want you to meet the people I met, not some imaginary characters.

What I see is what you get. 

Thijs Heslenfeld                                             subscribe to my newsletter



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photo by Sarah van den Elsken

photo by Sarah van den Elsken