in a tent in the garden
hiding from dad’s cigarettes
dad is next to notorious smoker also a poet,
a collector of newspapers
and he likes to spend a lot of time in his head
he deviates from the norm
used to bring me to school in his snowsuit
or went sunbathing (naked!) in the garden
and in doing so he chased my girlfriends away

An interview conducted with Renate Beense in Barcelona at the “LensCulture 50 Emerging Talents” exhibition.

dad is social and anti-social
he does his own thing
for which I admire him
but it irritates me as well
it seems we’re much alike
people say so

—Renate Beense

“just dad” feels so peculiar and particular but at the same time, so universal. Who hasn’t felt exasperated by their parents at least once in their lives? This series tickles and intrigues and we felt an urge to find out more—here’s an edited email exchange.

Tell us more about “just dad.” How did it begin? What were the greatest challenges in photographing someone so close to you?

The greatest challenge in photographing someone that is close to you is to determine whether the pictures are only interesting for you or if you can tell a universal story that other people will understand.

My dad is a free-spirited man. Very loving, but also quirky. When I was younger, there were many times when I felt ashamed of him and his behavior. Although I think my dad is unique, I recognized that this was a commonly shared feeling among children. I had my subject.

To make the project, I began to visit him and tried to step into his world. In doing so, I gained so much respect for my father, especially for his unflagging optimism. We also grew much closer, as I understood his personality in a clearer way. For example, my father has fake teeth, which is one of the few things that make him feel insecure. When I asked to photograph him with no teeth, he grew shy (for once), and then laughed, putting his hand over his mouth as I clicked.

When he has no clothes on, he doesn’t feel naked at all. But with no teeth in his mouth, in front of the camera, he suddenly felt extremely naked and vulnerable. I love this picture because of that.

What is special about photography for you?

I make pictures of what happens around me, capturing my vision of the world. Photography allows me to meet people I would never meet and see different worlds I wouldn’t get to see. Besides, photography is a great medium for telling stories. I always try to transcend single shots—it’s the combination of pictures that makes things interesting for me.

This series was made as my final thesis project for art school. At the graduation exhibition (which my dad attended!), many people responded to my work by saying, “Oh my god, I think I still feel embarrassed by things my parents did, all these years later.” Photography has a way of communicating very personal perspectives through images, which everyone can see and share.

You have a very off-beat aesthetic and way of shooting. Who are your influences, photographic and otherwise? Your inspirations?

My influences are anything by Martin Parr and Richard Billingham. But I also love Alec Soth, who is such a great storyteller. I am in heaven with Trent Parke’s latest photobook, ‘The Christmas Tree Bucket.’ His book is a storybook—but at the same time, every single picture speaks for itself.

I love ‘The Big Lebowski,’ which mixes in just the right amount of absurdism. The Dutch photography scene is very strong too, which is inspiring. Jan Hoek is a master of combining text and image. Still, I try to remember that I have my own interests and my own approach. I like what I do, that is most important.

—Renate Beense, as told to Alexander Strecker

Exhibition of all 50 LensCulture Emerging Talents: Barcelona, October 13-31

Renate Beense’s work, along with photographs from ALL the LensCulture Emerging Talents will be shown in an exhibition at the Galeria Valid Foto in Barcelona. Please join us for the opening party on October 13, 2014—we hope to see you there! See a preview of ALL the winners here in LensCulture.

ALL winners have already been featured at photo festival screenings in Dublin, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Tokyo and Amsterdam so far this year. Next screening in Korea at the
Seoul Lunar Photo Fest.