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Ernst Coppejans X Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation

Photographer Ernst Coppejans about his discoveries at our clean drinking water project in Bangladesh.

‘Madarbunia - Bangladesh' Pathuakhali Sadar, 2014

Ernst Coppejans is the second photographer in our series in which we, in collaboration with GUP Magazine, invite professional photographers to document one of the clean drinking water projects supported by the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation. Ernst Coppejans visited our project in Bangladesh, in which 14 Deep Tube Wells will be installed; providing 2.500 people with access to clean drinking water.

The series will be exhibited from 
17th April – 23rd May 2015 at The Ravestijn Gallery, Westerdoksdijk 603-A in Amsterdam. 10% of all the proceeds will be donated to the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation.

“Despite the extreme poverty this village is quite amazing. Everything revolves around a dike, which is the main street where one meets everybody; where everything happens. The series has become a portrait of the village in which the beauty of the inhabitants and their surrounding play a leading role.”
Ernst Coppejans
About Ernst Coppejans

After a career in product design and styling Ernst Coppejans graduated from the Photo Academy Amsterdam and has been working as a freelance photographer ever since. In addition to commissioned, editorial and commercial projects, he is always working on his own concepts and projects. Through his work Ernst loves to tell stories, stories that he thinks need to be told. The people, the lives they live and the choices they make, fascinate him. His concepts emerge from his own experiences and curiosity about the lives of extraordinary people. Ernst Coppejans has won many photography prices, such as Zilveren Camera Award 2014 in the category portrait series and the SO2014.

‘Madarbunia - Bangladesh’
Interview with Ernst Coppejans
What is it that you like about photography?

“I just love to create; to create an atmosphere and to tell stories. Photography is the perfect medium for that. And as a photographer I can enter worlds I do not know anything about. Being a photographer gives me an excuse - and a valid reason to discover worlds I would not find myself in otherwise. Worlds I don’t know, but am curious about. And that is just great”

When are you satisfied with your work?

“When after shooting and editing, I succeeded in creating what I’ve had in mind. The photo has to have a certain kind of 'stopping power'. Something that makes you look twice or that keeps you looking at it, something that makes you wonder about the person captured. Yeah, it just has to have this ‘stopping power.“



How do you typically work?

“I usually shoot portraits and work serially. First I do a lot of researching about a subject and search for people that fit the subject. I direct people rarely while shooting. But the image must be right, so I do point out a place to stand or sit, to match colours or clothes with the background. I will never tell them how to act or look. I don’t want that, because when you do that, you take away a piece of the personality you try to capture.”

“Ernst Coppejans is at the front of a new class Dutch photographers that seem to reach the top on their own. Over the last year Coppejans has broken through with his obstinate and pervasive portrait photography.”
Peter Bas Mensink, co-founder and publisher GUP Magazine

Visiting the project
What did you think of Bangladesh?

“For my previous job I’ve been to India several times and I expected Bangladesh to be sort of the same. But it felt totally different. Luckily, I did not see bad things on the streets and did not experience anything like the caste system I experienced in India. It looked like the rich and the poor really take care of each other. At least in the places I visited.”

What was it like to visit the project site?

“It was really interesting and I had dual feeling about it. It concerns something you normally don’t think about. It’s kind of confronting when you realize that unsafe water is the leading cause of death, and that you actually never reflect on that fact in your daily life. But the place itself wasn’t sad at all. It felt really special being in this beautiful place.”

What do you take back from your visit to the project site?

“Seeing the strength and beauty of mankind. The people there are really really poor, but they just live their lives and make the best of it. They looked healthy, happy and proud, and loved to show us around and invited us in their homes. That I really liked.”

"Ernst his style characterizes itself by mostly colorful portraits with a personal look into the characters of his subjects. The extra layer that Coppejans creates is the story behind every photo, which is terminated in the image that he creates with the stories behind the portrayed persons."
Peter Bas Mensink, co-founder and publisher GUP Magazine
About Madarbunia – ‘Bangladesh’
How was it to shoot your autonomous series ‘Madarbunia - Bangladesh’, next to the documentary assignment?

“It was quite a stressful situation. I usually first think about a concept, do my research and prepare as much as I can. Go where I can find the people to be able to create what I have in mind. But for this project I did not know exactly where I was going, or what to expect.

Knowing you have limited time to shoot, your mind is working overtime. The documentary part of the assignment was clear; I had to document the drilling of the wells, the water facilities in the village and water usage. But for my autonomous work I had really no idea!”

The impossible first idea

“My first idea was to focus on shapes, women in their saris washing in the river. Water and fabrics, something like that. That was the only thing I had in mind - and that was exactly what was absolutely impossible. Women there are reserved and mostly covered. It is even ordinary that women keep on their sari when refreshing themselves.”

And the there was Madarbunia village...

“Luckily I was in this amazing place Madarbunia. Despite the extreme poverty this village is quite amazing. Everything revolves around a dike, which is the main street where one meets everybody, where everything happens. The series has become a portrait of the village, in which the beauty of the inhabitants and their surrounding play a leading role.”

What do you wish for the future?

"For the future I wish to continue making beautiful work that set people thinking. That can be with assignments as well as my own projects. Additionally, I would love to do more projects abroad. I noticed that my international projects strike, so in that I’d like to build on.”

- Read more about the project Ernst visited here.

- Discover here the story of  Linelle Deunk, who visited a project in Uganda.