Heidi: How often do you take your camera when riding? Do you ask, “Am I riding and taking photos today, or am I riding only?”
Jelle: It really depends. I got my hands on a Fuji x100f not that long ago, which fits in my jersey, this has changed quite a lot for me. The cliché that the best camera is the one you have on you, is pretty true so I was always dragging my SLR around, but not really on faster rides. This one fits in my pocket so I can bring it whenever I want. On bikepacking trips I always bring my SLR with a 50mm 1.4 This really is my go-to setup. For me it really depends on the light if I bring a camera or not, I really am a sucker for natural light.
What challenges or surprised you about surfing/photographing in Iran?
My friend Easkey Britton was the first person and women to surf in Iran. She started an organization that took women into the water and the ocean and was fostering positive relationships with the ocean through creative learning experiences. I had visited Iran before because it really interests me, the history but also the present. We westerners think everybody should think like us, but this is a way of thinking we do not share with many other cultures. When Easkey asked me to join her, I did not have to think about it for a second. Heading to the south of Iran to search for surf and see what surfing does to a mindset & culture standards really has opened my eyes. It takes away so many boundaries and joining her and her organization twice is for sure one of those moments in my life where I started looking at things differently. A second one was when my friend broke his neck paralyzing him from the neck down. Just a week before his accident we were on a camping trip on Lanzarote and I took this one photo of him which reminds me every time I see it how luck we are to do the things we do, it also really thought me that there is no better feeling than helping others . I started doing that through my photography. Because I have an amazing job, I have the opportunity to give everything I make through photography away to small organizations that do the hard work in making the little place we call earth a better place.
How has riding in so many different countries informed your photography?
Taking photos really makes travelling a lot more fun. I am really curious to start with, so love strolling around or waking up before sunrise, but finding a nice shot really brings you to different places and you meet people along the way. However, guess it is not really the countries that have informed my photography, but my setup. About 90% of what I shoot is with a 50mm lens. All my gear was stolen ones and I did not really have the means to buy everything again. I bought a second-hand Full frame SLR and a new 50 1.4 and that really opened my eyes. Being stuck into one setup really challenged me to look at different angles, which I still enjoy till today. I am fortunate to have some really talented friends like Wouter Struyf, Lian van Leeuwen and Chris McClean, hanging out with them on trips always opens my eyes. Also my friend Natasa Lops, who is an extremely talented artist has opened my eyes and we have done many super fun exhibitions and projects where she draws on my photo’s.
Did you ride close to home during the Pandemic?
I have not really traveled at all since the pandemic hit 1,5 years ago. When I was I used to race bikes and travelled all over the world to do bike races, when I stopped I kept travelling for surfing or snowboarding. So I am one fortunate son to have seen so much of the world, but being forced to stay at home has really opened my eyes. I started exploring little stretches of the Netherlands and spend loads of time in the dunes where I live. A bike, A board, some friends and a camera are all I really need to have a perfect day. At the start of the lockdown in Holland me and Lian van Leeuwen rode around Amsterdam and took shots which have been published on bikepacking.com So surreal to see that city as a complete ghost town. I really think we all got so used to everything we have and hope we all learn from this pandemic that our safe little world should not be taken for granted.
With the energy removed from the city, what did you see without hustle and bustle?
I am not really a city person to start with. Of course I love hanging in a bar with some friends but will choice a beach of forest over that anytime. So for me it was not about if I would move away from the city, but more when. I also really believe that we humans have lost way to much of our connection to nature and therefore do not realize what is at stake. Holland does not really have nature, but the little stretch of beach and dunes with some fun trails is what I really appreciate. Friends joke that they enter my Instagram account when them join me for a surf or ride. Guess it is sort of true.
Shift cycling culture is a small NGO from a friend, Lian van Leeuwen. Shift is a global not-for-profit movement that thrives on the support and engagement of the cycling industry and wider community. They believe a transition to a more sustainable future for the cycling world can only be achieved from the inside out! She is one of my favorite bikepacking friends and we have been doing some fun trips. One of them was a quite iconic one, Island hopping over the Dutch Islands in the north of the country. These Island will not be there anymore when we do not stop the rising sea levels. This story is featured in the newest Gestalten book about bikepacking. Another trip we did is on the potential future coastline of Holland. We Dutch pride ourselves by fighting the sea, but these same sea level rises are something we eventually will not win from. This will push the coastline a lot more east. This story was featured in the last Farride magazine. The latest one I am playing a small role in, is a film from Shift cycling culture about climate change as a whole and the impact it has on our cycling communities.How did you use your photography to address climate reality?
For me polarization of the issues we face is likely even a bigger issue than the issue itself. Climate change is not left or right, not blue or red of black or white. This is the time we just need to come together and start working together no matter what we believe. We can argue how we do it, but should stop debating if we do it. Facts like 100 companies in the world are responsible for 70% of the emissions and the last 40 years the wildlife population dropped 60% just blows my mind. I am fortunate to get asked to publish my photo’s quite often and the stories I write with them or in case of a collab with Lian she writes, always have a double layer. The trip and the beauty of nature, but also what is at stake. I always try to celebrate the positive and not get sucked into the negative too much. That will just bum people out. Not everybody is interested in these issues, but all readers are interested in images and words about the thing they love, which is riding or surfing. So that extra layer just might make them think about it, which is all you sometimes need. The butterfly effect. At the end we do not just need those that worry about the end of the world, but also those that worry about the end of the month, or when the next swell is coming in.
Do you hope your riding images encourage others to choose bikes over cars?
I never really think about it like that. I just take images and tell the stories that I think are important. Up to somebody else to do with it what they like. More people riding bikes or picking up boards is of course really great! Enjoying all good that nature has to offer might just bring back some realization why we should do everything we have to protect it, so we can keep riding great trails.
Tell us about this image with the drawing.
I have always liked Natasa her drawings and had been doing exhibitions here and there and was looking for something new.
The goal really is to add some fun to my often empty photos, but also some food for thought through a bit of humor. The world and everybody is so serious all the time, and a bit of humor won’t make things any worse but for sure a bit better to handle.
Original article: The Daily Edit – Jelle Mul: Shifting Culture and Creativity for Change.