A Journey Bridging Art and Science
Albert Koetsier was born in the Netherlands. At the age of 8, he became fascinated with the concept of photography and shortly thereafter built his first homemade camera. It was constructed from an old matchbox with a pair of magnifying glasses, one on the side facing out and another attached on the inside. Behind it, he placed the photosensitive medium for which he had fashioned an ingenious spring-loaded shutter.
This new hobby was not cheap and Albert found any creative way to make a little extra money to support his newfound hobby. Here is a rare picture of a 14-year-old Albert washing cars. Already an experimenter, and also because of the prohibitive cost of photographic paper which could accidentally be exposed if left too long inside the box, he preferred to quickly expose the medium rather than using a shutter on the lens. He fashioned a darkroom out of a small cabinet upstairs, preferring to work in the evening, just to be safe. For the developer and fixer, he used his mother’s teacups, something that was rather unpopular at tea time.
Albert is a strong believer in the value of persistence and he believed that some day he would have his own real camera. People once believed the earth was flat, that planes could never fly, that man would never walk on the moon, or that energy and matter were unrelated too, but through enough persistence, these ideas changed. Through a stroke of luck, when he was 16 he acquired a real Dalmeyer, a top-view camera. It was a lease-to-own agreement his father had worked out for him from a photographer on his grocery delivery route. The camera originally came with a much better lens, but no matter what they offered, the deal only included the lower-quality lens. a few years later he visited that same photographer and after much haggling he succeeded in purchasing the other lens which he used to build a projector for developing his own photos. This camera took Albert quite a few years to pay off, but his persistence and passion for photography pushed him on.
When his brother was stationed in Germany, in the 1970’s, he bought a true 35mm for Albert, purchased at the commissary, duty-free. While the German border patrol did not much mind this, the Dutch border patrol officer, who seemed to be having a particularly bad day, immediately confiscated this ‘suspicious’ item. After arriving home and telling Albert the sad story, they came up with a plan to regain the camera. Albert was getting married soon so they returned the next day wearing their uncle’s farmer clothes, and explained to the officer that this was the only camera for the wedding without which they would not have any photos to remember the special day. Though moved, the officer was not convinced. So they explained that the camera would also be use for making the wedding invitations, if they didn't’t get it back there could very possibly be no wedding, all because of the confiscated the camera. The officer, of a poor farmer family himself, was quite taken by the story and agreed to return it. They were so thankful that they promised to invite him to the wedding but he did’t show.
It was right around this time that Albert started collecting cameras and camera parts. It started as an obvious necessity to ensure he would have at least one working camera but eventually blossomed into a vast collection, one that also taught Albert about the fascinating history of photography. Albert now owns some of the very first cameras made, many technological and scientific cameras that revolutionized the field, and many modern cameras that he still uses today.
After graduating from the Netherlands’ primary technical university in Hilversum, he began working for Phillips medical systems as an x-ray technician. Albert had become more and more interested in this emerging field throughout college. On the weekends he continued his hobby of photography. Specializing in black and white photography, Albert has taken thousands of photos over the years. His subjects include landscapes, people (much to the chagrin of his children), old towns, and subjects that tell a story or remind one of a humorous event. Albert’s photos demonstrate an eye for irony, a desire to show the story beyond the artistic value of an image.
Back in 1969, Albert had been on a service trip in Würtzberg, ironically, in the town where Roentgen discovered x-rays. On the wall of a doctor's office, he noticed a calendar that had x-ray images of flowers. It was a promotional calendar given by Agfa to promote their products at hospitals. The doctor didn’t see the point of using such an expensive machine to x-ray flowers, but would not part with the calendar itself. Albert examined the pictures closely, was amazed by the detail, and thought: “if the process was not so prohibitively expensive, I could make one or two of these for my own living room.” He told himself that someday he would do this. Unfortunately the following few years, Albert was assigned to various projects in other countries including china and Venezuela where he had little time to work on x-rays and was lucky to even find the time to make regular photos.
In 1979, Albert's company moved him and his family to California where he had more free time to devote to photography. In 1982 Albert stumbled across a very old, machine-green-painted x-ray apparatus - more reminiscent of 1950's Godzilla movies than anything more modern - that someone was selling for a pittance compared to the cost of the machines he was working with at Phillips. He figured it would take some elbow grease to get this old crank up & running, but it was fully operable as well ! He set to work immediately and the machine functioned for a little over a year, more than he had expected, before the vacuum tubes malfunctioned. Fortunately Albert, the nostalgic type, happened to have a couple of these in stock (he even had a couple on the mantle in the living room) and was able to band-aid the machine together again by 1984. At that time his subjects were mostly shells and whatever he could find in the yard. He even x-rayed a bird that had tragically flown into the kitchen window. It was still just a hobby but he did think his little machine in the garage could prove useful some day. By 1986, his work situation changed dramatically again and he had to further postpone his x-ray projects. It was not until 1990, after moving to Lake Elsinore, that he was able to resume making x-rays.
It was in 1991 that he first developed an x-ray and considered the resulting image art-worthy. It turned out to be quite by accident. a lizard had drowned in the pool, and the suspicion was that the cat had chased it there, something the rascal had a penchant for. While the lizard did not have obvious injuries, it was best to make an x-ray to be sure; and so a thorough investigation was afoot. Lizards were not a interesting subject to x-ray, he thought, but there was a greater purpose here. In the end, the suspicion had been correct: the poor creature had a broken leg. After a proper burial in the backyard, and after the guilty party was confined to the garage for the remainder of the day, Albert quite naturally wrote a note on the frame of the photo: “lizard with a broken leg.” Aside from the obvious irony that x-rays are most often used to determine fractures in limbs, the photo also had a unexpected poetic beauty about it. In an effort to lay out the poor creature so that a complete skeletal x-ray could be made, he inadvertently placed the lizard in such a way that it seemed to pull itself away from the center of the machine, as a live animal would undoubtedly do when undergoing tests: the resulting image showed the poor lizard near the bottom left of the frame with its legs outstretched as if to crawl away. Naturally when people visited the house, they were told the story of the lizard. a friend even said after hearing the tale that he would pay real money for the “lizard with a broken leg.”
Always an artist more than a businessman, Albert did not take this to heart. He sees the work as more investigative of the boundaries of photography than a source of revenue. The business always comes second, and to hear him say it frankly, "should be done outside the booth." The investigative side of photography, as well as art in general, is what makes it ever-changing and never static. It is what makes Albert continue to find new avenues and perfect new methods to see just a little bit more of what lies underneath. Art is perhaps the most vibrant aspect to understanding culture. Coupled with the wonderfully experience of traveling all over the world, meeting new people and discussing art with artists everywhere, when he is on the road makes being an artist so rewarding.
Becoming and Artist
As an example of the wonder of art, here is one of Albert's early pieces in front of which he is holding the shell he used. Ironically it is many times smaller. This is one of the striking discoveries Albert's admirers make when they see this: most of the subjects are just tiny flowers and shells, but the x-ray photograph, because of its high-level of detail, can be blown up to many times the size without loosing any detail. Only the photographic medium permits this. Who would have thought that so much detail could exist in such a tiny shell, a shell that most people would never even think to examine more closely.Albert has done this examination for us. Under the dull sand-brown outer shell lies a depth of beauty seldom seen by most people.
Along the way, Albert has won many awards and been written about in dozens of magazines. A simple search on the internet will list all kinds of references on his art. You will also find that are also several other people who have taken up the art of x-rayography. While Albert's admirers will undoubtedly argue that his pieces are far superior and that Albert really set the trend, this is of little consequence to him. He is just happy to continue his own investigations and enjoy the many rewards of living the artist's lifestyle, even if the average businessman would consider it a bit foolish. Albert welcomes other artists in the field and believes there should be much more investigation into the nature of art and especially photography. He has even lectured on the boundless possibilities of the medium. He believes that a little more art and a little less violence would probably be good for the troubled world we live in. He is both a student and and artist and can truly be said to be in awe of the world of art. Certainly his family can attest to that with his youngest son becoming a well known sculptor in his own right (you can see his web site here), his daughter a student of life who has traveled throughout the world, and even his eldest son pursuing further studies in art.
No More Art Shows
By 2010, Albert shifted his focus away from travel and art shows, and decided to focus on his art from home. Albert lives with his wife, Anne, in Lake Elsinore in Southern California. Anne was not only a great source of moral support but she also traveled to the shows and helped paint and frame the images. Although semi-retired, Albert and Anne keep active by developing new pieces throughout the year and in between enjoys cultivating exotic flowers in his garden, reading books on history, philosophy and science, and enjoy an occasional night out at the movies. He is also particularly fond of Chinese culture and has become quite passionate about the wonders of oolong tea.
One would think that after being so successful that Albert would retire quietly with his books, his garden and his tea. Nothing could be further from the truth. In 2012, Albert began teaching classes for the Calfornia State College System and University of California, classes on history, art, science and music. He is enjoying this new career immensely and from the looks of it this may become an entirely new career for him. Who knows, maybe he will return to university and complete his PhD as well!