Bas Berkhout has an inquisitive creative mind with a keen interest in how other people make art. From this struggles to their triumphs, he’s constantly in pursuit of real emotion and honest moments.
Originally from the Netherlands but now based in Brooklyn, the filmmaker is behind the popular video project Like Knows Like, a series of short documentary films on well-known creatives like designer Jessica Walsh and artist Victo Ngai. In partnership with Format Berkhout directs InFrame, a series that shows the lives of photographers, illustrators, artists and designers beyond their portfolios.
We talked to Berkhout to learn more about the challenges and rewards that have gone along with working on InFrame, which has now been going for almost a year.
I tend to focus on personal challenges with the person. I am convinced that this is the biggest inspiration to influence other artists and professionals.
“I always focus on the journey,” says Berkhout of his subjects. “How did they become the professional they are today? That’s sort of the only strategy behind it.” Berkhout always aims to keep things authentic, adding, “I tend to focus on personal challenges with the person. I am convinced that this is the biggest inspiration to influence other artists and professionals.”
It can be tempting, when depicting creatives at work, to gloss over the tricky setbacks and messy problems they often face in favor of presenting their polished finished product. But, as Berkhout stresses, the failures and struggles that tend to beset creative work are a crucial part of the process.
“I think it’s important to share these stories of challenges,” Berkhout says. In his documentaries on creatives, he aims to share “what they overcame, and how they’ve dealt with certain issues. How they’ve been vulnerable at a point in their career. I think it’s humanizing. For people who might see these videos, that’s the inspiring aspect of it.”
Image courtesy of Jessica Lehrman.
Berkhout has experienced his own share of setbacks. His journey began 14 years ago, after applying for a number of art academies, only to be rejected time and again. But that didn’t deter him. If anything, those rejections helped shape Berkhout into the on-the-go filmmaker he is today.
Although Berkhout wouldn’t call himself an artist per se, creativity is undoubtedly a driving force behind all his professional endeavors—even the brand-focused work he does at the boutique agency he runs.
“I really enjoy what I’m doing now,” Berkhout says, “And I feel like my artistic voice is definitely present in these things that are branded. If the brands understand that there needs to be this creative outlet then I think that’s a success for everyone.”
Image courtesy of Dylan Isbell.
Growing up in the Netherlands, Berkhout considers himself 100% Dutch, despite his relocation to the USA. He says that the sense of comfort fostered by his community as a young person helped him to explore and flourish creatively. He felt free to follow the colorful moments that inspired him, instead of simply aiming for the jobs that made the most money.
“I just think that when you do what you love, the money will follow,” Berkhout says. “I do believe that.” Now established in New York, Berkhout finds inspiration in the everyday weirdness of the city: “Everything is so possible here, and there’s so much great energy and so many opportunities.”
When you do what you love, the money will follow.
Berkhout’s favored style of intimate yet brief visits with his subjects characterizes Format’s InFrame series. These shoots are quick, but still very personal, as Berkhout explores subjects’ professional and personal histories and inspirations.
“It’s a deep and intense couple of days, and there’s a lot of vulnerability,” he says. “I think it’s very brave of them to allow me that trust.”
Forming friendships and relationships once the filming comes to an end is important to Berkhout. Asking his subjects so many personal questions inevitably stirs up some serious emotions—so flying solo when it comes to his filmmaking lets Berkhout get closer. When he films, it’s just him there, instead of a large camera crew, making the filming experience much more personal.
Image courtesy of Dylan Isbell.
Using this one-on-one approach, Berkhout gets familiar with his subject, so they’re comfortable discussing topics that are meaningful for both of them.
“For example, the video I did with Zun Lee is a lot about parenthood. I recently had a daughter nine months ago, so these things in my life are important,” Berkhout says. In that episode of InFrame, photographer Zun Lee discusses his hope that he’ll eventually reconnect with his biological father, whose absence throughout his whole life has influenced Lee’s work photographing other fathers.
It’s heavy stuff, but Berkhout manages to end on an uplifting note, leaving the viewer feeling like they’ve gotten to know Lee much better than they were expecting to.
Because Berkhout works so hard to establish that personal connection with his subjects, his videos are able to feel up close in a way that’s considerate and real. This closeness lets the viewer feel more easily connected to the film’s subject, and maybe it can help viewers draw inspiration from Berkhout’s subjects, too.
Berkhout hopes that viewers will take a sense of optimism away from his work. “If there are thousands of people watching this video, and there is only one that says, ‘I needed this video at this very moment’ then I think, ‘Mission accomplished.”
Image courtesy of Zun Lee.