My earliest memory of Amsterdam was a shopping trip with my mother. We lived only 30 kilometers from Amsterdam but everything I saw there was completely new. For the first time in my life I saw a black man. I also spotted a man from India with a turban on his head. It was like entering a different universe. I was reminded of that first visit when I saw this couple coming from a bus. They looked like aliens to me, but then again they might have been very proud fashionistas.
I am not the patient kind of photographer, but standing on a bridge in the midst of the Amsterdam Red Light District always delivers a photo opportunity that makes it worth my while. Apparently these people are celebrating something. They probably planned this days or weeks in advance, they rented or borrowed a boat, loaded it up with beverages and guess what happened? The sun was shining after days of rain. Imagine their surprise.
In the midst of the Amsterdam Red Light district is a street called Zeedijk and that is where you find most of the bars and restaurants. At the start of the Zeedijk there are two gay bars with colorful visitors, leather boys, transvestites and a lots of drag queens. Undoubtedly Amy Huiswijn (to be translated as Amy House Wine) is the Queen of the Zeedijk.
I have said it before, I just love to photograph in the rain. Life is not easy but people do not like to show their hardships when they are out for a walk. Unless… it rains. Then suddenly people feel no hesitation to express their true feelings about their day ahead, life in general etc. They slowly become who they really are. This doesn’t mean that all people show their discomforts in the rain. Some are smiling or even dancing in the rain. Well, maybe not so many but I sure am smiling when I am taking pictures like this.
Everywhere I look I see photographers and models. They do not think of themselves that way, they are ‘just’ documenting their lives. Some of the greatest photographers however were also just documenting their lives. And some of the greatest models ever did not need to put up a show.
I like that world of imagery and self-reflection.
What I do not like is that some of us cannot read an E-mail longer than fifteen words before they lose their concentration, because they are so used to a society saturated with images. To be able to read you need to think and thinking is creating images in your own head without the help of a pain-in-the-ass smart phone sending out so many obnoxious notifications that you slowly become a numbed slave of a network without a name and without responsibilities.
On one hand I long for spring and on the other I like winters, snow and rain. We do not get much snow in The Netherlands lately but that is very well compensated with extra rain. Rain is ideal for street photography and so is fog. As a studio photographer I think of clouds as the softboxes I really miss when the summer sun is creating too much contrast, but at times that can be fun too.
I did not even notice that it was starting to rain. Once I start looking for scenes I want to photograph I get a natural high. I do not even remember if I turned around to look over my shoulder to see what was so interesting in the eyes of this couple. The natural high forces me to move on and on to look for new opportunities. It sounds a bit neurotic and stressful but in fact it is quite relaxing.
Like many people who live in Amsterdam I long for sun at times, because it can be very rainy and windy at times. Mostly however the sun hides behind a thick deck of clouds. And that is exactly what makes me forget to long for sunnier days. The clouds act like the soft boxes in my studio. They create an almost shadowless light that makes it easier to do street photography. The picture above was made on a hot and sunny day and somehow the harsh contrasts of bright sunlight really work for this particular photograph but I look at it as an exception to the rule.
I really like the small boats some Amsterdam inhabitants keep for entertainment. The canals can be very busy with larger sightseeing ships for tourists, so it takes a bit of courage too to take your partner or your friends out on a trip over the canals. I just love to photograph these small floating households and I have been doing so for many years so expect more of these pictures to come.
In 1981 I left for New York with 50 dollars and a one way ticket, leaving behind a job as a photographer for a Dutch Magazine. I was bored with the fact that Amsterdam was getting more and more depressing, caused by clashes between squatters and police. Also the magazine was sending me out on assignments that were all quite identical. I was 27 and I wanted to see more of this world. The idea was to send my pictures over to Amsterdam and to receive the money in NY where I lived with a girlfriend.
Things worked out the way I wanted them to, except for one thing: 1 Dutch guilder converted to 25 dollar cents at the time. So, my salary was good for half of the rent we paid in Manhattan. Without money to apply for a green card I eventually ended up with two rolls of film and no assignments. Then the New York Blizzard came and I spent those two rolls of film on that particular subject. These were probably the best shots I ever made, because I was so aware of the fact that there were just two films left before I had to leave New York to go home.
Instead of going to an amusement park or some far out place – like kids do now – my mother would take me to Dam Square in Amsterdam to see the pigeon man. We bought some seeds from him and let the pigeons crawl over us in search of the seeds we had just bought. The original pigeon man of my youth also carried a Leica camera and occasionally we had our photo taken by him. Today there is not just one pigeon man but at least 5 pigeon men are fighting with each other to get the business.
An event photographer I am not. There are too many cameras around and it is too crowded to do what I do best. There is one exception to this rule and that is Amsterdam’s event called Hartjesdagen. Hartjes is now being translated as hearts, but the original Dutch word probably meant ‘hertjes’ which is to be translated as small deer.
The festivities are a revival of an old Amsterdam tradition to give temporary hunting rights to the poor in autumn so they would have enough food to survive the winter. In celebration of these rights men would dress as women and women would dress as men. Today it is mostly a parade for Drag Queens.
My ex was over for a visit and we spent so much time avoiding awkward subjects that she almost missed the last train home. So we rushed out, still in the midst of a conversation and I vaguely noticed the men constructing the yearly fair in front of my apartment building. We were at the station just in time for the last train and I waved her goodbye with a premonition that I would never see her again.
So on my way home it seemed like a good occasion to sink a few drinks at a local night club. I remember walking home, not really aware of the people around me, still thinking about that ex and the subjects we had discussed until I reached the entrance of my apartment building where the construction above was erected.
The Café Correct. It looked like something that had plunged straight out of the sky or was put there by aliens. Maybe something out of the Twilight Zone. I just had to take a picture. Next morning I walked out and I was actually surprised it was still standing there and that it was not a product of my imagination.
The city of Amsterdam and its inhabitants have a soft spot for premieres. The first Free Needle Plan to fight HIV and Hepatitis among junkies was an Amsterdam initiative. So was gay marriage. And I believe that the demonstration of sex workers in The Red Light District was a premiere too for the Western World. You are looking at the heart of the city, the Red Light District where window prostitutes are lined up to march to the city council to fight for better regulation of sex work in the area. 2014
One would think the Dutch are used to a rainy day, after all we have a lot of rainy days in this country. Obviously this couple was very well equipped to withstand some humidity. But still, look at these faces. These people are in deep agony. Their eyes express shear desperation.
It is really quiet in Amsterdam compared to the summer months, still a lot of tourists are in town. A lot of Russians too. I guess for them the climate here is subtropical compared to the temperatures they have to deal with at home. I made this photograph quite some time ago. 2015 I guess.
I rarely go out with a camera to photograph Amsterdam although I live in the midst of all the fun when it comes to photographing people. But if I do I tend to come back with at least two or three decent shots out of 375. Yes, I am a studio photographer and I prefer to stay that way.
Here I was looking at a man waiting for his wife to exit the shopping mall.
© Hans van der Kamp
I like to think I am pretty good with backups. Even if the house is on fire, I am pretty sure 98% of my work will survive such a catastrophe. While working on this new blog however I suddenly realized I could not find the backup of the original Blinded by the Light blog I maintained in the 1990s. Thank god for the Way Back Machine. It is a tedious job though to cut & paste about 200 texts.
Photo: © Hans van der Kamp – 1979