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.
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.
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.
As a young photographer I preferred the safety of the studio above assignments in the field. The magazine I worked for wanted documentary photography, preferably scenes of desperate people in hopeless situations and I just did not have the stomach for that kind of photography. Forget about the ground rule that sex sells. Human misery sells even better when it comes to photojournalism. So I decided to do documentary photography in my studio. I invited groups of people over, photographed and interviewed them. The first major series I published was called Greasers in 1977. The series became a success and the editors seemed to like the idea of some studio photography in their magazine.
See more of this series: here.
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
I call it the magic hour. The sun is going down and the city of Amsterdam slowly turns into a landscape of artificial light instead of bricks and cement. This is a view of the Amstel passing Hotel de l’Europe with the Mint Tower in the background. I love the reflections in the water.
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.