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July 27, 2015

Talk to: Gijs van den Berg – Photographer

Art & Cult

Amsterdam used to be filled with authentic coffee houses (not ‘coffee shops’) that would sell coffee. Just plain filter coffee. Here, neighbours found eachother, could play cards and discuss the news. Over the last decades, these typical Amsterdam places seem to vanish. Photographer Gijs van den Berg decided to portrait the eleven last remaining coffee houses. His exhibition ‘Gewoon Koffie’ (‘Just Coffee’) is on show at Volkshotel from the 31st of July. Time for a talk about design and the beauty of coffee houses.

What inspired you to photograph traditional coffee houses?
“It started out in 2010, when I had a conversation with an owner of a coffee house I visited daily. He told me about the history, how they’re slowly vanishing. At the same time I read an article on alternative ways of printing film and how to develop photos with coffee grounds. So, it all came together. It took me a while to create the whole concept, I hatched a plan and took the time to work it out. With the help of crowdfunding and a sabbatical, I was able to turn my idea into an exhibition.”

unnamed (1)I can imagine you’ve met a lot of special folks during your field research?
“Haha, I’ve heard more than fifty opinions on the situation in Greece. News is a popular subject, it’s their daily routine. I felt quite uncomfortable when I went into coffee houses for the first time, but once I talked with the customers and took my camera out, it was ok. Within no time, they remembered my name and I was one of them. You will always find someone playing cards in the corner, that’s the beauty of coffee houses.”

By the way, how do you like your own coffee?
“I prefer an espresso or filter coffee. So, just coffee.”

volkskoffiehuisYou’re also a Designer and Art Director at advertising agency KesselsKramer. How did these skills benefit this project?
“There is definitely some overlap as design is the key to this project, from the idea to the actual photos. I have a background in communications and in a way this is also a campaign to protect these old coffee houses. My aim was to show people a new story. I wanted the images to be beautiful, but the content and the story are just as important to me. Luckily it all came together.”

Any final tips for other creatives with inspiring plans for an exhibition?
“Crowdfunding has been a fantastic experience. Not only because it helped us finance the project, but mostly because it created a group of followers that became involved and curious to see the final result. It’s hard work and stressful to set up a crowdfunding campaign but it gives you so much more than just a little bit of money.”


A little last note:
The prints were printed using coffee grounds. What? That’s right. Drop by during the opening and ask Gijs the ins and outs of this process.

The exhibition Gewoon Koffie (Just Coffee) opens Friday 31st July at Volkshotel and is on show until 28th August.
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