BY ANOUK DINGELSTAD – Maarten van der Kamp (34) began his career as an Editor for Dutch newspaper Trouw. Due to the pressure of life he became addicted to alcohol in 2000, after seven years he independently overcame his addiction. In 2010, Maarten began photography. His fascination with technology was increasing, along with his annoyance for digital photography.
Maarten became progressively more interested into the workings of the camera: “Throw it at the wall and see if it sticks”. He decided in 2013 to completely switch to analog, which challenged him to start thinking differently. “No analog camera or film role is the same, that makes it a special medium.”
His strength as a street photographer is in his way of viewing things, his humour and his ability to make himself invisible – which results in unnaturally closeness to his subject. He represents the contemporary street culture of Amsterdam in his own quirky way. Maarten is highly technical, with his camera completely under control and a love for playing with movement, light and intimacy.
In his pure and powerful portraits he creates special images that cause a certain friction. He sees things that we do not see; simple, passing people in his pictures become a special and unique subject. Maarten always shoots analog and develops his photographs in his own darkroom.
As a viewer, you are constantly surprised by the movement, events and humour in your work. How did you teach yourself to see things this way and then capture it?
I have always been fascinated by people; what they do, how they look, why do they look like this… many people love to sit on a terrace and watch people passing by. I do exactly the same thing, but then I walk very actively through them and I become a part of it. I get really close to people. It is difficult to portray people in this way, it is always a challenge, because I never know exactly what will happen. The best part is the fraction of a couple seconds in which the subject sees me, but still does not realise that I have taken a picture. I never try to shoot as expected, but on my own intuition.
What do you see before you take a picture?
A brief moment shows the authenticity of a person. Pictures easily feel too posed for me. If I’m too busy with sharpness, depth and that kind of stuff, then I have missed the vital moment. It’s all about the right time.
You’ve been through a heavy time, what impact did this have on your view?
After I stopped drinking, I lived in a state of panic. I could not look at anyone, going to the supermarket was too much. All contact with the outside world felt uncomfortable. I now see the world around me differently. I’ve always felt like an outsider and as you walk the streets alone you are the ultimate outsider. The majority of what you go through every day is unique, it’s never the same. In addition, I am particularly pleased to hide behind my camera, in the outside world and in social situations.
At first you needed alcohol to ease social situations, now you have your camera?
Photography has become a kind of replacement for my alcohol addiction. It is an extension of myself, I don’t feel comfortable without a camera.
What motivates you as a photographer, what is your goal when you go into the streets?
My goal is not to create the same situation that I know is a good idea because it has worked before, but to just let it happen. At the right time, in the right place and find the right balance between having control and letting things to emerge. I want to capture the world as it is.
How do you view the subjects you photograph?
My subject always stands out from the rest. It doesn’t matter whether this is a building, person, small group of people or an animal. They need to do something to make them stand out from the crowd: an emotion, a look, a feeling, a situation… it’s just about intuition. I follow people, listen to them and try to estimate if something interesting is going to happen. I am completely open to everything that is going on.
You have control over your camera, you are very technical, but you have no control over what you encounter in a day. How do you deal with this?
I always try to create to the greatest possible extent. I have the technique of my cameras in full control. I prefer to make use of only one particular lens and know exactly what it does and how it reacts to certain situations. I can focus very quickly, to situate and click. “You have to know the alphabet before you can write a poem.” I know my “alphabet” and because of that I have plenty of time to anticipate everything that happens around me.
Which camera and lens do you prefer to work with?
I always shoot with a Leica M6, 35mm Summicron and the black / white film Kodak Tri-X.
But sometimes you shoot in colour…
I shoot as far as my (financial) situation allows to shoot. I need to shoot every day, that’s the main thing. If that means I have to shoot with the cheapest roll and in colour, then so be it.
When is an image good enough for you?
I am extremely critical. Sometimes I shoot a full roll and nothing comes out, and sometimes I have four good shots on one roll. A good image should immediately evoke an emotion or reaction. It does not matter whether this is positive or negative. But a good picture can sometimes just be a very pretty picture. This is usually in the light, the movement, the situation, attitude or composition.
What do your images tell the viewer?
I want to show what people miss, how special everything is around us. I create small windows where people can see through it, still life from the street.
Maarten’s work as well as a documentary on his life and work will be shown during Image District:
Image District // Exhibition
Volkshotel // Free entrance
Image District // Documentary
An insight portrait by Ed Amsterdam on the life of Maarten van der Kamp
Sunday, 20th September // ongoing 14:00 – 16:00 // Betonnen Zaal Volkshotel // Free Entrance
Interview: Anouk Dingelstad / New Dawn Translation: Lizzie Ttoffali / Volkshotel Pictures: Maarten van der Kamp