Can you tell me how you started this project?
When I started out as a working photographer I was doing documentary and portrait work for a nightclub and restaurant in Amsterdam. I was portraying mostly men. I felt the need to document girls and started out photographing friends and friends of friends. Sometimes I would post on social media asking for girls who would be interested in having their portrait taken. That’s how it all started.
« I was looking for a certain connection with a person. Perhaps, looking for something of myself in my subject. One of the musts for the series was that I visit the girls in the comforts of their own homes, as people really open up in their safe space. »
What was your process for the series and how did you meet the girls?
I had to find my way by just doing and trying out things. Yielding good and not so good results. At first, I would just photograph anyone, but soon I found out that that didn’t work for me and this body of work. I was looking for a certain connection with a person. Perhaps, looking for something of myself in my subject. One of the musts for the series was that I visit the girls in the comforts of their own homes, as people really open up in their safe space. I would stay with them for a couple of hours, and some girls I would revisit a couple of months after our first shoot. I’m looking for a connection, a deeper layer that I can get to, a disarming appearance. As though you’re peeling an onion if you will. In general, people feel comfortable around me so it is only natural that I am able to create an intimate atmosphere. The poetic touch for me comes with natural light and connection.
How do you manage to work on this project over several years and at the same time dealing with your other projects & life?
Because I have been working on this series for over 4 years it is easy to combine it with other work. Sometimes I would take a break from Amsterdam Girls for a couple of months because I wasn’t feeling it at the time. I fell in and out of love with the series a couple of times. I even did an Amsterdam Boys series for a year, also for the i-D Netherlands.
There are different formats and cameras I think? Was it a random decision or do you really want to use different cameras and format? if this is the case why?
Yes, I have used and still use different cameras. Cameras I gathered over the years and they happened to vary between small and medium format film cameras. In my earlier years, I just worked with small format film cameras, as you evolve as a photographer you start to look elsewhere for gear.
Do you think cameras and format add something to a project, the aesthetics of course, but also in the creative process?
In the end, cameras are just a tool. What matters is your connection with your subject. How do you bring your story across. That could be with a beat-up secondhand camera or a brand new one. It all comes down to the subject matter. That’s the hardest part for me – finding good topics. However, if you want to go for aesthetics… I do have favorite cameras that bring that message across beautifully. You can definitely see the difference between medium format and small format. You can’t always reach that crisp sharpness and detail of medium format with a 35mm camera. So yes, the choice of the camera adds to the whole process.
« I love documentary photography because it teaches you something and it can be very personal at the same time. You dig deep into a subject matter that tells you something you didn’t know or like to know more of through imagery. »
Most of the time you work on Fashion assignments. What do you think about documentary photography, what does that bring to you compared to another genre?
Ideally, I like to combine the two worlds. It works best for me when they’re interwoven. I like to stay close to reality when doing fashion assignments. Not too much embellishment. It’s fun to experiment with this too though. I certainly keep an open mind. I’m also willing and pleased to hear the stylist’s, make-up artist’s or model’s ideas and wishes. For me, working on assignments is a dialogue you’re having with the whole team.
I love documentary photography because it teaches you something and it can be very personal at the same time. You dig deep into a subject matter that tells you something you didn’t know or like to know more of through imagery. That’s how I fell in love with photography. Nan Goldin was the instigator. Her strong intimate and predominantly personal work made me pick up a camera.
In general, what is your process in particular on your personal/documentary project?
I don’t really have a process. I’m a very intuitive person, however, that can be a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I feel I need direction and I find it hard to create that for myself. Perhaps that is just who I am. I am more of a visceral person rather than a cerebral one. Finding new projects is really hard. New ideas need time to simmer. And sometimes, after a while, you let go of those ideas and start over. I’m asked to make mood boards and I do it to introduce an idea to clients or stylists, however, I never resort to them once I’m working. I’d rather see what the moment brings. What is fun about these personal projects is that friendships can grow out of it. And some girls I revisited a couple of times and might do so for many years.
What are your influences?
What I find most important, and I only just found out, is that my mind needs to be calm. Free from too much input. All this information/ image overload can be paralyzing and impeding your own creative growth. I’m currently taking 6 weeks off from photography to find calmness of the mind. I’m halfway in and I’m feeling better already. The first week was difficult as I didn’t want to leave Amsterdam and just keep working. I wasn’t feeling creative yet I felt I needed to create for the sake of it, so this holiday was timed perfectly.
Do you have a particular attraction to the naked body?
I’m not particularly attracted to THE naked body. I’m attracted to a woman who is confident with her body, inside and out (this is very important). Showing her body in all its glory is fantastic and I feel privileged to be the one documenting it. To me, a naked body can serve as a symbol of power and confidence, but it’s not a must in my work. I wouldn’t want a naked girl standing before me who is overly self-conscious – it kills the flow and doesn’t translate into a good picture that embodies our dialogue.
Do you have some projects or desires/ideas in documentary photography to come?
As I mentioned earlier, finding new projects doesn’t come easy to me. Especially for documentary work. I have to find it interesting enough, but I’m also thinking of an audience for it. It should teach people or at least trigger or ignite something that leaves people wanting more. So, I’m putting a lot of pressure on the matter. I am toying with some ideas though.
Are you thinking of making a book of the series Amsterdam Girls?
It’s been on my mind for a while. So, yes, I would love to make a photo book of the series! It boils down to finding a publisher and just do it. I would like to add words by some of the girls so that it’s not just images of girls. But almost personal diary-like that is a reflection of present-day womanhood or something along those lines.
What is your TOP 5 photobook?
In no particular order:
Nan Goldin – The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
Sally Mann – The Flesh and the Spirit
Antoine D’Agata – Anticorps
Ed van der Elsken – Love on the Left Bank
Anton Corbijn – 1-2-3-4
All of these books taught me something about myself and ways to approach photography; they have either ignited my photography spark, or showed me to just have fun, that finding your own voice is key, but also portrayed photography as an (uncensored) communication tool and to not be afraid to show pain and melancholy.
Interview by Kalel Koven