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Trends in photography

Photography and its many techniques have always been subject to trends. In the 1970s, when this particular photograph was made, almost every photographer wanted to own a fisheye lens. It was a bit silly, because the lens would use less than half of the already small 135 mm film negatives.

University of Utrecht – 1975 – © Hans van der Kamp

Still, there really is no harm in playing around with lenses or cameras, because it may bring new ideas or new angles on objectively looking at your imagery.

Writers are known to suffer from writer’s block, and I strongly believe photographers can experience similar periods of feeling unable to produce work for weeks or months. Fiddling around with silly toys like this old Canon fisheye lens might actually open some doors that seemed locked.

In general, experimentation is always a good idea, but you might want to ignore fisheye lenses. They rarely help you create interesting material.

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Photographers and their gear

Ages ago, it seems, I was sent to New York to interview and photograph Art Kane and Ralph Gibson for a magazine called Zero. I really felt on top of things. It was the first time I boarded an airplane. I went to Art Kane first and his British assistant tried to shoe me away, but I finally got in because I made a remark about the only book in Kane’s studio: Portnoy’s Complaint. Kane talked about his life until he was simply too tired to speak.

A few days later I knocked on Ralph Gibson’s door in Soho, a completely different kind of photographer. Whereas Kane was also an art director and a musician, Gibson seemed to focus solely on photography and Lustrum Press, specialized in photography books. They had one thing in common though, they both drove a BMW, which was amazing to me. Why on earth would anybody in a predominantly Jewish city drive a German car? I was too afraid to ask. It just stuck with me as odd.

Whereas Art Kane at that point in his life seemed to be more drawn to his piano than to his camera, Ralph Gibson was all into photography, and he gave me two meetings of two hours I believe, and I flew home with three hours Gibson on tape and one hour Art Kane, only to find out that Zero was about to go under. The Kane interview was published and the Gibson interview never saw the light of day.

Both men were obviously fascinating, but my talks with Gibson really put a hook in me. Up to this day, I remember most of what he told me about photography. He was obviously an intellectual and somewhat of a philosopher too, which was a new experience for me. Most photographers I had spoken with before him were more about making money than creating new insights on photography. Helmut Newton for instance was a great photographer, but also a very savvy businessman.

I was a bit jealous of Gibson, too. He owned about eight Leica cameras and I owned only one camera, a Minolta XM. A camera that was somehow faithful to me for over 20 years. I even had a name for it. Prima Donna. This was because the camera had an electronic system that was quite rare in these days. (End of the seventies, early eighties.) The light meter would occasionally work, but often failed. So I learned to judge the light with my own eyes. That is how the camera became dear to me. I like things that are half broken, I am half broken myself.

I rarely name my cameras, but I do so occasionally. Being somewhat allergic to the chemicals used to develop prints in the dark room and being a bit claustrophobic on top of that, I immediately switched to a digital camera in 2000. It was a Nikon D1. It was expensive and your average smartphone today has more qualities than the D1 had back then, but I fell in love with it anyhow. Not enough to name it, though.

Years later I bought the Nikon D3 and I named it. Bella Donna. Soon after purchasing it I dropped it once and after that I had occasional issues with the tiny computer in it. Once again I owned a camera that was half broken and that must have been the reason I gave it a name.

In 2019 came the pandemic, and just before that I had switched to the Nikon 810. It works fine. I never saw a reason to give it a name. I even share it with my partner, who is a botanic photographer. That is rare for me. I don’t like sharing cameras. Maybe I can share this camera because it is definitely not ‘half broken’. It works like a Swiss watch, so it has become a tool. I am not protective about it.

Most assignments were canceled during the pandemic and I had time enough to really think about my photography and specifically what digital photography had brought me. My conclusion was that my work had become too sterile and with the help of Photoshop I had entered a field that is best described as glamour photography.

I went shopping for an old analogue camera. I tried the Nikon F2, the camera I first worked with as an assistant photographer, then the F3, but they did not feel too good. Then I discovered the F4. I never had one when they first came out, simply because they were too expensive for me. Now they were about 200 USD. I ended up buying a few. Most of the pandemic pictures on Amsterdam in silver were made with the F4.

In the studio, however, I still did the occasional photo shoot with the digital Nikon D810. Soon I started fantasizing about an analogue studio camera, and I decided on the Mamiya RB67, the same camera I had abandoned when I switched to digital photography.

It seems like I need to learn photography all over again and I have not yet produced enough material to show it here, especially since it would be in stark contrast with what I have produced over the last twenty years, but I am most definitely having fun with it. I might even use it for assignments one day.

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Women and their Harleys

Chris de Vos, 1984

It really is a pleasure to have most of your negatives digitized. Well, certainly not all of them, but I keep finding series that I have long forgotten.

This was an assignment for a Dutch weekly, and it is one of the very few series that I actually planned with the help of someone who knew how to make a planning. The whole series of about 12 photographs was done in two weeks. If had done the planning myself, it certainly would have taken at least three months. Once I have a subject, I start living it.

I was particularly impressed by this woman, Chris de Vos, if I remember well, who also owned a trike. She did not mind riding her bikes in the rain, which is not all that common among Harley-Davidson owners.

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Looking back

Creating this (partially) new website is also a stroll through my archives and I dug up some of my oldest photographs and I put them in perspective on a page called Early Photographs.

I am doing this against my old rule that no photograph should ever need text to accompany it. In this case, I thought it was fun to have a short story line on the struggles of a young photographer.

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Merging sites

Portrait of Miss Baksel, Drag Queen – © HvdK

I am a compulsive website creator, so I often end up with about seven to ten sites for different projects covering different disciplines or subjects. I am not saying that I will merge all these sites into one, but at least three will be merged into this one site which has been mainly focused on my studio photography. The following sites will be merged into this one central site:
This is a site I have not updated regularly in the last few months, but I will in the near future. It contains analogue photography made during lockdowns with my beloved Nikon F4. There will be more lockdowns ahead, so there will be more photography coming up. Once these series is on this site, I will also add vintage analogue photographs. My career spans a long time and I created a lot of analogue photographs between 1976 and 2001.

I am Dutch but certainly not in a patriotic fashion, although I really do love the heart of Amsterdam where I live. Still, my native tongue is obviously Dutch and so is my blog, where you can find my occasional thoughts on photography and life in general. So after two decades this site will become bilingual.

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I was quite ignorant then, because I thought I would cover most of what I was looking for in about five years. It became a project with no end in sight.

Social media came and the world changed. My first profile on Facebook was deleted. I wasn’t banned for a week or longer. My whole profile with a lot of followers/friends simply vanished. I cannot recall the reason for those harsh actions. Something really serious. It took me a while to figure out that posting a picture with a nipple on it was a deadly sin of some sort. I was still very naive. Or maybe FB moderators are quite naive.

I got used to that. A few years later, my son came home after he had shared my work with a friend. This friend had called my work pornographic. That was new to me. In my perception, pornography was something quite different. But soon I found out that Millennials have very broad ideas of what is supposed to be pornography.

I quickly adjusted to that, and I accepted the fact that my work was pornographic. So I sent some material to a very successful porn site, but they refused my works, stating they had no interest in fine art photography.

From then on things got confused, but I stuck to my theme. Last year there was a very large exhibit of my works in Amsterdam and the curator told me that she wouldn’t invite her parents to this show. I asked her why, and she needed some time to come up with an answer. Finally, she said: ‘Your work is too risqué.’ Actually, she used a very old Dutch word that nobody uses anymore in that context. Pikant. To my knowledge, there is no adequate translation for this word.

I was stupefied. Still, the exhibit was a success. Lately I am confronted with a completely new phenomenon. Traffic to this site increases and my Google ranking drops. I sincerely hope we are not heading towards a situation where search engines are actively filtering sites for possible nipple sightings. This was quite normal in the 1990s. Google earned part of its success by not filtering sites and images as Yahoo! and others did.

Wish me luck!

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1999-2000 Role Model

1999 and 2000 for me were the last years of analogue photography. I believe I switched to a Nikon D1 by the end of 2000. I was recovering from major surgery at the time, so it was not a period of my life I wish to remember in detail. Not being able to walk properly for many years prior to the operation, I was trying to catch up with life and I acted like I was suffering from a midlife-crises on steroids.

I guess I was a major pain in the ass for everybody around me, including the person who was generous enough to give me a studio plus equipment to continue my photographic career.

Most of the analogue material I created there, wasn’t scanned in high resolution, so I could not supply large digital prints. Currently, I am re-scanning most of these negatives, such as the image above, which is a remastered version.

This photograph is important to me, because it marked the beginning of a new era. I sent this photograph with two others to a juried art show in Seattle. The jury, consisting of people with lots of expertise, sent me a very nice E-mail and all works were admitted.

I did not visit the exhibit, but somebody I knew, who lived in the area, did. At first, she could not find this particular photograph, although she did find the two other photographs. Those photographs were quite prominently presented.

Later I found out that this image was hung apart from my other works, next to the latrines. A little investigation learned that volunteers who were responsible for hanging the works in this very large group exhibit, thought that the image was provocative in a way that made them decide to hang it out of view for most visitors.

This was new to me, then. I like to create works that provoke a discussion on aesthetics, and I was not used to volunteers creating their own censorship rules. To me, that was up to the jury to decide. Of course, this was the beginning of more censorship by people who have no expertise or background in art or photography. You see it everywhere now. Computer programmers on social media who decide what is porn and what is art. It is quite normal now, but it wasn’t then.

The person who posed for this photograph was not directed to sit with his legs apart. It happened when I was loading film. When I saw him in this position I decided to add the broom, and I was quite satisfied with the result.

To me the photograph represented a very common discussion between feminists at the time. Just before I made that photograph, I had read an article written by a woman complaining about men doing the laundry, cleaning the house, cooking etc. They did all the things she had hoped for, but in the end she had to conclude that these men were simply not attractive enough.

I thought of that article, when I added the title ‘Role Model’ to the photograph.

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The exhibit at NDSM-Fuse came in two parts. The first part was a prequel during the Pride and featured a selection of works of the GENDER! Series.

(See video. Dutch only, I am sorry.)

The second part was a retrospective exhibit, including the complete GENDER! series and works from different series between 1977 and 2020, starting off with the Rockers, my first solo exhibit.
My son (his website) documented the almost 200 photographic works on his iPhone. (See video below.)

The show ended yesterday (August 30th, 2020) and I feel tired now, but it was one of the most interesting exhibits I ever had, since there was so much material over so many years.

It felt like a very long 65th birthday, and I was surprised to see visitors I once photographed, but had not seen in decades. It was fun but exhausting. Getting older does come with certain disadvantages, although I absolutely felt worse after the first Rockers exhibit in 1977.

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The June exhibit of 21st Century Madonnas in Zürich, Switzerland was cancelled due to the lockdown. Plans to get the GENDER! exhibit on the road for artistic and educational purposes were postponed.

Luckily NDSM-fuse had 600 square meters available for an exhibit. At first I was quite overblown by the idea of filling such a large space, but the offer came on my 65th birthday, so I spontaneously decided to go for a retrospective of photographic works, created between 1977 and 2020.

Also, they had some space left for the last week of Pride Month to exhibit part of the GENDER! series.

So a selection of the GENDER! series now serves as a ‘prequel’ of the retrospective which I named UNCENSORED, since I had so many problems posting my works on social media over the last decades.

Within the UNCENSORED exhibit you will find the complete GENDER! exhibit plus all major themes in my work since 1977, including the oldest Rockers series.

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New site

A few months ago, I received an E-mail telling me that a major job was postponed, so I decided to work on my websites and do some writing.

Once the lock-down was in a stage that everybody was allowed to go outside for a limited amount of time, I decided to pick a Nikon F4, loaded it with actual film (FP4) and started documenting the city without the countless tourists walking around.


Amsterdam in Silver