I was commissioned by the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam to take photos for a year of our society in which we’re always ‘on’. It resulted in a large solo exhibition in the most famous museum of the Netherlands and my tenth photo book.
This project is my personal view of our Western society in which we seem to be permanently in the ON-stand. At the same time, we long for the OFF-moments. For this accompanying book, I asked my favourite writers – such as Connie Palmen and Marieke Lucas Rijneveld – to write an essay or poem on the theme.
Ik ben zeventien (I Am Seventeen) is a tribute to Johan van der Keuken who published his book Wij zijn 17 (We Are 17) in 1955. Van der Keuken made this book, about his high school days at the Montessori Lyceum in Amsterdam, when he himself was seventeen. The idea to make a project about Amsterdam’s contemporary teenagers resulted in the annual photo assignment the Amsterdam City Archives and the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts (AFK) allocate to documentary photographers. For a year-and-a-half, I photographed Amsterdam’s teenagers. I went to school parties and ‘house parties’ and spent a lot of time with young people on the Museumplein and in the Vondelpark. ‘You see Amsterdam’s youths, but maybe you mostly see, as I do, the memories of your own young years. Ik ben zeventien is a project where I tried to capture the overconfident vulnerability of young people in images.’
The result: an exhibition, and a photo book on which the young people collaborated with drawings and private passages from their journals.
I met Maria in late 2007 on the streets in my native city of Eindhoven. For my photo book ‘Smokin’ Boys Smokin’ Girls’ I was looking for teenagers who smoke.
There was something in her eyes I couldn’t place. She fascinated me. A day later I took a few Polaroids. Maria wore a wig and looked like Beyoncé. On the Polaroids I saw a woman, a vamp, a seductress. At the same time I saw a little girl, a child. A vulnerable woman of the streets. A tough little bird. And I knew: Maria is a project. Maria is a book. Maria is a movie.
For a year, I captured the life of elementary school Alan Turing in Amsterdam with a lot of pleasure. A gym teacher settling a conflict between two boys, a teacher comforting a sad child, Christmas dinner in your best clothes and handing out treats on your fifth birthday. The little moments of these little people who still have their whole lives ahead of them and who are learning at school what life looks like.
Nothing is more enjoyable than roaming around with my camera to tell the stories of the street. On Coney Island or Times Square, in a prison in El Salvador, in Cameroon and in the Netherlands, of course. I look for coincidence, or someone’s gaze: sometimes they obviously pose and are aware of the camera aimed at them and sometimes not at all. And I always try to show more than just the main subject.
‘Do I really want to be in your new book between all your other ex-girlfriends, on a Polaroid, taken at a time when we were still happy together?’
I’m talking to my old flame K, the girl I was in a relationship with for years. I tell her about my last girlfriend, who unashamedly cheated on me by starting a relationship with another guy. ‘She left a huge exit wound as a reminder.’
‘There’s nothing you can tell me about exit wounds that I don’t know already’, she says. I don’t need to explain what they are to her, she’s a huge fan of crime series.
The end of a relationship might not always leave a wound. But if there is a wound, time will heal it.
Sometimes you’re left with scars and sometimes with wonderful memories. Usually both.
EXIT WOUNDS (as if) features the girls behind my scars and memories. Polaroids of former girlfriends, flirts, muses, good friends and other beauties. I don’t make any distinctions. I just present them in all their beauty. Their vulnerability, my insecurities, my desires, my dreams.
Forever Young is the collective title of the long-term series I’m making about young people. By now, I’ve been photographing youths for almost 30 years across the entire (mainly Western) world. In 2014, it culminated in a first large exhibition about young people in the Kunsthal (Rotterdam) and an eponymous photo book: Forever Young.
I am a voyeur among voyeurs at the largest erotic fair in the Netherlands – the Kamasutra Fair. For eight years, I’ve been doing rounds of this erotic maze. Passing stands with sex toys, porn DVDs, lingerie, dildos and whips. Frequenting the champagne bar and hanging around at the main stage. Taking pictures of visitors and strippers.
The book also contains portraits of visitors in a temporary studio that I’ve built backstage, next to the dressing rooms of the strippers.
Because fewer people smoked and because a bill was passed in the Netherlands in 2008 that made smoking in restaurants and bars illegal, I made a photo book about smoking youngsters: photos from my long-term series about youths, with added new images. I went specifically to Australia and Japan to photograph smoking boys and girls.
What is ‘The American Dream’? Is it gambling in Vegas or a McDonald’s milkshake? In the land of Uncle Sam the cowboys drink Budweiser, the Native-Americans are an attraction and ‘Robert Frank’s mailbox’ still stands in the landscape.
A series about the typically Dutch ‘songs of life’ artists and their fans. I went to marquees and festivals for years and hung out with these typically Dutch singers. The upshot was my second photo book in 2006 and a large show in Helmond (Gemeentemuseum Helmond).
A series from 1999 – 2000 about Ballymun, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland, that I still like to show.
A suburb filled with boredom, alcohol, drugs, unemployment and a lot of children. U2 sings about it in Running to Stand Still:
‘Sweet the sin
Bitter taste in my mouth
I see seven towers
But I only see one way out.’
A hard-hitting report on the lives of a set of Moroccan-Dutch twins, seen through a sympathetic lens. For over seven years, I took photos of these boys. That wasn’t difficult: they were my neighbours when I still lived in an apartment in Utrecht. I went with them to the zoo, accompanied them to the dentist and had them taste herring for the first time. It resulted in my first photo book (2005) and I became more known as a photographer. The book is incorporated in an anthology about the Dutch photo book and was shown in the Rotterdam Fotomuseum.
We’ve lost contact over the past few years, but I hope to make part two someday.
Joris is my little brother. He was always a guinea pig: I started photographing him when I got my first camera at the age of fourteen. I kept capturing him, particularly because we are friends. He wasn’t well for a while. That was at exactly the same time when I was developing as a photographer, so I photographed him a lot. In retrospect, this was my first documentary series. I can say that my fascination to document people over a period of time started with him. (He’s doing well again by now.)