Shooting Amsterdam: As If Wearing a Helmet Weren't Odd Enough

Peyton on Patrol                                                                      © Matt Peyton

Day One. Boots on the ground, a silly US flag helmet secured from our rental shop, and off we go… into half a day of steady, pissing rain. My open-face brain bucket, sporting the US stars and bars, allows me to raise a camera to my eye without removing the helmet—a huge time saver. Jonathan and I agree that if we run into patriotic resistance, we will simply say that by flying my large, single star and bars design, I am supporting “Puerto Rican Independence.”

Day one was a warm-up day, centering on Vondelbuurt, and the city Centrum West. A mix of walking (which I hate to do with photo gear), and eventually, scootering (which Jonathan hates, with a passion, with or without photo gear).

Jonathan helpfully explained the rules of the road to me thusly: “if someone wants to merge from the right, and they are on the same level as you, then you have the right of way. If they are 'higher' than you, i.e., if the road is uneven, then you have the right of way, except if they are bigger than you.” This was borderline helpful, but I spent the entire time looking at the height of the roads thereafter with some confusion. Is this a Dutch trick to play on new cycle path users?

Digital break amidst rush hour.                                                         © Matt Peyton

Day one centered on squares, canals, schools, markets, and streets. To this New York boy, the entire place looked like a Vermeer painting. Cyclists whizzed by in the Northern light past gilded lamps and street posts; manicured potted flowers lined the many bridges and overpasses. Houseboats docked to every available canal mooring presenting an ever-changing landscape of Dutch inventiveness. Ferry Biedermann (Jonathan’s replacement colleague for the second half of our engagement) said the Dutch are a nation of ”makers.” This is evident to anyone who walks around the centrum and looks at the ornate architecture, the handmade wooden window shutters, the cobblestone streets.

We quickly established a rhythm of working on the city by ”target-zone.”  If I can get to a major square, and capture a good mix of people, residential housing, shopping, transit, safety (police), signs of nightlife, art and installations, I can create a lot of images in little time. Seven locations a day, no excuses, no second tries. If it’s raining, we shoot between the raindrops.

A huge bonus of photographing a place like Amsterdam is that the people are SO attractive. I saw very few overweight people, very few people who were ”under-dressed” (speaking as a chronic under-dresser). Point the camera in any direction and you will capture fashion-magazine quality people. But pointing the camera in any direction also presents a challenge. My assignment was to create a stock library of 1000 usable images for a commercial dot com. Respecting privacy means that recognizable faces (unless they volunteer) are out, and releases, given the timeframe, are simply impossible. One solution presented itself; as people whiz by on their wheeled contraptions, back focus and allow them to blur by dragging the shutter. You can get a good flavor of a person, without jeopardizing their privacy. Another technique was simply to let people pass us, allow them to move through frame, and present a ”back ¾“ view.

Day one we covered the city center: Rembrandt Square, the Munt tower, Damrak, de Wallen (Wall Street) central station, parts of Chinatown, Anne Frank house and so on; 2035 images in 12 hours.

Then we ate dinner.  - Matt Peyton

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