Shooting Amsterdam: What Day Is This?

Broodjes en burgers.                                           © Matt Peyton

Day Six started out like all the others, double-double coffee made by the beautiful and talented Ninka at a small, efficient boutique hotel called Conscious, and a meeting with the ever-organized Ferry. 

We were off to Zuid, starting in Buitenveldert. After watching a local television station interview the women’s rowing team in the steady rain that no one seems to notice, we visited a typical shopping center and Amsterdam University. A police drama was being filmed, featuring American cars (Shelby Mustang GT 500, very untypical for the Netherlands). 

Somewhere along the way, Day Six and Seven melded together into one day for me. I can see by the photo tags that they were two days, but they were a blur of overtime and sequential images, from Java Eiland, a diverse neighborhood with a seaside feel, to the modern art sculptures in Zuid, and places like de Pijp and the borders of Vondelbuurt, where my hotel was located.

I honestly have no recollection of these two days of shooting. We were filling in the blanks quite efficiently; the system of rolling into an area, setting the clock as ”running,” and making a group of photos along set themes within about 90 minutes was well established.

Among the many interesting encounters, the White Cat of Sarphatipark stands out in particular. While photographing a pastoral landscape, a pure white cat walked up, sat center of frame, turned right, turned left, eyes to camera, over the shoulder, and as if to say “Got it?” wandered off. It was, after all, Fashion Week in Amsterdam…

Sarphatipark Kat.                                                © Matt Peyton

It was also at this point I started to think about my work. Typically I go into a state of hyper vigilance when I’m working. I shoot with ”both eyes open,” as photojournalists say. I can maintain that state for about 4 hours before I start to wind down and need to refresh the batteries with a good meal, a break where I can close my eyes and shut off the world for an hour. After about 800 exposures, in seven to eight locations, I can’t ”see” any more the way I could for set-up Number One.    

This is quite different from the studio, where the set-ups are more controlled and less in number. It’s not uncommon in the studio for my work to center on just one subject all day, with many variations. In a city like Amsterdam, creating fixed art, or ”stills” from a linear life experience is a lot like playing jazz. You are responding to what the light does, what the people do, what the surroundings bring you. Around every corner, there could be some new, unexpected moment that both surprises and informs. It’s the photographer’s responsibility to bring that home in a form that those who weren’t there can understand.

I can charge the batteries with good food and rest, then have periods of extreme productivity for a few hours. But like an old watch, I need to rewind or I simply lose my edge. - Matt Peyton

Shooting Amsterdam: Night for Day

Shooting Amsterdam: A Day Off, Spent On