Day Eight was a known quantity; we planned for a night shoot, and the day to be “dark,” that is: shot in dark places, which in the city of the Masters, proved to be nearly impossible to achieve.
Equipped with an iPhone, I entered the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum. Neither allows photography, per se, but the Rijksmuseum appears to have relinquished a bit, and allows point-and-shoots and iPhones. This leads to questionable practices like selfies with Rembrandt’s Nachtwacht (the Night Watch). What does a selfie like that actually say about a person except that he/she isn’t lit by the master’s hand and had missed the point?
The Vermeers, which never leave the country, were displayed too. This first “Master of Light” has just 34 paintings attributed to him. The depth of perception by actually seeing a painting like “The Milkmaid” in person is staggering. Vermeer’s pioneering use of charcoal in his paint, and colors like Bone Black are something to see in person. If you look carefully, you can see the pinhole where all points of convergence meet.
The Van Gogh Museum is another story all together. After a completely overwhelming display that is the Rijks, the Van Gogh Museum left me a little, er, cold. The architecture is modern, almost facile; the systematic dedication to telling van Gogh's story (which, spoiler alert, ends badly at 37), felt a little 20th century marketing driven. Any exit not leading through the souvenir shop is forbidden; a guard stands by helpfully to redirect wayward non-consumers.
Looking beyond the modern touches, van Gogh’s pastels are worth the price of admission. Color choices for his many self portraits are almost psychologically disturbing as if he were using the bright oranges and reds to portray his personal disorientation and predict his self-destruction in hues.
Photography is strictly prohibited at the Van Gogh Museum; a few got taken though including one I would hang in the Matt Mansion East: “Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette,” evidence that the young master must have had a sense of humor.
While I hid from the heavy, pouring rain in the museums, Ferry prepared our night shoot, scouting the map for locations where we could do some “light painting” with neon signs, people, etc. Amsterdam in July doesn’t get fully dark until 11 pm or so, and most things close by 1 am. We needed to be efficient, so we used the excellent tram service for mobility.
I had already ruled out trying to capture clean scenes in favor of using the neon and blue street signs to create a more emotional response to the night scenes we were going to shoot. This also allowed me to hand-hold the camera in many cases, move quickly, and capture the hustle and bustle. This plan had the added bonus of obscuring people’s identities in favor of the crowd. We moved through half a dozen squares and café districts in about 3 hours, returning at 2 am with a good showing of 600 plus images and only one encounter with drunken soccer thugs.
Perhaps a little- or un-known fact for the revelers in Rembrandtplein: it was the great Master’s birthday. That night. That Rembrandt - Matt Peyton