Shooting Amsterdam: Day Nine and Out

Shooting Amsterdam: Day Nine and Out

Bike lovers.                                                           ©  Matt Peyton

A scant six hours of sleep, my last Ninka-prepared double-double cappuccino, a final shoot in-country, and a good bye to my scooter.

Today would be a chance to fill in missed areas of Centrum, from the rather touristy Leidseplein to Rembrandthuis and the Zoo.  

I wanted to illustrate how family friendly Centrum is with happy children, playing in the sunshine; no cares in the world. On the other hand, one wants to balance privacy and discretion, and ensure there is no confusion of motives. On the third hand, we were scheduled to move fast on Day Nine, as our scooter shop closed at 6.00 pm, which Ferry informed me is 5:30 local-adjusted Dutch Scooter Union time. Asking every parent permission to document their offspring was a time luxury we didn’t have, so I was glad to have brought a relatively-small stealthy 200 mm lens; silencing my shutter and shooting from the hip reduced the spectacle. I took time to blur faces and avoid capturing identifiable faces. One mother did take time to inform me that she didn’t wish to be included in a wide street scene I was photographing. We scrapped that whole side of the street in favor of the museum gates.

© Matt Peyton

About this time, Ferry and I were feeling the clock. At the gates of the Science Center NEMO, looking across the water to Kattenburg, and with the Red Light district still to shoot, I began to worry that Amsterdam might be the lady who got away, no matter how many exposures I made that day. There will always be another corner to turn, another square to visit, another restaurant to dine in. We adjusted quickly and made a run for the red lights, as many, many men have done before us.

Photographing the Red Light district presented another unusual challenge. Could I capture the scene without being invasive? Would our presence invite a massive thug to come break our gear? Luckily representing edgy aspects can be done with symbolism, rather than graphic display, to protect and respect the locals. For example, a photo of a bawdy neon sign is enough to represent the trade behind the windows. I supplemented these with quick shoot-from-the-hip type shots, and got called out once by the locals. Walking a little quicker back to the scooter, waiting for the old ”hand on collar,” I luckily left unharmed.

At this point I noticed the gum. It was on the edge of my camera, and on the bag, and then upon further inspection, on my backpack belt, and all over my new Street Walker Pro Think Tank backpack. There are many ways of carrying large amounts of lenses, batteries, and other gear, but the one I employ is the backpack. It gives you four points of body contact—shoulders, chest and waist belt—with which to support 25 pounds or so. If you sling all that across one shoulder in a shoulder bag, prepare to get that shoulder repaired next winter (or I can save you the trouble and show you the scar).  

Hence my relationship with Think Tank bags, arguably the best bags made for photography on planet Earth. To change lens, find a flat surface, place bag down, unzip, swap out lens, carry on. Seems my surface had previously been used as a gum depository by someone. I was crestfallen; I’ve never seen anything get gum out of fabric.

At the scooter rental, I asked if they had any solvents for my gummed up bag. The mechanic produced a can of Würth Remmer Reiniger (brake cleaner). It broke down the chewing gum and removed it entirely without hurting the ballistic nylon. Amazing; I brought a can home to the States.

With our scooters returned, and the day's shoot backing up to a second drive on my laptop, it was time to sit on my little hotel terrace and reflect about the city from on high. Had the lady gotten away? Had we done her justice? Time will tell. It’s hard to quantify a set of photos as large as that without some time.

But to give you an idea of numbers, Team Scooterazi made 9,817 photos, occupying 290 GBs of hard drive space. We built nine galleries, and provided geo-coding on all 9,817 photos. We captured 39 of 40 quadrants (the missing one was determined to be in need of redefining). We identified areas, like Zuid and Oost, that contained many different neighborhoods, and would benefit from a diversity of profiles.  

After a careful three-day edit, the final take is 1,456 images with reverse geo lookup and full key wording, source-able by neighborhood and by city area. By today’s stock library standards that has a retail value of US$51,000.

Can anyone really know a city after a couple of weeks? A couple of years? I had inhaled Amsterdam like the mist that fell each morning. This beautiful city, Venice of the North, infected me as a photographer and as an artist, by the light, by the rain soaked into my clothes.    

I made new friends: Jonathan, the kind ex-pat from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, now living in Amsterdam with his wife and two children. Ferry, the native-born, seasoned Middle East correspondent who knows the city better than his real estate brokers. Ferry’s kind wife, Nat, who allowed us to borrow the family car.   

What could they make of me, arriving in their city to photograph it in nine days? I was grateful they humored me as long as they did.

It was time to snack, pack, and pretend I was drowsing on a houseboat, rocking on the Amstel, ‘till checkout. - Matt Peyton

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