I got a call for my permission to use a certain photograph in an upcoming exhibition by a group of new documentary photographers. They had to choose an “old” photograph from the municipal archives for inspiration, and one of them chose my 1968 picture of some gypsy caravans on an open space near where I lived in The Hague. I looked up the negatives, and the four-digit number clearly showed the distance in time between then and now. Since I am now rapidly approaching the number of 80,000 negatives I’m suddenly aware of all the pictures I have taken in all those years, all the many different subjects. Maybe because it’s that time of the year again – everybody’s looking back, automatically you look back too, it’s like in a crowd – but it is a new experience that somebody now chooses one of my early photographs for inspiration. I was more used to thinking in terms of being inspired myself…
When house parties were still considered a new and exciting phenomenon by the museum world in the Netherlands (the famous “low culture”!), I heard that the Kunsthal in Rotterdam was planning an exhibition about this subject (doubtlessly with a new, young public in mind). So I made an appointment with the then manager/photography curator, who said he was very interested. I went to Rotterdam, taking a selection of my house parties series. After looking at my series of photographs he seemed a bit puzzled – was it that he wanted this subject in “more contemporary” color I wondered, had he expected a wild kid with speedy eyes and uneasy manners? Or, since this was Rotterdam, a young stoner skinhead photographer from the gabber scene? -. None of that, after a pause gathering his thoughts, came his verdict: interesting photographs but this is not how I imagine a house party looks(!). My slightly irritated reaction, something like – o, I’m happy I seem to have avoided the clichés then… – did not go down so well. He gave me his card, mumbled something about sending an invitation for the opening, blablah. I left, thinking about how people really only want to see confirmation of what they already know, or more likely think they know…. Why? And should it upset me…no, I couldn’t care less.
“Observations, memories, associations, they all merge at the moment you take the picture. You don’t think of it beforehand. Intuition is far more important, since everything happens so fast that often it isn’t until much later, that you realise what it is that made you decide to take the picture. I think interpretation is more important than striving for objectivity or completeness.”
(part of a text accompanying an exhibition of my photographs about Antwerp, Belgium, at the Flemish Cultural Center, Amsterdam, nov./dec.1994 © Tom Stappers)