Looking at random street photography sites on the internet, it suddenly struck me that there is something of a tiny subcategory of pictures in which passers-by look very disturbed at the camera, and therefore at you, the onlooker. All of them seem irritated, or at least worried “what the hell is this for?” I don’t understand, are these uneasy pictures supposed to convey a deeper meaning (“look how worried people go through life”) or is the photographer merely showing us his “courage” (and in fact possible lack of respect and consideration for the other)? Personally I usually avoid these kind of looks, because I see no use for such images in the context of what I make, and I prefer not to upset people. Empathy and being able to read body language are essential. Shooting people no matter what I’m sure wasn’t what Garry Winogrand was thinking of when he said he “photographed things [read: people] to see what they would look like when photographed”. It’s proof of an unsettling egocentricity when the thing that interests you is to read the reaction on some stranger’s face to your brazenness. Apart from that, any filmist can take a whole film (for the digitalist: that’s 36 takes) in some 30 minutes in an average town center, if he dares photograph people at extremely short range in passing. But street photography is not for testing or proving courage, I hope.
House parties is the first series on the renewed site Tom Stappers|Photographer www.tomstappers.com . These photographs were taken during the heyday of the house scene in the Scheveningen dance Club Exposure between 1994 and 1998. The club, “.XPO…” for insiders, soon acquired legendary status because of the extravagant side acts and the chemistry of that special mix of visitors, and by now seems to have reached mythic proportions in the collective memory of a whole age group.
To me, as a photographer, the whole scene was not just the usual boy-meets-girl, but a concentrated version of life with all the exuberance, desire and rejection that were acted out right in front of me. Fortunately I was readily being accepted, which enabled me to identify with the regular visitors – in spite of the differences – and not feel an intruder. I enjoyed the music and the people, careful not to outstay my welcome, while managing to take many thousands of photographs. I like what came out of it. These are respectful photographs.
When I was young I used to work in a photo archive. It was an archive with thousands of images of Dutch landscapes, windmills, national costumes, folklore, old buildings etc., etc., to which I had proudly contributed. All of these photographs were just “material” for publications by the tourist industry, and the photographers were paid very little. We used to charge only administrative and actual replacement costs to those customers who never returned the lent material after use. Some even had the nerve to send back an envelope with the cut-up prints, snippets and all, or otherwise spoilt photographs with paper pasted on, texts written on the back that showed up like relief on the front, as more signs of utter disrespect for the photographer’s work (and remember, I’m talking about the darkroom, not the computer). Captions reattached to the prints after use by means of a stapler, small creases or scratches were no real problem! “You can’t see that in printing.” When the stock was almost gone for very popular images (yes, you guessed right, the inevitable windmills, tulips – in black&white – and wooden shoes) we just ordered another batch from the photographer, who didn’t mind… When a particularly nice picture came by, it was more than once confiscated and pinned up to the wall. There were some with well-known photographer’s names.
Ed van der Elsken said to me once that he regretted he had disregarded the uniqueness, and indeed value, of his old (vintage) press prints from his Paris, old Amsterdam and Sweet Life periods. He had used them to create a unique intro to his exhibition at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum: by gluing them to the walls, the floor and the ceiling of the entrance hall. Very hip and contemporary at the time maybe, but what a pity in retrospect !!!
It is a strange thought that in fact, even the photographers themselves had to be taught the value of a lot of their old, and often forgotten prints. The scarcity of good (often vintage) prints, not caused by limited editions, but simple lack of interest in those days, has not escaped the attention of the collectors. They already know that a work of art “signed all over” needn’t necessarily be signed to be collectible.