Words and Photos by Maarten Rots.
Maarten: I thrive under restriction; I like it when things are closed off. By (temporarily) taking away many of the variables of everyday life I create room to focus and get a better understanding of what I do and why I do it. That’s why I have set up ‘Sitting’: a personal photography project that consists of a few simple rules:
- Photograph for one week within a one-mile radius only
- At the end of each day choose one photograph as the ‘pick of the day’
- Present the results in an exhibition right after this week of photographing
After doing the first edition of this project in Amsterdam last year, I had the opportunity to do a second edition in the much smaller city of Tiel, the Netherlands. The center of my one-mile radius working area was Kunsthuis Kaayk, a beautiful 19th century mansion home to artist Guusje Kaayk who spent 40+ years of creating there with her late husband and sculptor Coen Kaayk.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned during this intense week of photographing, editing and setting up an exhibition:
Return to the same location. Often.
When working within the same closed off area for a week it’s insurmountable that you will pass by the same place multiple times. What’s interesting is that the same place appears different each time you see it: the position of the sun throws a different shadow onto the situation, you may be thinking about different things and experience the place differently.Depending on the time of the day there may be many or no people at all. All these things influence the kind of photograph you can take.
If you take the step of returning to the same location on different moments and keep your eyes open, you will find there’s more beauty to the place than you may have initially thought. Ever considered shooting in the middle of the night?
Walk the opposite direction
Related to the previous: to experience the same place in a different way and discover new things, it really helps to walk a street or path up and down again. Your perspective changes everything about the situation and you can make connections that you did not see when you first came from one direction. Walk slow to get a good look and stop to take the camera to your eye and find a good and interesting frame. It’s okay to put the camera down without pressing the shutter release button; it’s better not to take a shot when it’s not good enough than to come home with a whole cluster of mediocre shots that will not make it through your final selection.
Lay down to get your shot
Changing your perspective is a very effective way to make what first seemed uninteresting appear fresh and exciting. As a photographer you can make others see their surroundings in a refreshing way. Most people don’t make it a habit to lay down on the ground going about their normal daily business. Make it yours and surprise yourself and others. You may get some strange looks and the occasional remark but those are only temporary. If you learn to live with those side-effects, you will get shots you would have never taken while standing up.
You’ve probably heard or read it before: Robert Capa’s famous quote “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
To me a photo becomes more and more interesting when its subject is less obvious. Ambiguity opens up how I experience the image, I am allowed to fill in what’s missing. By getting closer to your subject you reveal more of its details, less of the broader image and leave it up to the viewer to construct the story. Trigger your own and other people’s imagination by focusing on details and leaving the obvious out. Give people a chance to apply their own interpretation to your photograph.
Connect the seemingly unconnected
A story gets interesting when two or more elements that did not yet have a relationship are introduced in one and the same scene and start to interact. The viewer immediately starts to search for connections and a storyline – it’s something you can’t help doing, it’s in our nature to want to make sense of everything. Use this mechanism to make you photographs little stories in their own right.
Look back at what you’ve done
There’s a lot to say for letting your work ‘marinate’, but just as much can be said to advocate looking back at what you’ve done while you’re still in the process. Every day during this project I printed all my shots on a postcard size and mixed them all up. Interesting combinations happen coincidentally and if you start playing around with all these little prints you will start to find connections between your photos. When you become aware of patterns in your shots you can deliberately start to look for these while taking photos – or decide to start not shooting those kinds of photos anymore depending on your opinion. It’s good to be aware of your less conscious decisions, it makes you a more focused photographer.
That all said, in the end it comes down to going out and shoot; no matter the circumstances there’s always an interesting situation to be captured!
Maarten Rots is an artist working with photography based in Amsterdam. His photography often leans towards abstraction with a hint of surrealism, found in everyday situations. He loves printed photography and one of the ways he shares his work is through his self-published quarterly photography magazine March & Rock.
Follow Maarten on Instagram: @maartenrots