Please introduce yourself: What is your name, where are you from, what do you do?
My name is Jaap van der Marel. I was born 1976 in the Netherlands. I currently live in Leiden, which is a copy-paste from Amsterdam but then without the tourists. I’m a multilingual international project manager and a self-taught photographer. I live together with my 2 fantastic sons and their beautiful mother with whom I share the passion for traveling and good food.
What is your relationship with photography? How did you get into it?
It’s a passionate one. I’m strongly visually oriented and, as said, I love to travel. For me a camera is a low threshold means to express my ideas and be creative. As a teenager I started ‹taking› pictures when I began to travel alone. Progressively I have taught myself to ‹make› pictures by studying the work of masters like Lee Friedlander, Stephen Shore, Luigi Ghirri, and Harry Gruyaert. I like the no-nonsense approach of the New Topographics movement.
What do you think triggers you to photograph in a certain moment? Is it planned or solely driven by intuition?
In the 30 cities project I’m currently working on I’m triggered by certain situations I force myself to focus on when traveling to a city. It is planned. I know what I will be doing, which helps me not to get distracted. I’ll elaborate on that in the next question.
What is the story you want your pictures to tell?
The short version would be titled «Look at where traveling can also take you»! The subtitle would be «Easily overlooked places or situations during trips to 30 cities».
The longer version below tells a more detailed story: When I graduated at Leiden University, I had written my thesis on Imagology. This is the study of cultural stereotypes as presented in literature and other forms of communication. What I found out for the timeframe I analyzed (1750-1900) is that many writers went to the same places and described the same things, often influenced by travel guides. It is not much different today in my opinion.
With that in mind and inspired by ‹The Art of Travel› of contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton I started in January 2014 to take my camera with me during business trips. Those trips lead me to places that are often on the outskirts of a city center. Sometimes near a highway or a train station. Hence, usually far from all the sights. This was the start of the 30 cities project — which is subdivided in series called Lodging, Solitary walkers, Passage, and Maximalism. It also includes self-portraits.
Once arrived at my destination I document the hotel room I stay in. This series is called «Lodging». Usually the hotels I stay in are recommended by the host of a meeting. They are logistically comfortable and neither cheap nor expensive. I call it the ‹average hotel›. I hardly ever like the interior of the hotel room I stay in with its cheap art on walls, carpets (!), curtains, chairs, outdated televisions and phones, accessories from Ikea and old-fashioned combination of sometimes shouting colors. And when I look out of the hotel room window upon an unknown part of a city the sense of alienation and solitude is complete — nevertheless I share this with all other hotel visitors.
Being alone in another place can be a very positive experience: you are anonymous, without any history and undisturbed. The hectic of everyday life back home is far away. I often get the best ideas in hotel rooms. Thus the average hotel for me is a place of positive solitude.
When I go out to work I record the streets I pass on foot in 3 different series called «Solitary Walkers», «Passage» and «Maximalism». As said these are usually the by-lanes of a city. With a 24mm lens many details are included in the frame. And that’s exactly what I’m looking for: a realistic, no-nonsense view onto a less known part of a city.
I include for example traffic lights or signs, unappealing buildings, construction sites, cars, and unaware pedestrians. You can often see by the details where you are. Red and white striped traffic lights are unmistakably Belgian, traffic signs with yellow used instead of the usual white are Scandinavian; brick colors can tell which city, etc. I love these details. With this high amount of visual information I want the viewer to show the gap between expectation (highlights) and reality.
Linked to the 30 cities project is a series called «From Gods Seat». It deals with views from the airplane on my way to and back from a city. The idea is that few persons in a plane are attentive to the fact that they fly above the clouds. Not only is this a wonder that our ancestors would have loved to see, it is also a symbol of transformation as you rise above the places of your annoyances, fears, enemies etc.
For me it is related to spirituality. To strengthen that idea, I exclude the wing of the airplane on purpose. In practice this means that I have to be careful in reserving a seat: totally in the back or in front of the wings of the plane.
Which city would you like to visit the most and why?
New York! I have never been there.
For what I have seen so far I feel that many cities have their appeals. But if I had to revisit some then I would say Stockholm for its natural setting, Copenhagen for its relaxed vibe, Madrid for its beauty, Berlin for its alternative vibe, Milan for its liveliness and food, Kyoto for its grace, Tokyo for its food and Bangkok for many many things.
Paradoxically I have no images of Dutch cities in the 30 cities project. However, I really like Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leiden, Utrecht and Breda.
What is the driving force behind creation?
There are several forces that drive creation: passion, curiosity and, most important of all, action. When you have an idea, just do it. Make errors, adapt your plans and then get it out to the world.
Which project did you never finish?
I once started a project on nearby highways — A4 and A44 — but never finished it. I might pick it up when I have a clearer idea on what I exactly want to convey.
If you could travel back/ forth in time, what advice would you give your younger/ older self?
If I could travel back in time I would tell my younger self to think about photography as a project and not to be bothered by the number of likes you get. Originality prevails applause.
What do you prefer saying: to take a photograph or to make a photograph and why?
To «make». Making is more active and thoughtful.
Asking you to single it out, what was the most interesting experience you have had while photographing?
Whenever I go photographing I forget about the time. I’m in a flow, I fully enjoy what I’m doing.
What are you currently working on, and — if there is — what is your next project/ journey?
I’m currently finalizing the 30 cities project. I will have visited 30 different cities by the end of this year. Next places I’ll be visiting are Cyprus, Moscow and Mexico City, none of which I have been before.
Beside that I recently started a project on coastal towns of Holland. The coast here is beautiful and I often go there as it is only 8 Kilometers from Leiden. Unfortunately coastal towns of Scheveningen, Katwijk aan Zee, Noordwijk aan Zee and Zandvoort suffered from the construction of the Atlantic Wall during the Second World War. There is hardly any authentic or old building left. Many constructions are functional and lack any kind of fantasy. Once again my aim will be to present a ‹no-nonsense› picture of these places. To be continued.
Thank you very much, Jaap!
© Jaap van der Marel