I was waiting for long time to have a discussion with Marcel van Oostrom about his vision of photography. After his solo exhibition at RAW Streetphoto Gallery, there were so many questions about his works. Personally, I was nervous before the interview. But the interview ran very smoothly and pleasurably. In the rehearsal room of CodArts school of art next to the piano we were speaking about photography.
Here bellow, please find the recorded interview with Marcel.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery (RSG): Marcel, I am always intrigued how do people start making photograph. So please tell me, how did you start photography?
Marcel van Oostrom(MvO): Hello Alex, thank you for your questions. Well, I started when I was 20 or 21 years old. I started it as a hobby. At that time, I was busy with my job in the music store, selling and repairing instruments, but also, making music. But even though it was my secondary interest, I was really into it, so was continuously reading books and watching documentaries about photography. At some point of time, I had sold my equipment, but I was still constantly making pictures in my head, and I knew I will never stop doing that.
RSG: What did inspire you to start photography at the first place?
MvO: Incredible stories are happening everywhere at any time. Unusual things on the street, in nature or in the city. But not for the memories, as most of the amateurs do. I shoot because of the composition, the forms, the colour, the subject.
RSG: And how did you start shooting streets that turned to be street photography?
MvO: That was very easy. There are many beautiful nature shots and landscapes like you can find on the internet or in encyclopedias. The problem is that here in The Netherlands we do not have that diversity, we do not have leopards or eagles. Street is something that can be shot everywhere, in Belgium, in Moscow or in Amsterdam. You develop a certain eye, and besides the visual aspect of it, I like that it allows you to make your own story about it. I also used to be fascinated about post-processing, cropping the picture and changing its story in a way. But now I try to form the composition intentionally with all the necessary subjects in the frame, and that is the real art to do so, I believe.
RSG: What is your style of street photography?
MvO: I look for lines in the picture, which make up a perspective. And I try to include people in the shot. Especially I like creating this 50s or 60s-look, with black and white, high contrasts, old streets and big hats, which is a bit cliche, but I like that. I also like shooting in industrial environments, so harbours and railways. Think, that is about my vision of my own style.
RSG: Do you prepare the locations in advance, keeping in mind the idea, that something probably will happen there?
MvO: Not necessarily. I go there, because I like it to be in that particular area. And I mostly have a camera with me. For me it feels comfortable. I think in the street photography you do not plan, because there are things happening on the streets any time. So I just take a camera and go, knowing that in half an hour there will be something happening interesting to shoot. And the rest comes with the experience. What I would highlight here for beginners, the most important thing is to know your camera very well, be able to set it up without looking, as you have to be really fast on the streets. Shooting with Leica now, with the help of the rangefinder, I see more subjects besides those in the final frame, on the contrast to cameras with electronic viewfinder. It allows me to wait for someone to enter the composition, and snap at the exactly right moment.
RSG: How do the people you shoot usually react?
MvO: I am not nice if somebody complaints. Of course, I try to avoid being seen, using the classic tricks. But sometimes I can not help it to respond a bit rude, if people react aggressively.
RSG: I also know that you also make the photos of performing artists. How do you like it?
MvO: Yes, and the difference from the street is that you already have a scene, nice poses by people with muscled bodies, a nice light. What I am trying to do is to capture the right moment. It is also a hard work, because if the movement is not perfect, the employer will say the photo is not good enough. Like in ballet, hands and feet must be perfect, it is difficult to see and choose the exact moment. I try to prepare myself a little, by visiting the dance rehearsals, in order to ‘foresee’ the picture which I am going to shoot. I do not like continuous shooting, like the one the sport photographers use, it is way too easy for me. Likewise, I never shoot with the autofocus, as I want to be in full control. And it is not the sharpness of the picture what counts the most, but the story behind it. Another difference is that dance photography is shot in a black box, with no context. Dancers are making the story, and in the street, it is the environment and ‘actors’ that are in it.
RSG: Which challenges do you see in photography and want to overcome?
MvO: In street photography you can to develop eye by doing it often. You are always searching for the perfect picture, but it is important to understand that it does not exist. I consider 35mm lense is perfect to tell a story, and also allows a photographer to be on a solid distance from the subjects, in a way, be part of it.
RSG: What potential do you see in street photography?
MvO: Now it is quite a little circle of people who are really fond of it it. Of course, there are iconic shots that everyone likes, but the majority of the photos are beautiful landscapes with the polished saturation. On the contrary, pure photojournalism is for me, the top of the bill, shots taken in dangerous situations, for example. And street photography is related to that.
RSG: Marcel, do you have some message you want to share with the reader, that you think is very important to know?
MvO: Know your camera. Do not hesitate about the weather, it is always nice. Try to develop an eye even when the camera is not with you. The story is the core.