Meet Peter de Krom, a Dutch documentary photographer who decided it was time for a change and is undertaking a new profession redeveloping German bunkers from the Second World War. In his work, De Krom observes human behaviours and social groupings objectively and from afar, in a way that recalls a biologist’s view of the animal world. De Krom took a large part of his photographs in his hometown, a coastal village called Hoek van Holland (Corner of Holland), near the city of Rotterdam. It is in this same town that he’ll work to redevelop the bunkers for the purpose of ecotourism. I talked to Peter about this transition from observing the world, especially this corner of Holland, to taking a more proactive role in actually changing the landscape of the town.
I visited Peter a few times in Hoek van Holland and it was as if I was literally stepping into his photographs. He is leaving behind a great body of work, with lots of humor and sharp observations. A retrospective of Peter’s work is currently showing at the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam, and runs until May 24, 2020.
Hi Peter, thanks for taking the time. Why exactly did you decide to quit photography?
It was a combination of events. One of them was having to undergo surgery on my lower back. The cause was practicing my photography in the ambitious way I did. Especially in making my own free work. Like for example the Scootrangers series, for which I rode an old bike with my camera, flash, battery pack and a ladder on my shoulders. Some days I followed the group of mobility scooters for 40 kilometers, having to climb on and off of my bike and catch up with the group again. While I was recovering from surgery, which lasted for about a year, I had time to work on my other interest: The German Atlantikwall bunkers of the Second World War. After 20 years of just doing research about the history, I wanted to do something meaningful with the potential of this strange heritage.
Would you say that you need some change in your life once in a few years?
For me personally; apparently… I have been quite some things. Webdesigner, sound engineer, lighting engineer, photographer and now bunker developer. But with every opportunity I get, I try to apply the same creative brainwaves. And I always try to see and show what others don’t. I do hope though, that my new adventure with bunkers will last a long time.
Was observing and capturing not enough at a certain point, did you feel any powerlessness as a photographer?
To what extent has ‘being a photographer’ changed from the time you started your photographic career?
Well, in general. The sentence ‘being a photographer’ can now be applied to so many people… It’s almost like it has become a feeling, a trend or lifestyle. Everyone can say they are a photographer, because they think they are, not because there is a definition or standard. And that’s not always a bad thing. It’s good that we see the value of photography. But for me, photography became something too generic over the years. And StreetRepeat is actually a good example that shows that this even happens within street photography. For me personally it became quite annoying to hear at family birthday parties: “Oh, you are a photographer!? How cool, my aunt is a photographer and her baby pictures are amazing, do you take baby pictures!? Here wait, I will show you her Instagram”. Now with my new profession in German bunkers I don’t really have that problem any more…
Are there any warnings you would give to an aspiring photographer?
Well, don’t look too much at other photographers for inspiration! Enjoy it fully, but don’t copy it. Just ask yourself why it inspires you and what you would do differently. This helped me during art school, where they were constantly throwing names of artists at me. Look in this wonderful world full of clichés for something that everybody is still missing, but what is actually important or deserves a stage. People are relieved to be surprised by photography, especially since we see so many images in a single day.
Most memorable encounter
Running up a dune to photograph the police on horseback between ’the Meerkats’, finding a woman flashing her boobs to the police officer.
Strangest event you attended as a photographer
Puppy Play. People dressing up in leather dog suits to play and act like dogs.
A photo that symbolises you the most
Many ingredients of the Netherlands come together.
A photo / series you wish you would have done better
’War and Peace’. I wish I had focused more on the backstage area, where everyone was using camouflage nets to hide their modern caravans and cars.
The Scootrangers, which was the most fun story to make and still makes the most people happy when they see it.
Lack of patience with the series Meerkats and the migration I wanted to study for a few years. I was on national television with the subject in the first year I started to observe to group. The next year I wanted to make an 8-hour panoramic shot, so I rented a camera crew with 5 cameras for a lot of money. But then the group was only half the size, probably because I scared them away with my presence. I never used this material.
Disregarding my physical health
Favourite photography assignment
My own column ’Being Free’. For the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, I travelled through the Netherlands to find out how the Dutch spend their free time. I focused on group activities that helped people breaking out of their daily life.
I also loved the assignments for NRC Handelsblad together with Freek Schravesande and Carola Houtekamer. They are just one of the few journalists that get to make long reads. For which they sometimes spend a year on location, before printing the story. I would join them on their quest after the first few weeks and they would have set the mood for me. I was always received with wide open arms by the people they had spoken. And because of that I was sometimes able to take really intimate photos.
Most frustrating photography assignment
A big Dutch supermarket chain that asked me for ’a real documentary approach’ but in the end wanted to stage everything…
Your last photograph
Tractor pulling for the newspaper NRC
Biggest difference since you quit photography
I can now just look and remember instead of click and post. And it feels great.
Thanks a lot Peter!
Where to follow Peter de Krom
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