On Quitting Photography: In Conversation With Peter de Krom

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.

 

‘Scootrangers’: The ‘Scootrangers Maassluis’ is a club consisting of 15 mobility scooter drivers ranging in age from 49 to 93. The group undertook tours to a great variety of destinations, including a vacation somewhere in the Netherlands once a year. Each trip has a maximum distance of 40 kilometres and a top speed of 12 kilometres per hour.
‘Timon’ – about a highly intelligent boy who is playing a war game in his neighbourhood. He is constantly looking for ways to bring his game closer to perfection.

 

Why did you (want to) become a photographer?
When I was working as a sound and lighting technician, I realised I still had four years of scholarship before becoming too old. And I wanted to have some higher education. During my free time and especially late at night, I was already taking photos in my hometown Hoek van Holland. Because of my work I was always up late, so I decided to photograph a coastal town during the night, where it is always light because of the greenhouses and industry. I started light painting in underground bunkers and in inside buildings still under construction. Then I realised, “Hey, maybe I am actually creative, why don’t I apply to art school”, while I was not that interested in art…
Hoek van Holland by night

 

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.

 

The Hague
‘Meerkats’: The meerkats (stokstaartjes) have been a phenomenon in Hoek of Holland for almost 40 years. They are characterised by posing completely naked on top of the dunes for long periods of time. From this position they observe their surroundings, looking for an exciting one-off encounter. Up to 2012, the meerkats could be found in the dunes behind the nudist beach. When this dune was closed however, it brought about a migration towards the more southerly located public beaches. Suddenly the meerkats found themselves very close to the hundred beach cabins and the young families staying there.This resulted in regular patrols by the mounted police. Since then, the group has slowly migrated back to the nudist beaches where a new sand dune has been developed.

 

Rotterdam
Petten aan Zee

 

Was observing and capturing not enough at a certain point, did you feel any powerlessness as a photographer?

It actually suppressed my urge to act for a long time. Especially with my personal work in Hoek van Holland. During the 5 years I decided to move back and make stories there, I saw the town becoming more and more ugly and monotone. For example, when 70 two storey high holiday houses were built in front of the dunes, exactly on the spot where I used to build fires as a kid with my dad and look at the ships. It made me mad and happy at the same time. I hated that new generations could not have that same experience as I did, but I loved this new backdrop for my photos. So I embraced it and thought: “Well, you decided to photograph five years of Hoek van Holland, take it as it comes”.
But now, yes. The passive side is gone and the same holiday houses made me decide to change Hoek van Holland a little bit. By digging up some bunkers behind these houses, and transforming them in to ecological holiday houses to make a statement with eco-tourism.

 

 

 

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…

 

From the series ‘Socle’, pictures of men placing their foot on a pedestal.

 

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.

 

Hoek van Holland

Overview

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.

 

Biggest success
The Scootrangers, which was the most fun story to make and still makes the most people happy when they see it.

 

Biggest failure
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.

 

Biggest regret
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

Website
Instagram
Exhibition at Kunsthal
Bunkers / Cocondo

 

© All the pictures in this post are copyrighted. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.



by Julie Hrudová, founder of StreetRepeat
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