Street Photography

Kalverstraat duo

Kalverstraat duo

Once in a blue moon I spend an afternoon with John Melskens, one of Amsterdam’s finest street photographers. We don’t go that far into the city and we don’t spend more than one or two hours, but we always come back with something interesting.

These results I usually post on my street photography site hvdk.com as a complete series. Yesterday we went out with a different goal in mind. I was going to make a short film of him at work.

It was fun, but after filming for about an hour I wanted to take some photographs too. I took three and there was one I liked so I am posting it here instead of on hvdk.com where I tend to post larger series. Soon I will be posting the video after the editing is done in this same category, that is of course if the final product is any good.

Working as a photo journalist

Make-up © Hans van der Kamp

Make-up © Hans van der Kamp

I started out as an assistant portrait photographer and I liked that job. When the contract ended there was this job opportunity in advertising. The pay was good but I never really got used to the art directors and the marketing people who without exception seemed to think of themselves as godlike creatures.

So, I quit and started working for a Dutch weekly in 1977. One of my first assignments was to photograph heroin hookers working in the vicinity of Rembrandt Square.

I was very young and inexperienced, so I really had a hard time approaching heroin prostitutes on the street to ask them to pose for me. One of them finally gave in on the condition I would score some heroin for her. I was so shy that once we got to work I photographed her in the mirror while she was doing her make-up.

Herbert Gentry

Herbert Gentry - © Hans van der Kamp

Herbert Gentry

Artist Herbert Gentry (1919-2003) made vibrant expressionist paintings of figures and faces, mixing global influences and African American experience. Referring to his childhood during the Harlem Renaissance, Gentry asserted ‘Harlem prepared me for Paris.’ After completing military service in World War II, Herb Gentry returned to Paris for art school – and found himself in the heart of the expatriate American community in Montparnasse. Gentry moved to Scandinavia in 1959, but always kept a studio in Paris. In 1969, he returned to New York and became a resident of the famous Hotel Chelsea. At home on both continents, Herbert Gentry resided, painted and exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic. His work is represented in important national and international museum collections.
[ source: HerbertGentry.com ]

Looking at this portrait of Herbert Gentry with a friend of whom I have unfortunately forgotten the name I can see now how much I was influenced by American photographers at the time. The Hotel Chelsea looks quite seedy on this particular picture but at that time this was one of the better rooms. There were cockroaches everywhere and Mr. Bard proprietor of the hotel had a hard time convincing people that ‘nobody ever died in this hotel’. Despite the deaths of Dylan Thomas and later Sid Vicious’ lover Nancy Spungen and many others. Although we have to give Mr. Bard some credit for the fact that most were pronounced dead on the way to or in a hospital nearby.

René Shapsak

René Shapsak © Hans van der Kamp

René Shapsak © Hans van der Kamp

Born 1899 in Paris, René Shapsak studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, London, Bruxelles, emigrated to South Africa in 1932 or 1934, lived in Johannesburg (47 Saunders Street, Yeoville – where he held art classes for many years), executed numerous commissions, was committee member of the Transvaal Art Society, Johannesburg, 1937; left for the USA in 1954, his wife Eugenie and sons Leon, Maurice and Paul followed in August, 1955, the family staying for years at the famous Hotel Chelsea, with an atelier nearby at 219 7th Ave corner 23rd Street, New York NY. [source: Art Archives South Africa ]

Dr. René Shapsak was photographed by me in the Hotel Chelsea in 1981, four years before he died in 1985. Very few have heard of this artist. Yet he did sculptures of Mahatma Chandi and John Cecil Rhodes in Great Britain. His work of Ellen Church Marshall, the American Florence Nightingale, stands in the headquarters of United Airlines in Chicago, and Bas-Reliefs of her are in the leading air terminals throughout the United States and around the world. The State of Israel has acknowledged with gratitude Dr. Shapshak’s sculpture of former President Harry S. Truman, which is in the Israeli Parliament Building.

Surely Dr. Shapsak was not an easy man to deal with. He was a teacher at heart. He told me many interesting stories about the people of his time like Arthur Rubinstein, Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. But to listen to him I had to get up extremely early in the morning, refrain from smoking and have breakfast with him at the Greek coffeeshop at the corner of 23rd Street. I still own the recordings I made during these breakfast meetings.

Hotel Chelsea

Hotel Chelsea © Hans van der Kamp

Hotel Chelsea © Hans van der Kamp
When I was young my biggest dream was to go to New York. I had read so much literature and had seen so many movies about New York, that I just had to go there and finally I went at age 25 thanks to an assignment for a Dutch magazine to interview and photograph the legendary photographer Art Kane.

I also knew where I was going to stay: the Hotel Chelsea. Not because of the Sex Pistols staying there occasionally, not because of the Grateful Dead, Charles Bukowski or William S. Burroughs. No, just because of one Leonard Cohen song entitled Chelsea Hotel:

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel / you were talking so brave and so sweet / giving me head on the unmade bed /while the limousines wait in the street

That was the life to live, at least in the perception of a 25 year old photographer. I never got to see the limousines in the street. 23rd Street at that time was not a very classy place to be, but I did enjoy my stay there tremendously.

Aged to Perfection – N.

N. by Hans van der Kamp

N. by Hans van der Kamp
One of my favorite series is the one called Aged to Perfection. Why? Well, I get to photograph women of my own age and that is fascinating on many levels. First of all; with a lot of years experience behind me I find it almost too easy to photograph younger women and men, because they often look so perfect and in shape that they are works of art themselves.

What is interesting is that I receive a lot of praise in the media for my photographs of ‘older’ women, yet I have never sold one single photograph in that series. No, that is not true, I sold one in 2006. And it is not just praise I receive either. In 2004 somebody threw a brick through a gallery window in an attempt to destroy one of my photographs of an older woman. The person who threw the brick was a young female who later claimed that her action was justified because ‘older women should keep their clothes on’.

On another occasion Facebook deleted my whole profile because of two photographs in this same series. They don’t do that if you simply post two nude pictures. That is called ‘obscenity’ by Facebook clerks. I was ‘charged’ with ‘harassment’ instead – which is a reason good enough for them to delete the whole profile instead of just the two pictures.

Bill Haley – 1979

Bill Haley by Hans van der Kamp

Bill Haley by Hans van der Kamp

I am often asked if I have more photographs of the photo session with Bill Haley from 1979 and if there are any real vintage silver prints available. As for the latter, unfortunately not. I know there must be some afloat at magazines who never returned them, but I only have the negatives and one or two silver prints I would like to keep to myself.

Of all my negatives only about 10% has been scanned for digital printing. But apart from the square portrait of Bill Haley showcased on this site, I do have this other one posted below and I have set the limited edition to 50.

I like it a lot. He is relaxed. The security people were sent to wait outside. He is wearing his off stage glasses, rarely seen on publicity pictures.