Today, I went to a rock ‘n roll event in Amsterdam, organized by the Cruise Inn Rock ‘n Roll Café, where I met Gert Hilhorst. I first photographed him in 1979 and one of his portraits ended on the cover of the Soft Cover book Rockers, published this year. I just had to make a photograph of him holding the magazine.
One of my favorites, I had the honor to photograph for Harley K. Winn for Norden Magazine. There is a poster of her too. Harley started out on TikTok where she has an incredible amount of followers and after the lockdowns she started doing gigs. She is one of the rising stars in the Drag scene now. Almost overnight. You have to see her to understand why. She is all energy and very creative.
As a young photographer, I would rarely photograph women. Even then, my main theme was everything related to gender. I would photograph friends or partners.
I was madly in love with Maureen. Differences drove us apart. Skin color or culture had nothing to do with that. While I was reading books by authors like Miller, Céline and Flaubert, she was only interested in Vampire comics. Anything that involved cruelty, actually. I would have understood that now, but it estranged me then. Occasionally, she woke me up by touching my skin with a burning cigarette.
I was heartbroken when she left.
A friend met her later on. She had two or three children and her mother was with her, and she told him that I would have been a better partner for her. I sincerely doubt that. I have very rarely been the better choice for women.
I brought some lighting equipment and a backdrop to the UNCENSORED exhibit at NDSM-fuse and did some photo shoots with an audience, which was fun. I will post a video in the news section, once the material has been edited.
Drag Queen Starlet A.J. Heartstone was the first to stand in front my camera. It was his/her first photo shoot and I was amazed how well she responded to the camera and the audience.
Sometimes you get lucky. For years I tried inviting Drag Kings to my studio. Somehow it never happened and then one day I ran into Di Luca.
For those of you who have no clue what Drag King stands for, let me explain. A Drag King is the opposite of a Drag Queen, a performance artist who dresses in women’s clothing and often acts with exaggerated femininity. So, Di Luca is a female artist dressing up as a man.
The beard is not done with make-up. This is her actual top hair, collected after cutting, glued to her cheeks.
I have not updated my site since June 2018 and there is a reason for that. In June 2018 my mother, age 87 fell ill and I decided to take care of her for at least two days a week. So, I had a hard time getting my actual work done and there was little or no time left for promotion.
This picture is part of series of six for the Dutch Drag House #AbsolutelyDrag. They will be competing with other Drag Houses in May at Superball 2019 in Paradiso Amsterdam.
As a young photographer, I was pretty confused. I guess most young people are confused in one way or another. My mother was a war victim, my father a loving but somewhat depressed alcoholic, and as far as I know I was doing pretty good until a horse accident at age twelve crippled me. It was not so much the handicap that bothered me. It was the way other people dealt with my handicap that nearly drove me insane. I won’t go into detail about my adventures with medical doctors, nurses, teachers etc. but all these experiences resulted in a profound disgust of authority and what is or was to be considered normal.
Looking back on it all and awaiting two new operations indirectly resulting from that same accident in 1967, it seems so obvious why I chose to become a studio photographer instead of traveling around the globe as most young ambitious photographers would do. I had enough problems walking straight, so carrying equipment around was not really an option for me.
This hatred of everything that is to be considered normal also guided me towards the subjects I photographed. People who were all but middle of the road. People like me, although I did not yet understand that at the time. Like most people suffering from psychological problems I thought I was sane while the rest of the world was insane. John Lennon once wrote a beautiful line: One thing you can’t hide / Is when you’re crippled inside.
It took me decades to come to terms with who I am and once I finally got to that point in my life my photographs started to change dramatically. Color was introduced in abundance. And I became fascinated with people who could dance or play soccer. All these things I had wanted to ignore because I could not participate.
Some time ago I was doing a video on the Amsterdam School of Burlesque and while setting up my camera a dancer was practicing on stage. I looked at her movements and I was fascinated. These were the precise and elegant moves of a professional ballerina and as I found out later she was in fact just that.
Of course, I had to photograph her in the studio and to my surprise, she said yes and we did a photo shoot with the top hat and the black tutu. After she left I looked at the stick I use on days that I cannot walk at all and regretted not having that stick in the picture because it fitted in perfectly. So we redid the shoot and this is the result.
At times, I have to remind myself that it is not completely true when I say I am a portrait photographer at heart. I may have started out as a portrait photographer, but by directing the models I photograph, I distance myself from what a real portrait should be – an objective image of the person portrayed. Of course, I am very much aware that there is no such thing as pure objectivity in photography, but asking people to make specific dramatic gestures does not fit in what we call portrait photography.
So what is my role in photography, I often ask myself. Is this glamour photography? Not really although I do my best to make people look good in a picture. Glamour is all about trying to reach broad audiences through creating larger than life images. In many directories I am listed as a fine art photographer, but I have changed over the last few years. I am slowly going back to where I started out with the Rockers series. An art critic called me an amateur anthropologist as that series first came out. Maybe that is true or maybe I just like the idea. I guess once there are no questions left I will stop doing what I do.
Model: Obesia Grandé
1977, Utrecht. It would be nice to say that I was working my way through college by working different jobs, but in fact I didn’t see much of the Art Academy. I had random jobs. I would also work as a photographer for the Adonis Bar, a gay club situated at the city’s main canal Oude Gracht.
Occasionally I had a job at a factory producing toothpaste and I even managed to keep a steady job at UFAC, the main photo laboratory of the city for a few months. Mostly however, I was diverting my time between getting drunk at student parties or hustling the local gay scene. A young man or boy with acceptable looks and a diverse sexuality truly is blessed in this world.
Soon I became the main photographer of the Adonis Bar and I would be summoned in the middle of the night by Henny the Hairdressser (middle) or Plumeau, the local Drag Queen celebrity. They would ask me to document just about every adventure they embarked on. Such as this nightly ride in a carriage rented from a company specializing in wedding ceremonies.
Much like today, this was not without danger. They were sitting high and dry, and I was running along the pavement to capture the glamour of it all. I was charging one guilder for each photograph they liked. I have had worse jobs in my life.
© Hans van der Kamp – Model: Astrid N.