“The main problem of getting older is that you’re getting closer to life-events that are not so pleasant – your own death as a grand finale.”
Maarten van Riel
Maarten van Riel (born in 1982) is a Dutch historian with a passion for photography. One year before he turned 30 years old, he decided to document the road to that “Wendepunkt” (turning point) of his life – one image per day. Once the big day had arrived, he kept on photographing. For Maarten van Riel photography is a way to remember.
Interview with Maarten van Riel
Maarten, what does age mean to you?
I’d like to say ‘nothing’, but I guess that’s rather cheap. The main problem of getting older is that you’re getting closer to life-events that are not so pleasant – your own death as a grand finale.
One year before you turned 30 you decided to take a picture each day until your birthday. You called that project “Wendepunkt”, turning point. Why is 30 a turning point to you?
I never thought of it as a turning point in life, but there were more and more reports of people who really got tangled up in life around the age of thirty. I wanted to see if life really was going to change around that age. Instead of writing a diary, I took photos to create a website as a digital monument for the year I turned thirty.
Is it special situations that you focus on? Or how do you determine which photos to include?
The impossibility to take a photo that ‘captures’ your day needs to be accepted. My project and photos are not a truly realistic reflection of my life. But off course it’s plain that when I post a photo of the sea, I was near the sea that day – the only info that includes the photo is date and place.
After you’d turned 30 you decided to continue with that project for the rest of your life.
It turned out that turning thirty was not a big thing for me, but that aging in general is more special. The main reason to continue the project was because my dad got cancer.
Looking at the pictures so far: What thoughts come to your mind?
That life in general is beautiful, but sometimes rather fucked.
At the beginning of each project one often has some kind of idea in mind as to what the result could be like. Sometimes that changes along the way and the result is quite different. Was that the case with “Wendepunkt”?
“…a truly historical document as well, covering the life of an ordinary man in the Western world.”
The “Wendepunkt” project would result in a website, as a (digital) monument for the year I turned thirty. Now it’ll be a photographic legacy when I die. Naturally, it would be great when I reach the age of 87 (or something near), because than “Wendepunkt” will be a truly historical document as well, covering the life of an ordinary man in the Western world.
You are a traditionalist, an analogue photographer enjoying film. Why?
1) The sound of the click.
2) The vivid colors.
3) The incapability to shoot ten thousand photos when I’m four days in Paris – you’ll need more than 277 films to reach that amount of photos.
Why do you consider it important to still be working the old-fashioned analogue way? And what can you learn from analogue photography that helps you to become a better digital photographer?
Analogue photography makes you more aware of what you’re doing – wait for the right moment, be patient, reconsider how the light will affect your photo. When you shoot digital, you can always check whether the light was good or not, which is obviously impossible with analogue. But when I take a photo, I know directly if it’s good or not. I trust my Minolta completely.
Susan Sontag once said “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own”. How has photography changed the way you look at the world and what have you learned about yourself throughout documenting your life one image a day?
“You might be a tourist in my world, but there’s no ‘Lonely Planet’ included.”
Sontag was not completely right. When you visit “Wendepunkt”, you might be a tourist in my world, but there’s no “Lonely Planet” included that explains the story behind the photos. For example: in the first year there were people who complemented me with my lovely daughter. But I don’t have any kids.
Every photographer is going through different stages in his formation. Which “landmarks” do you recall that have marked you and brought you to the place where you are today as a photographer?
That must be the day I decided to use the Minolta instead of my digital camera. And the day I decided to continue the Wendepunkt project until the end.