“I am fascinated in documenting a specific ‘Zeitgeist’ of a particular city or culture. In my series of European cities, I try to answer questions like: how do citizens nowadays interact with each other? How do they use their city to enjoy life, make a living and go to work? Most of my series are ongoing projects.”
Derk Zijlker (born in 1982) is a street photographer currently based in Amsterdam (The Netherlands).
“As a street photographer I document real, unaltered impressions of people in public places. I like to observe human behavior and capture ordinary moments of daily life.
Like people traveling to work, enjoying life, or waiting for the bus. Most of my European cities series are long-term projects.”
Interview with Derk Zijlker
Derk, why did you become a photographer? And why street photography?
For a long time I have been interested in photography. I started with documenting my friends while skating and having fun. Later when I bought my first SLRcamera I began to explore the streets more often. I captured whatever I found interesting, mostly architecture and city landscapes. But after a while I got more involved in depicting people in public places. My goal became to capture special moments in one strong composition.
For me street photography is the most challenging form of photography. It’s a different way of acting and looking through the lens because you never know what to expect when you hit the streets. I really like this spontaneous element of street photography. It requires attention, patience, being invisible and a bit of luck.
What does photography mean to you and what do you want to say with your pictures?
As a social psychologist, I have a big curiosity in human behavior. To me, street photography represents the ultimate real-life field study to observe and document people in their natural (city) habitat. Beside I am also fascinated in documenting a specific ‘Zeitgeist’ of a particular city or culture. In my series of European cities, I try to answer questions like: how do citizens nowadays interact with each other? How do they use their city to enjoy life, make a living and go to work? Most of my series are ongoing projects.
What was your most memorable moment shooting pictures out on the streets?
Since the summer of 2012, I have been documenting the streets of Charleroi. Once a rich industrial town in the heart of Belgium, now an ex-steel town in decay. In 2010 Charleroi was voted ugliest city in the world. My most memorable moment here was winter of 2012, when I took a street portrait of two kids, around the age of 10. Both dressed up in Halloween costumes during daytime. The girl wore a clown costume and the boy a skeleton suit. They were playing in this dark depressive street.
Which photographer has inspired you most? In what way?
I got interested in street photography by 20th century heroes like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Brassai, Metzker, Kertesz and Atget. I was really inspired by these photographers because of their quest for the decisive moment, their strong black and white compositions and focus on geometry, shapes, lines and shadow play. In the last years, I got inspired by documentary photographers like Martin Parr, Saul Leiter and dutch artists Ed van der Elsken, and Thomas Manneke.
What’s you favorite quote about photography?
The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.
How would you describe your photographic language and creative process?
For me street photography is a way to leave the daily noise behind me. It makes me happy and I find it very exciting. When I shoot in the street, I observe a lot. I try to keep my eyes open and maintain a 360 degrees view. But spotting interesting people or events is not enough to make a nice photo; you have to feel what you photograph. I try to feel and capture the energy of a specific moment. To be successful I try to be invisible while I shoot.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
Technically: In photography I keep it simple. I only use a 50mm or 28mm lens, normal daylight and no flash. After being used to a specific lens, I find it easier to make strong compositions. In post production I try to keep my photos as real as possible, so I don’t use too much Photoshop.
Conceptually: My photography style has changed in the last two years. My previous style was more about geometry, shapes and lines than about the subject or the story behind the photo. Now I have found a personal documentary style that feels more real. I try to shoot more close, and dynamic. I want my pictures to be well observed but at the same time have a strong emotional component. Documenting memorable scenes among the flow of everyday life.
What qualities and characteristics does a good street photographer need?
You need a lot of patience, perseverance and courage. To become a good street photographer you have to find your biggest drive and ask yourself: what gets me motivated to go out and shoot at any time? Which subject do I find interesting? Those questions help me to focus more on my story I want to tell.
What does a photo need to be a great street shot?
It depends what you like and find important. To me a good street shot can a well thought out decisive moment or just a quick snap shot. A great street shot is spontaneous, makes you wonder and is inspiring.
What’s the biggest challenge shooting on the streets?
Overcoming your fear of getting close to your subject, being invisible when you shoot and finding your own unique style.
What kind of camera and equipment do you use?
Digital: Canon 5D, 50mm and 28mm lenses.
Analog: Canon AV-1 and Olympus Mju.
What’s your favorite websites about street photography?
There are several sites I enjoy. Just to name a few: In-Public, American Suburbx, and Eric Kim’s Blog.
What book about photography would you recommend?
I would recommend the book “Early Color” by Saul Leiter. His vision is founded on a rapid eye for absorbing spontaneous events. For me Saul Leiter is the creator of color street photography.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a street photographer?
Find your source of inspiration to get you started. Buy, rent or search for (online) photos, books, documentaries, movies etc. about street photography. Ask yourself; who is my favorite street photographer, why do I like him/her so much? What kind of pictures do I want to make? Why do I like those particular photographs. In short get inspired, prepared and just go out and hit the streets, enjoy!