INTERVIEW – Photographer behind ‘Humans of Amsterdam’
The City Of Life
Situated in Western Europe with bordering countries such as Belgium and Germany, Amsterdam is home to more than 820, 000 people. The city is known for many things like architecture, history, the kindness of the people and now, Humans Of Amsterdam.
Much like the now famous blog/website called Humans Of New York, photographer Debra Barraud captures Amsterdam at its finest and strangest. As Amsterdam is a large attraction for tourists with over 51 museums, fields upon fields of tulips, the food, the culture and the scenery, people from all over the world pass through the city every day.
We caught up with Debra to talk a little about what inspired her to start a “Humans Of…” blog and what she enjoys most about it.
Hi Debra how are you?
I’m good, Thank you! How are you?
What inspired you to start Humans Of Amsterdam?
In 2012 I was doing an internship in Tel Aviv for 8 months. During that period I discovered Humans of Tel Aviv. Later on I discovered Humans of New York and I fell in love with the concept. Even though I wasn’t living in Amsterdam at that time I still decided to open the Facebook page. This was in August 2012. I moved back to Amsterdam in September and I started posting photo’s in December 2012.
What do you enjoy most about photography?
The best thing about photography is that I get to meet people who I normally wouldn’t meet. They share their stories with me. I love to photograph people in their element, such as when people are at work or on their way home. I really feel I learn so much from the people who I photograph. When there is good chemistry between me and my subject, it always reflects in the photo. Those are the best pictures.
Where is your favourite place to photograph in Amsterdam and why?
(Laughs), many people ask me this question. I am going to sound a little strange, but I don’t really have one. As a photographer of this project the entire city is my playground. Every neighbourhood has its own kind of people; each part of town has different architecture. I love to work with graffiti walls in my photography.
What are some of the usual responses from people out on the street when you tell them you run an online photography blog?
Most people are interested and very supportive. Some people actually already know the blog which is pretty cool.
What is it about photographing strangers and writing down their stories that interests you so much?
The people who I photograph and the stories I write down make a great work of art. Because I collect them and I take their portrait and those stories are a part of a series, they all matter. Those stories, those humans; they transform the city into what it is. It shows the daily ups and down of humans who are living in Amsterdam. I love that in the end, we are all different and we should embrace that; but we are also very similar and we struggle with the same problems all over the world.
If you could travel around the world to another city and photograph “Humans Of….”. Where would it be and why?
There are so many places but I think I would choose Marrakech in Morocco. I have been there before and everything and everyone is photogenic, even the food! (laughs). I was there a few years ago and I took a portrait there of this friendly old Moroccan man with wrinkles in his face. We were not able to really communicate but his eyes really spoke to me.
Why do you think street photography has seen a resurgence in popularity in the recent years?
I think people like the combination between street portraits and stories. I feel that communication between people on the street is very limited. I think that’s why the concept of a story and photography is very popular. In some way it’s an indirect way of getting to know the people of a city.
Who has been the most interesting person to photograph and why?
Wow, that is a very hard question to answer! I have photographed many interesting people. But to chose one in particular, there was a boy who I met a few weeks ago who was pretty interesting. His name was Lukas (see photo above) and he came from Sweden. He was travelling the world barefoot. Now walking barefoot in Amsterdam is not that common. It can be very cold and wet but he had such a light spirit. I asked him if he had some time for me. We took a walk in the park and he told me how he had left his past behind and that this journey was all about living in the moment. His spirit was so light and warm. The photo and the story turned out great and was well received by the HOA audience.
What has been one situation where you have thought to yourself, ‘wow I wish I had done that differently’?
Not that much to be honest. Everything I did for the project I have learned from so it would be impossible to call them mistakes. I know my intentions have been good and honest all through the project. I do wished I used a bit more Photoshop in my first portraits. In the beginning I felt that using Photoshop was a bit like cheating. Now I use it on all my photos to adjust the contrast and colors.
Where do you hope to go with Humans Of Amsterdam and what do you see for the future of it?
Right now I am working on my own postcard line and exhibition. I hope I will be able to publish a book in one year. But my main focus now is to collect as many portraits and stories as I can.
What are five things you wish you had been told before beginning photography?
Not that much. I believe as a photographer you need a journey/process. By trying your best and making mistakes you will develop your very own style of photography. Everything I know about photography I have learned on the street and I am still learning every day.
If someone is travelling to Amsterdam for the first time, what is one place and one food they absolutely have to see and try?
If you are travelling to Amsterdam you should go to a market and eat a ‘Broodje Haring’. You can buy it on every market and it’s a white sandwich with raw haring, pickles and sliced unions. I am not sure if tourists will enjoy it but it something you should try at least once in your life.
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to start up their own “Humans Of..” but is hesitant about asking strangers if they’d like their photo taken?
Yes, when I started Humans of Amsterdam I was very hesitant to ask people to take their photos. So in the beginning I always went to the Dam Square which is in the centre of the city where many street artists perform. Those people are used to being photographed by tourists. This way you can get used to photographing people on the street. The first few times you will be scared to photograph people, but really the key is to be interested, nice and polite. I can assure you 9 out 10 people will be comfortable being photographed by you.