IN CONVERSATION WITH MAARTEN VROMANS
Through his photography, Maarten Vromans takes us on a visual journey as he travels from one place to another. Be it on foot, by boat or train, Maarten methodically records the altering terrain in his passage of time, building memories that will last forever. This could be the eroded buildings in an anonymous urban setting, but also the untouched landscape of a remote region, or the infinite distance on unspoiled open water. "Movement," states Maarten, "is always at the heart of my work and methods". He likes to move through transition areas such as the no-man’s land between residential, commercial and working environments, or, between built-up, cultivated and untouched areas. There Maarten will be, in places that appear that no longer belong to anyone, creating photos that are tranquil, abstract and picturesque, and in which the subject always remains recognisable.
“I don't want to come to a standstill. Movement, in every way, is essential in my work and methods.”
What draws you to photography and art? How did your journey into photography begin?
As a child, I was always busy creating things. This could be drawing futuristic cars, building an ever-growing Lego town or redecorating my bedroom – which became an almost weekly exercise. As a teenager, I was planning a career as a painter, photographer or graphic designer. I was admitted to art school, but after only four months of attending classes I switched courses and eventually graduated as a journalist. For the past twenty years I’ve been working as a copywriter and creative in all kinds of organizations.
During this time my interest in painting and graphic design slightly faded, but my ambition to improve my photographic skills became stronger. In 2014, I decided it was time to explore whether my lifelong dream of becoming a photographer and showing my work in a gallery could become reality. When walking through the city of Rotterdam, where I lived from 2001 until 2019, I started working on what would become my ‘Urban Erosion’ series, a project in which I explored the impact that people, nature and weather have on urban development. By the end of 2017 the gallery that just started representing me sold my first work during an international art fair in Amsterdam.
Currently, I live in Delft, a small town in the Netherlands. At this very moment I’m working on a monograph of my Urban Erosion series and I’m also creating a special edition box set containing prints from my Urban Erosion² series.
From Project 'Urban Erosion'
You state that “movement’ is at the heart of your work and methods”. Describe how this word inspires your projects?
I never work in a studio. I always go out to take photos. And when I do, I’m always on the move.
For my photo series ‘Lucky Shots’, and for the successors ‘Go West’ and ‘No Horizon’, I was travelling by train, taking pictures of the landscapes that I passed by. The results clearly show that I, as a photographer, am moving with a certain speed while taking shots. As such, "movement" is inherent to all the images in these series.
Top: Project 'Lucky Shots', Middle: Project 'Go West', Bottom: Project 'No Horizon'
When shooting my series ‘Urban Erosion’ and ‘Urban Transition’, I’m always wandering to find perfect locations in the no-man’s land between residential, commercial and working environments. "Moving" through these built-up, cultivated and untouched areas is part of the process of creating these series.
Top: Project 'Urban Erosion', Bottom: Project 'Urban Transition'
Your Instagram gallery feels like a visual journey, your passage of time and building memories. Do you see your world differently now, then you did when you first started out in photography? If so, define that new vision.
Thank you for your kind words about my Instagram gallery. Yes, I definitely look at the world differently since I’ve started working on my photo series. I simply can’t stop seeing anymore. Or stop framing. Wherever I go, I’m always on the lookout to find suitable locations for my ongoing ‘Urban Transition’ series, the sequel to the ‘Urban Erosion’ series. I’m on all the time – and I like it.
Top Row: (from left) Project 'Urban Erosion', Project 'Lucky Shots', Project 'Urban Transition'; Middle Row: (from left) Project 'Lucky Shots', Project 'Urban Erosion', Project 'No Horizon'; Bottom Row: (from left) Project 'Urban Erosion', Project 'Go West', Project 'Urban Transition'
What was the first camera you ever held in your hand, brought to eye, and released a shutter on? What is the camera you use now? Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography?
My parents got me my first camera in 1990. It was an analog point and shoot Fuji FZ-5, with a fixed 35mm lens. I still have it today, although I haven’t used it since 1993. The Fuji didn’t offer me much to learn in terms of controlling a camera. But it did teach me the most important skill I needed as a photographer: how to frame a picture. I’ve switched camera’s a few times since then, until 2018 when I bought a slightly used Sony A7R. I have a Sony 35mm 1.8 lens glued to it. I love the looks of this combination, I’m in full control off it and I’m planning to use it for many years to come.
From Project 'No Horizon'
What has been your most memorable moment as a photographer?
*Laughs* In 2018 I was travelling from New York to San Francisco to shoot my ‘Go West’ series. I had prepared that project very well, yet the first 24 hours of my trip turned out to be a total disaster. All the photos I took were disappointing. The batteries of my equipment were dying, due to malfunctioning power outlets in my coach. And my train was delayed for more than three hours, which meant I was in danger of missing my connecting train in Chicago.
I was close to giving up. I phoned my girlfriend back home in the Netherlands and she urged me to carry on. I did and everything changed for the better. I caught my connecting train. Was able to recharge my equipment. And after another day of non-stop travelling, the train drove off into the Rocky Mountains – with me still on it of course. With the landscape that revealed itself from that moment on, I was finally able to create a photo series that stood out from my earlier Lucky Shots project.
Had I given up in Chicago, my ‘Go West’ series would not have existed. I'm also pretty sure I wouldn't have travelled to Switzerland to create the sequel series ‘No Horizon’ in 2019. After successfully completing those photo series, I am convinced that I can also overcome any setbacks when making my future projects.
From Project 'Go West'
Do you have any favorite photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?
Where do I begin? I admire how Awoiska van der Molen, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Misha de Ridder and Teo Becher are capable of capturing the atmosphere of desolate landscapes. And I love how Bert Danckaert, Marleen Sleeuwits, Filip Dujardin and Rowan Hutchinson find beauty in spaces and cities.
What are some of your most favorite spots you find inspiration to explore through your photography, and what draws you there?
Everywhere I go, I like to visit museums and galleries with a strong focus on photography. Like Huis Marseille in Amsterdam, or the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam. I also love to collect small photography booklets brought to the market by small, independent publishers, such as Another Place Press, Café Royal Books, The Modernist, Multi Press or The Velvet Cell. Publications that have landscapes or urbanscapes as their main subject, always attract my attention. I usually discover those small publications at art and photo book fairs.
From Project 'No Horizon'
Are there any other photographic projects you are working on, or have planned in the near future?
Currently I am working on my ongoing ‘Urban Transition’ series, which I started at the beginning of 2021. Whenever the weather is cloudy, I like to wander around Dutch cities such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Delft, and capture the layered history of buildings I come across. I am also working on a new project. I want to sail across the Atlantic Ocean in 2023 to create a new photo series. In the next few months, I’ll start developing a new visual language and I’ll also be on the lookout for some funding.
Top: Project 'Urban Erosion'; Bottom: 'Urban Transition'
Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
I hope that within five years my work can be on show in one of my favorite museums. I also hope that I can continue to develop as a photographer, by getting started with challenging projects. I don't want to come to a standstill. As said; movement, in every way, is essential in my work and methods.
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
I still like to play with Lego. And I still love redecorating my living room - driving my girlfriend crazy sometimes. Last but not least I really like to visit remote destinations like Spitsbergen, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.”