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Otto Snoek – ‘Wonderment is my signature’

Partying. Shopping. Eating. This is how Otto Snoek prefers to depict the people he photographs. Snoek doesn’t judge – even though his subjects don’t always look too good in his pictures. Earlier this week, I interviewed this trendsetting photographer about In Stock: Rotterdamse Fotografie, the exhibition that he has curated together with Michelle-Aimée and that shows the rich photo collection of Kunstuitleen Rotterdam. 


Hometown by Otto Snoek is for rent at Kunstuitleen Rotterdam /// More on

Hometown by Otto Snoek is for rent at Kunstuitleen Rotterdam

It must be very special for a photographer to organize his own photo exhibition!

Yes, it is! There’s a lot of attention worldwide for photography at the moment, and the same goes for Rotterdam. There’s the Rotterdam in the Picture – 175 Years of Photography in Rotterdam exhibition at the Nederlands Fotomuseum for example – an exhibition I’m also part of by the way. But what many people don’t know, is that throughout the years Kunstuitleen Rotterdam has built a collection of photography that is equally impressive and that I could use to make my my own selection. The photograph’s I’ve chosen are all for sale or  rent, so the exhibtion changes constantly.

How do you go about organizing your own exhibition?

The collection of Kunstuitleen is really gigantic. I was very happy with the help of the archivists. They know where to find the hidden treasures of the collection like no other. It turned out that part of my favorite Rotterdam photographs had been rented out, but of course that’s par for the course. But even with the many works that were still available, I could give a beautiful overview of what Rotterdam-based photographers have used as their subject throughout the years.

Otto Snoek street photographer /// More on

The Hoogstraat in Rotterdam according to Otto Snoek

Are you happy with the result?

Absolutely! In the end it has turned out into a very accessible and egalitarian exhibition. I’ve managed to leave my own taste at the door. Instead, I focused on the intention of the photographer. During my search, I found back my love for all the analogue craftsmanship that all these photographers have used through the ages. I found it interesting to look at it that way, particularly when you consider that there’s still a lively discussion going on in the world of photography whether we should with film or digitally.

All is Vanity by Michelle-Aimée van Tongerloo /// More on

A photo from the series All is Vanity by Michelle-Aimée, who curated the exhibition together with Otto Snoek.

For In Stock: Rotterdamse Fotografie you chose work by young photographers like Iris van Gelder and Milan Boonstra. Some of their work is quite daring!

Yes, nudity is a very prominent theme with new photographers. I think this comes from a new interest in the physical, the personal. Looking at the work of all those young photographers I’ve selected, I see the spirit of a generation. But photography will always remain somewhat elusive, images don’t let themselves be expressed in words.

Milan Boonstra /// More on

Milan Boonstra one of the young photographers Otto Snoek selected for In Stock.

Your own work is very recognizable. You take pictures of people in the street while they’re partying, shopping or eating. Not everyone looks at their best in your work. Do you ever feel embarrassment about the way you depict your subjects?

I guess it’s wonderment rather than embarrassment. My love for people goes pretty far. It’s unconditional. The wonderment I feel when I’m working is my signature.

How do people react when they see you at work?

A tall man like me is pretty visible with a camera. On a busy street, I often face the oncoming crowds. People who walk towards me immediately see I’m doing something different, especially when I use my flash. The distrust can be a bit much at times, sometimes people even use slurs. I notice people are more media savvy nowadays.


Otto Snoek street photographer /// More on

A photo from the series ‘Why Not’ by Otto Snoek

What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?

I got beaten a couple of times. And kicked. Often by well-dressed people who you least expect it from. I try to stay out of conflicts, but sometimes even I don’t know when some people snap.

So how do you determine the best image out of all the pictures you take?

I never do that one the same day. I use a pretty long ripening period. In fact, I often wait for a month of so before I have my film processed. I loook at the negatives and then scan a small selection that I use to make my final choice. Right after I’m done photographing, I often have what I call an ‘after image’ in my head – a shot that immediately makes me go ‘Yes! This will make for a great photo!’


Hometown (Supporterstribune) is now for rent at Kunstuitleen Rotterdam /// More on

Hometown (Supporterstribune) is now for rent at Kunstuitleen Rotterdam.

 Everyone posts pictures on Facebook and Instagram nowadays. As a photographer, how does that make you feel?

Sometimes I think my own field of work is being swept away, there’s so much static out there! On the others hand it’s also nice to see that photography gets so much attention at the moment. It makes for more interesting discussions. The reactions I get about my work are motivated a lot better. I think all that interest in photography is not a fad. And in the end it’s still possible to rise above the crowd as a good photographer.

How do you accomplish that if you’re just starting out a photographer?

Of course you have to experiment with different styles and techniques in the beginning. But in the end you have to learn to stay true to yourself. It’s about your own authenticity. Technically, just about everything has been invented so that’s not what it’s about. But today’s world has become so complex that there are always new themes to explore.


Rotterdam in the Picture

The exhibition In Stock: Rotterdamse fotografie is linked to Rotterdam in the Picture | 175 of photography in Rotterdam. This exhibition at the Nederlands Fotomuseum gives a broad overview of both the city and the photo’s that have been taken since the invention of the medium.

In Stock: Rotterdamse fotografie 
24 January – 17 May 2015 at Kunstuitleen Rotterdam. Entrance is free.



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