Where are you from and how did you get into street photography?
I am from the Netherlands, and about to return there after a stint of over 19 years working in the Philippines for Asian Development Bank. I only got (back) into photography 4 years ago, early 2017, being into ‘GoPro-type’ time lapses initially. I found quickly however that I like people photography more. If you don’t want to hire models and prefer photographing interesting parts of contemporary Asian life surrounding you, then you will quickly be relegated to street photography, markets, traffic, street parades, churches, and the tourist sites.
What brought you to the Philippines and what do you like about street photography there?
I have had a career in development work, which led me to work in projects and with organizations in Sudan, Lebanon, and a long stint in Pakistan, before getting a job with ADB in the Philippines. This job also regularly made me travel to other Asian countries, and I could have had a lot more street photography had I started becoming serious about this earlier.
Visiting many countries, it leads you to compare the solutions in terms of employment, business, markets, cultures, beliefs and transportation found in all these different countries. The variety is just amazing, and photos taken on the same subject in different countries give an extra dimension to the solutions and interpretations found. I realize I was privileged in being able to visit many countries for work. By the way, the Philippines has many street festivals that are as creative if not more than Carnaval is in Brazil (though I have never been there).
I’m fascinated by your series on modes of transportation at the top of your photostream. Can you tell me more about why you started that series?
My wife is Thai and I am very familiar with Thailand. Tuk-tuks, like pedicabs, jeepneys and trikes in the Philippines, and the iconic decorated Bedford trucks in Pakistan are simply very conspicuous aspects of popular culture in these countries that I know so well. The vehicles are important artistic expressions of local culture, and they may at some point disappear as technology and economies change. Apart from that, driving a vehicle or being transported by it brings out a certain peace, surrender, intimacy and self-absorption in people that is very addictive for me in photographing. Then also the surprise drivers or passengers display at being photographed in these cocoons of intimacy and oblivion is often priceless. The subject of transportation is sometimes a good excuse for me to photograph people ‘in their element’. At the same time it is not about the people themselves, it is about portraying a certain way of being in a particular context, so I hope the people photographed won’t mind being caught in this very private situation.
Where is your favorite place to take photographs and why?
My favorite place is along the road indeed; people in vehicles pass by and have no time or opportunity to react negatively – it is safe in that sense. Situations are endless, a rich source of good materials. I have a dream of a book of Asian typical means of transportation and portraying also the people as they use these means. Unfortunately, my job in Asia is ending. Last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I did not have much chance to travel in Asia – I still have an agenda, things I want to do, countries to visit, as I only caught a glimpse of the variety of typical Asian and national vehicles (and boats).
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in street photography and how have you overcome them?
I have not encountered big challenges except lack of time as I have been employed full time in a bank. I am increasingly concerned about putting online my pictures if they have people in them. My excuse is that it is not about the individuals themselves, my work is more like a series of documentaries, in which people also figure, to represent local culture. But nevertheless, posting pictures online is a concern from the angle of possible violation of privacy. Lack of time was a problem in the past, but as I am retiring from a busy job that should no longer be a problem. A current major challenge is the pandemic, which reduces opportunities for travel and for authentic photography of people, as they now wear masks and generally street life has changed.
What is your most memorable moment or photo from street photography?
There are many, but my discovery of the boudoir like cabins of Pakistani trucks was truly memorable. I had lived 7 years in Pakistan but had never seen the gaudy interiors of these flamboyant trucks until I came back 20 years later to photograph these trucks more seriously. It shows you such a different side of the also quite sober and spartan Muslim culture, how ‘culture’ will find a way even when many forms of the more usual art are not appreciated.
What has street photography taught you?
Street photography teaches me about the private worlds of people when they think they are unobserved. It is the privacy that a crowd offers on the street, the safety in numbers that allows people to be themselves. A lot of culture is on the street, and not only in touristic and more historical sites. In 30 years, the street will have changed and photography is a way of documenting changing local culture.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Walter and see more of his work, be sure to visit his Flickr photostream. This photographer was selected from our Flickr group (Street Photography Magazine), where we regularly choose photographers’ work to be published in our magazine.
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