TO AMSTERDAM AND BEYOND

Posted on November 28, 2010 8:04 pm Categorised in:

(This post has been in the works for some time now, so my apologies if it isn’t as thorough as it should be as the trip was some time ago. I’m finding out that my posts turn out better and more detailed, read: longer- if that’s actually is better, when I blog about the event immediately after or within a week or so, when the details are fresh. A lot has happened since this trip, but since it was so much fun, the details are still there. It is, however, a bit odd to blog about something that happened months ago, so my apologies in advance for what may be a series of single mis-placed thoughts and memories rather than clear and concise recounts of the happenings)

A little over 2 months ago, during the first few weeks of October, I got called to work in Amsterdam and Western Germany. I had not had a real chance to visit Europe since I lived there in the early 90’s so naturally I was very excited for the opportunity. I knew the trip would be a week or so of early mornings, long days, and lots of driving, but even though the trip was work-related, the team got to have some fun in-between shooting.

Lately, when I travel for business the majority of my images are taken with my iPhone 4, but this time I actually shot a bit of the personal/travel images with my Canon 5D mark II and a Canon 35mm 1.4L lens. I used a handful of other lenses as well, but for the personal and touristy stuff, the 35mm 1.4L is my go-to lens. When I’m on vacation I like to go the extra mile and take a few “fun” cameras such as a Polaroid or a Holga such as my trip to Ohio and Chicago this past Summer, but when its a business trip I tend to leave the toy cameras at home, unless the job calls for it.

I had never been to Holland or Germany before so I was thrilled to hear that those were the locations where we would be shooting. I don’t know much Dutch or German, but luckily most of the EU is English friendly. We worked a few days in Rotterdam, which is the industrial metropolis of The Netherlands. The mix between modern architecture and the buildings that still stand from centuries past is striking, especially coming from Houston where the majority of buildings were built within the last century. Seeing a cathedral built in the 1300-1400’s next to a high-rise with a very modern architecture is just crazy. The weather was cold and dreary with intermittent rain. The bike culture in Holland and really Europe in general is like nothing I have ever seen. Houston isn’t the most bike friendly city; I’m used to seeing the occasional group of cyclists, the scruffy bike messenger or the hipster on a fixed-gear, but what I saw in Amsterdam was on a completely different level. First of all, 99.9% of the bikes looked like worn-down, rusty, Soviet-issue models; no frills, no accessories, nothing…just a plain-Jane bicycle. The bicycle in Holland is a cheap and efficient means of transportation, not a statement of individuality or a trend as it seems it is here. Unfortunately (or fortunately) since we had a significant amount of gear, we did not have the opportunity of riding a bicycle, but we did get to enjoy a rather nice Volvo diesel wagon, which by European standards, was considered large.

After flying into Schipol airport in Amsterdam, the first few days of the trip were spent working in Rotterdam. After our work was completed in Rotterdam, we made some time to see some of Holland’s most famous attractions, the windmills. I would have loved to have been there while the tulips were in bloom, but even the dreary weather couldn’t dilute the magnificence of these marvels. The expansive canal system and the network of windmills was amazing to see, especially up-close and personal.

After a bit of sightseeing, we headed into Germany and onto the famous German Autobahn, which certainly lived up to the hype. Everyone on the Autobahn was driving generally 100+ mph, but there were no crazy race cars speeding around each other, simply a sort of controlled chaos. Yes, the speeds were excessive, but all of the drivers seemed to be maintaining these high speeds with ease. I forget what we got the Volvo up to, but we did hit the governed limit on several occasions.

Our few days in Germany were spent around Osnabrück, a little town in northwestern Germany, which we later learned was originally built at the request of Charlemagne around the year 780. As soon as we pulled in for the first time, we were in awe of the medieval architecture and overall mood of the bustling little village. The town center was cobblestone and surrounded by the remains of a fortified wall built in the 1200’s. The town was preparing for a celebration of some sort complete with fireworks that Saturday night. Luckily the view from my hotel balcony provided a nice view of the cathedral and the fireworks show.

The Fall foliage and general atmosphere of the German countryside was amazing. On our way out we detoured through Münster, which was equally beautiful. We spent some time in the town center and had a great time.

After a few more days back in Rotterdam, we headed into Amsterdam. We decided to spend our last day before heading out, exploring Amsterdam. We visited the Rijksmuseum, which is famous for it’s extensive collection of Rembrandts. The actual museum itself was beautiful, even though it was under construction at the time. We spent the rest of the evening exploring various parts of Amsterdam and marveling and the architecture and everything else the city has to offer.

After getting home and going through my images, I remembered that one of my old issues of National Geographic magazine, the January 1915 issue, featured a photo essay on Amsterdam and Holland by photographer, Emil P. Albrecht. After digging up that issue I was amazed when I saw that several of the images in the spread resembled images that I had taken at various places in Holland. The images in the magazine were taken sometime before 1915 and mine were taken at a few of the exact same locations about a century later, in 2010. It’s wild to see what changed and what has remained after almost 100 years.

Below you will find the scanned cover of the January 1915 issue of National Geographic magazine, a few side-by-side comparisons between the images, as well as a slide show of my favorite images from the trip. (Click on the image to view larger)

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC JANUARY 1915 ISSUE COVER

The scanned cover of my National Geographic January 1915 issue featuring a photo essay on Amsterdam.

OLD AND NEW COMPARISON 1 FEATURING PHOTOS BY TODD SPOTH

On the left, a photo of warehouses in Amsterdam by Emil P. Albrecht, taken around 1915; on the right, a similar image taken by Todd Spoth in October 2010.

OLD AND NEW COMPARISON 2 FEATURING PHOTOS BY TODD SPOTH

On top, a photo of Amsterdam’s inner harbor by Emil P. Albrecht, taken around 1915; below, a similar image taken by Todd Spoth in October 2010.

OLD AND NEW COMPARISON 3 FEATURING PHOTOS BY TODD SPOTH

On top, a photo of Holland’s famous windmills by Emil P. Albrecht, taken around 1915; below, a similar image taken by Todd Spoth in October 2010.

THE COVER OF FAIRWEATHER'S IF THEY MOVE KILL THEM LP

The cover of 2001’s “If They Move…Kill Them” the debut LP for the now defunct, post-punk band, Fairweather, that bears similarities to my photos of Holland’s windmills.