Kill your darlings and the art of selecting the right image

One of my first contact sheets made in 2000
One of my first contact sheets ever, made somewhere in 2000.

In the past photographers viewed their contact sheets and marked the images that were good enough to have a closer look at. From this point the selection was narrowed down to the desired iconic image and/or the lucky shot. Contact sheets always revealed that out of a roll of 36 exposures only a few photos worked out or sometimes not at all.

Now in the digital age, the first selection mechanism is the delete button. Mistakes are gone in the blink of an eye and will never be seen by another pair of eyes than yours. The exposures that pull through this carnage are not yet sure to survive the digital shredder. After another review round on a computer screen only a happy few remain. Well that is to say, there a ways more ‘keepers’ than in the age of contact sheets, since a gazillion more images fit on a memory card than on good old film.

When you are left with a smaller selection, tough choices have to be made. Which one has the ‘decisive moment’ to quote Henri Cartier-Bresson. Which ones have the best light, which ones have the right emotion, or which ones out of a bad batch are good enough to optimize (this also happens to you, don’t be afraid to admit it ;-).

After many conflicts with yourself, and sometimes bothering family members, you’ll end up with a few photos that will make it to the light of day. When you see the fruits of your work in printed form or on someone’s wall, you know that self-censorship pays off…

Found photo of miners in Cripple Creek

Cripple Creek miners
Cripple Creek miners

When you are at a thrift store, you sometimes see abandoned photo albums, family portraits, and wedding pictures from long ago. The reasons why these images are found there can be multiple, like the previous owner doesn’t have family to look after these when these have passed away. So there it is, someone’s past without any context: vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas.

I always feel a bit shy to go through these abandoned pictures, I feel myself looking into other peoples lives without their consent. Voyeurism you may call it. On the other hand, I consider it a good thing that these pictures end up at a thrift store and not in a landfill or incinerator so that the labor of taking and development them was not for nothing.

Some people go through these abandoned pictures to find a new and unknown Vivian Mayer. The story of a collection of negatives and prints owned by an elderly lady that was bought at an auction by a publisher is well known: the publisher made loads of money and the great photos where saved from oblivion. I’m not hunting to find an undiscovered Mayer, but occasionally I find a photograph interesting enough to take it home.

I found this picture of miners at a thrift store/crafts center in Denver, Colorado. On the picture are six miners. From the look of their clothes, the tools and the look and feel of the photographic paper, this picture was taken around the turn of the 20th century. At the back of the picture it is written: “Hard rock crew Probably Cripple Creek, David Owens Dainell, jr in foreground”.

In the Cripple Creek region were many gold mines. Working conditions where harsh. Mining accidents were very common and when you where not killed by falling rock, the dust from the mining gave you a lethal lung disease. The hydraulic drill was nick-named a widow maker because of the dust particles that where released while using it. Protective masks where not common at the time.

In 1890 gold was discovered in Cripple Creek and by 1900 there were over 500 mines operating in the district. The great wealth coming out of the mines turned Cripple Creek into a bustling and prosperous city of over 35,000 people. 75 Saloons and numerous brothels parted miners from their pay. Like most mining boomtowns, Cripple Creek’s mining days were over by World War Two and the population of Cripple Creek shrunk dramatically to ghost town proportions. Cripple Creek has been reborn as a tourist and gambling center in the 1990’s.

More than 100 years later a random person finds an abandoned picture, takes it home to Amsterdam and writes a blog about it. Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas.

Big trees!

The coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), is earth’s tallest tree. When you look carefully in the middle of the picture, you see a tiny deer. This dear was about 4 feet (1.20 m) high, so you can imagine the size of these ancient trees.

Sunlight shining through redwood trees at the Muir Woods National Monument. The coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), is earth’s tallest tree. When you look carefully in the middle of the picture, you see a tiny deer. This dear was about 4 feet (1.20 m) high, so you can imagine the size of these ancient trees. It felt like a trip to the dinosaur age.

Back in 2001

Melkhandel Nieuw Leven in 2001
Melkhandel Nieuw Leven in 2001

Back in 2001, I was doing a project on keepers of small shops for my photo course. Last week ‘Melkhandel Nieuw Leven’ on Prinsengracht closed after 70 years. As a memory, I gave the owner Jan van Beek this picture that I made 14 years ago. He absolutely loves it. Jan is going to enjoy his retirement. The shop that looks like a museum will be renovated and used as an apartment.

Back from Vlieland


Waddenzee, Posthuiswad Vlieland.

The Wadden Sea is an intertidal zone in the southeastern part of the North Sea. It lies between the coast of northwestern continental Europe and the range of Frisian Islands, forming a shallow body of water with tidal flats and wetlands. It is rich in biological diversity.

At the end of June 2009, the Wadden Sea was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site.