Contrasts in Amsterdam

Nesting by webmink
Nesting, a photo by webmink on Flickr.

I spent a half-day walking around the centre of Amsterdam following a speaking engagement. I can never decide how I feel about this city.

It’s a place with many scenes of great beauty – water, trees, long vistas with distant vanishing points, interesting and colourful buildings. Yet at the same time, there’s so much that’s ugly – prostitutes and the men looking for them, clouds of skunk-smelling smoke from seedy cafes and equally seedy passers-by, over-dense human population and the mess that accompanies it, endless junk food served by people with scorn for their customers.

Walking back to the station, I saw this swan nesting in the best material she could find in central Amsterdam. She seemed to me to sum up the paradox of the town – great beauty nesting in filth and making the best of it.

As a meta-comment on all this, my favourite photographer, Galen Rowell, explained in his book Inner Game Of Outdoor Photography that you can never photograph what you see, as it is always a montage of many views that your brain assembles from your eyes, and the camera lens can’t see the same thing. He recommended reflecting on the experience of what you see, envisaging an iconic image that sums up the experience and then photographing that when you see it.

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About Simon Phipps

Grizzled geek with eclectic tastes. Fanatical about freedoms, manic about music, radical regarding religion, particular about politics.

2 responses to “Contrasts in Amsterdam”

  1. Simon Phipps says :

    Reblogged this on Wild Webmink and commented:

    Will her cygnets be unable to breed if they can’t find garbage to nest in?

  2. patrickfinch says :

    As you know, my associations with the city are long, and the centre, as you describe, gets covered in litter and indeed, there is absolutely nothing glamorous about the Red Light district. But, the centre has great beauty and still struggles to maintain its alternative edge. Berlin these days is reminiscent of Amsterdam when I first moved there in the mid 90s.

    Either way, if you get outside of the immediate centre (outside the four canals) the city is one of the most liveable on earth. I miss it.

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