While the world remains plunged in a modern-day pandemic, cities cycling between lockdowns will continue to be a common sight. It’s not a pleasant view, but trust creative minds to make the most out of it. Among them are photographers like Amsterdam-based Stijn Hoekstra, who did a couple of cinematic photography projects documenting lockdowns in his city. Both of these series showed empty streets where bustling activity would have been, if not for the pandemic.
Whether you’re looking to do the same or are simply curious about what he captured, I’m sure you’ll find the latest of these interesting. Simply titled “Curfew in Amsterdam,” this series features scenes during the recent curfew in the Netherlands, which coincided with the first snowfall in the country this year.
A cinematic beginning
But first, a little something about Hoekstra himself. While he started out as a cinematographer, he eventually spent the last four years as a photographer. He made the switch because he loves to tell stories within just a single frame, even in commercial work for clients like Netflix, Volkswagen and different Dutch brands. Another advantage is it allows him to work alone so he can do personal projects like “Curfew in Amsterdam.”
I think that learning more about Hoekstra’s background as a cinematographer will also give us a better understanding of the visual style in this series. While he worked as an assistant for movies and television series, he had some time in between takes to shoot behind the scenes photos. He always received positive responses from the crew. Later on, a company he was shooting a documentary for wanted the same style for the photography part of the project. It became his first real paid job as a photographer.
But, it was really after he began shooting travel photos that his photography career really started to fly. “I visited Cuba and New York and got my photography website up in the air with a lot of new content. Shortly after my travels, the photography agency Unit contacted me if I wanted to be represented by them. That has been four years ago and it has been a very good decision,” he shared.
“But the thing I love the most is travel photography. I work for a Dutch travel magazine for which I have traveled the world. When I’m home in the Netherlands, I love to wander the streets where I’m always looking for the right light that catches my lens.”
Wandering and capturing empty streets in curfew
By now, some photographers may find empty streets during lockdowns already overdone. However, it’s something that Hoekstra has always found appealing to photograph even before the pandemic. “In my photography, I always look for empty streets. Somehow, that appeals to me, especially when there is only one subject in the frame.”
As with many photographers, the pandemic led to a drastic change to his life as a photographer. The year prior saw him traveling to 17 different countries. Only a month before the pandemic, he went to Africa to document one of the most expensive train rides of the world.
“The pandemic changed all of that, and suddenly I was out of work. That’s when I started taking photographs of the city, just to keep busy,” Hoekstra said on shooting around Amsterdam. “It has been over a year and I’m happy to say that there has been some development in work. But unfortunately, the travel ban keeps me from visiting other countries. Still, I have high hopes for the future.”
When the recent curfew started in the Netherlands, it’s not surprising that he made plans to go out at night. He only hesitated to do it straight away because of the lack of a subject in the empty streets.
“When the weather forecast predicted heavy snowfall I knew I had to go out. I started walking from my home into the once so busy city streets. It felt kinda eerie walking the streets all by myself. The only people I came across where dog owners and police. In the days before the snowstorm I started planning the shoot. I walked for hours that night leaving some room for surprises.”
Creating a cinematic feeling
I’ve always thought that cities take on a different vibe or “personality” at night. But the context of pandemic lockdowns made it more moving for me. Browsing through these photos with that in mind tugged at the heart differently. There’s no mistake that Amsterdam, blanketed in snow that made the streets glow a tad brighter, was still beautiful against the stillness of the night. Every corner feels lonelier. I can imagine the silence even more deafening. All of these are made possible by Hoekstra’s cinematic expertise, which he began honing years back.
“Back in 2016, I started taking pictures as if they were stills. For that project, I wandered the streets of my city always looking for the right light,” he shared, stressing the importance of light in cinematic photography.
“Curfew in Amsterdam” is a good example of how much Hoekstra loves incorporating his background as a cinematographer in his photography. Wide lenses, horizontal orientation and tripod for night shots are his tried and tested approaches to give viewers a cinematic feeling.
“The vibe I was looking for was that it could have been a movie still. The white snow combined with the city lights gave a beautiful overall feeling. I always look to combine interesting framing and storytelling to my images which I took from my background as a cinematographer.”
All photos by Stijn Hoekstra. Used with permission.