It is funny: before the pandemic every time when I was making a photo of Amsterdam I was
always trying to avoid the presence of people on it. As architecture admirer somehow I was
rather annoyed with the fact that there’s always tourist or cyclist or even both at once in my
frame. That time it was almost impossible to find a right angle or right moment to make the
right photo without anyone on it.
But when the city became empty, I wasn’t quite happy about it. I didn’t run to the centre to
make all those frames that I was dreaming of before. Instead, I was postponing the walk
through the empty streets for about a month. It is hard to explain but somehow I was scared
to see my city in this new condition. Like it lost something or as if it has gotten a new face.
As if it was not itself anymore.
After a month of self-isolation when I became more stable emotionally I finally went to see it.
That Sunday the streets weren’t ghostly empty so it wasn’t that as scary as I was imagining
it. The walk through beloved Jordaan became a real expedition of what I was never paying
attention too: some pretty typography of old shops, some special species of tulips growing
next to canals, some small details on facades in accompany of incredible calmness of the air
and early evening darkness laying down on the most darling classic landscape of my city.
Right on the crossing of Egelantiersgracht and Eerste Leliedwarsstraat the Westerkerк’s bell
began to ring. It made me remember my many attempts to make this iconic photo. I am sure
you know what I mean: from that very spot, you get the most perfect view of this old church
from the narrow street. All of the previous tries to recreate this shoot without people on it had
failed: in the normal time, there are crowds of tourists in this area as well as an endless
stream of cyclists signalling (often in rage) their approach.
And now, the neighbourhood was completely empty and moveless — the perfect moment to
capture. Fearlessly, I stood right in the centre of the crossing absolutely mesmerized by the
view and the sound. There were only me, Amsterdam and the melody of the bell. The scene
that you don’t get during normal times. Absolute magic.
When the bells went off, grateful for this unique experience I was standing still for a bit. But
suddenly as if I’ve felt something, have looked behind – the habit that is crucial to each
amsterdammer’s survival. There he was — lonely cyclist approaching on the speed and not
looking very happy seeing me in the middle of the road. I smiled at him and with a short
“sorry” fastly jumped on the pavement.
“Well, actually things are just about normal,” I thought and walk back home along the canal.
© Irina Volgareva
May 10, 2020
by Irina Volgareva