Why Not? by Otto Snoek
PHOTOGRAPHS BY OTTO SNOEK.
Episode Publishers, The Netherlands, 2009. Hardbound with paper boards. 144 pp., Extensive color illustrations, 9¼x12½”.
My first reaction to Dutch photographer Otto Snoek’s new book, Why Not, was that Rotterdam was off my travel list. Even so, it’s immediately evident that Mr. Snoek is a master of urban street photography, and after further consideration, Rotterdam represents many contemporary urban centers that draw residents from all over the world. Snoek’s style is similar to Martin Parr, but his subject matter is more universal. He synthesizes many things at once—compassion, humor, and an acute ability to observe human behavior.
Why Not is a collection of large format color and black and white photographs, presented in 2-page spreads without the interruption of text. None is needed, as the images are so complex in their information. The book opens with an essay written by Henk Oosterling, a University of Rotterdam philosopher, on high- tech connections versus public disconnection. He opens with the quote by Jean Luc Nancy, ‘The city does not have a face, but it has features. It does not have a gaze but it has a way of being in your face. The city cannot be understood as one identity, but it is touched by many roads, tracks, and sketches.” It’s almost understatement to the compelling work that follows.
For the last decade, Snoek has been documenting the city he was born in, watching it grow from a traditional working-class harbor town into a city in constant flux, redefining itself with reconstruction and waves of new immigrant populations. Snoek has captured the reality of urban life, especially during its parties, soccer games, and festivals, with insight that only a native can possess. Snoek takes us through the streets of Rotterdam, flooded with humanity and surrounded by consumption and the pollution of too many people, with empathic judgment.
The commercialization of leisure often exposes humanity at its least flattering moments. Public spaces set the stage for tableaus of drug and alcohol infused revelry, each person playing the uninhibited actor. Expressions of lust and sadness, exhaustion and elation all combine with the grit of the urban environment. Snoek deftly frames his images to encapsulate the perfect moment, seeing and reacting to the instant that makes the viewer laugh and cry at the same time. He makes one wonder, is everyone medicated in the urban world? Do we all need something extra to survive the chaos and confusion?
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