Photographer Interview: Maarten Rots

Color, shadow, light – these are the “paint” a photographer uses to make photographs. It’s fun to see when a photographer like Maarten Rots use these materials in an abstract way: pure color, pure shadow, depth, and layers, and light.

I like following Maarten because he’s a maker – a guy who tackles living, breathing projects like his March & Rock magazine. He creates tangible things with his abstract photos.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Maarten Rots and I’m a full-time artist with a camera around my neck. I live and work in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where I also graduated from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in 2010, studying audio visual art. Besides capturing the world around me, I really enjoy taking the next step and try to figure out an interesting way to present my photography. One of the outcomes is my self-published photography magazine March & Rock.

How did you get started in photography?

I actually filmed quite a bit before really making the jump to still photography. I used to go out with my video camera in a way that’s similar to how many street photographers work, hoping to catch an interesting scene.

It was in the summer of 2014 when I had to replace my broken video camera when I decided to go for a DSLR. I quickly (re)discovered the power of the still image and have mainly been photographing since.

What do you like about your photography?

It helps me see the world through a different lens. Literally but also figuratively – by being very clear about what I decide to have inside and outside the frame I construct my own version of reality, with photographic evidence. There is a beautiful sense of abstraction to be found in everyday life and I really enjoy emphasizing that through photography. The challenge is to do it all in-camera, I refrain from removing or adding elements and filters. Everything is already there when I shoot it, what I see is what you get.

I love the style of your photography – it reminds me a lot of Saul Leiter. Where do you get inspiration for your style/ideas?

The discovery of Saul Leiter’s work has undeniably had an impact on my own development. I really like to create layered images, and that’s where reflections can play an important role. When there are people in my shots they are mostly passersby or entourage, whereas in Saul Leiter’s work they are much more the subject of his images.

I really enjoy the work of photographers such as Alex Webb and Harry Gruyaert – both members of Magnum, but I am interested in other fields of art as well. A more recent discovery is the painter Lyonel Feininger, whose abstraction – the way he abstracted reality in his paintings – is something I strive for with my photographs.

Victor Kossakovsky’s film Tishe (Hush) is one of the films that has been of influence on my work. Not so much style-wise, but the concept behind the film. He shot the whole thing from his apartment, capturing what was happening right outside his door. The conviction that an interesting story can be found anywhere is something he applied again in his 2011 film ¡Vivan las antipodas! – where he filmed life in opposite ends of the world.

Fill in blank: “For me, a camera is my way to…”

Capture and share how I see reality.

What kinds of themes do you explore with your work?

I function really well in urban environments and architecture takes an important place in my photographs. I like to explore and go to new places as often as possible.

I carefully construct the compositions in my photographs by taking different positions and distances from the situation I want to capture. I can take quite some time to find the best way to frame a shot as I try to restrict myself to take only a single image. In that sense I think you could compare my process more to that of a painter than a street photographer. I don’t want to rely on the “lucky shot” – I take care to make sure the image is as it comes out before I press the shutter release button. Abstraction has become a more and more important theme in my photography. Trying to capture multiple layers in a single exposure helps me add a level of abstraction as I construct a new reality.

Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?

In July last year (2015) I did the first edition of my photography project, Siting. This project revolves around a simple concept: I photograph a fixed area for one week and choose one photograph each day that will be printed on a larger scale and becomes part of an exhibition afterwards. The area to work in is designated by the space I use to do the project; it serves as the center point of a one-mile radius, which then becomes the area where I can take photographs. The first edition took place in Amsterdam.

I am planning to expand this project worldwide, I have a few options for this year and chances are high that there will be editions in Las Vegas and Antwerp in the coming months.

Next to that I am always working on the next edition of March & Rock, my photography magazine. My wife and I recently bought a VW camper van which enables me to go and shoot in a lot of different places. This will definitely show through in coming editions of March & Rock!

To see more of Maarten’s work, follow him on Instagram. You can also read more about Maarten’s work on street photographer Eric Kim’s blog.