The free state

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I went out photographing last Sunday. I rarely do that, I’m not good at just walking around with a camera and take pictures. I never come home with anything decent if I do. I need a plan, or at least an idea, or a destination, plus an idea. But I don’t have that many ideas, I just never properly take the time to figure out what I want to do. I mostly take pictures when I’m traveling, or at work. Photo opportunities present themselves without having to look for them. But send me into town with a camera and I’m pretty lost. But if I want to get better at this, I need to shoot more pictures, it’s as simple as that. So I kicked myself out of the house, took the bike and cycled to the south part of the city, Waalhaven port and then Heijplaat, a sort of enclave tucked between container terminals and the Maas river. It was cold and a bit rainy. Grey. My feet and fingers were freezing. It was a nice ride though, being focused on looking and not thinking. But I didn’t see anything that I wanted to photograph.



On the way back though, I saw something shimmering through the trees a bit further down the road. Little roofs, woodwork, gardensheds, plastics. Allotments, or community gardens. Volkstuintjes, in Dutch. There are many in Rotterdam, as, probably, in every city where a lot of people live in apartment buildings without having their own garden. In the 19th century – looking up Wikipedia now – Dutch cities started allotment gardens for working-class families. Around the first world war, the users of the gardens started demanding that the gardens would be governed by the members, and allotment garden societies were founded. Until the 1950s, the gardens were primarily used for vegetable production, since then there has been a shift to recreational use. Depending on the city and society, small sheds, greenhouses or small garden houses are allowed. In some cases, permanent habitation is allowed during summertime. The Netherlands has 240,000 allotments.



I like urban greens. Guerilla gardening, city farms, veining the built environment with a bit of air. I like how they often have a sort of free state character, where different laws and regulations apply. A sense of freedom. Even in the probably overregulated concept of the community garden. So I came up with the idea to make this the subject of a new series. Visit some of these places, see what I can make of it. It’s not my usual stuff, this kind of scenery. Chaotic. Untidy. Crammed. Composition skills are not going to be of much help here I’m afraid.


These pictures are merely drafts. I couldn’t enter the site, so they are taken from the road, from behind the fence, my sight blocked by trees and brushwood. But I kind of like it that way.

Pictures taken at Volkstuin de Wielewaal, Rotterdam. Best to view them large, by clicking on them.

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