Tag Archives: amsterdam

Enfant Terrible: Ed van der Elsken

Ed van der Elsken isn’t a name you come across often in the mainstream world of photography. Partly because he steered clear of commercial work and partly because of his reputation as the ‘enfant terrible’ (loosely translated as the troublesome child). Like a lot of great artists, he refused to play by the rules, photograph nice people and pretty landscapes, instead he aimed to photograph all aspects of reality – the best and the worst of human nature.


“I report on young, rebellious scum with pleasure … I rejoice in everything. Love. Courage. Beauty. Also blood, sweat and tears.”

Born in Amsterdam, der Elsken started off his career with the intention of becoming a sculptor before moving to Paris and discovering ‘la bohemes’ of Saint-Germain-de-Prés who would become the focus of his photography. Though much of his work purports to be documentary, it remains closely intertwined with the theatrical and surreal reflecting on the drug hazed bohemian society in which he lived. That said, the pictures are clearly rooted in the everyday rather than the transcendent, recording ‘characters’ in their intimate daily routines of drinking coffee, dozing and daydreaming. These are people who really existed despite polite society’s attempts to believe otherwise…


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der Elken also made a pretty hypnagogic film, Death in the Port Jackson Hotel, which features the star of the artist’s most famous photography series, Love on the Left Bank, Vali Myers, and is worth a watch if you can handle drawn out interviews with doe eyed hippies and bizarre sequences of toads mating.

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Travellin’ Man: Jack Steadman, Bombay Bicycle Club

The frontman talks to Millie Walton about his love of travelling, and how the band owe more just than their name to the city of Mumbai as he shares some of his travel-snaps

What would So Long, See You Tomorrow, taste like if it was a dish? I ask Bombay Bicycle Club’s frontman Jack Steadman. “Fish tacos” he says, chewing the question with more relish than I’d anticipated. “You’d probably put lemon on your tacos, so it would be quite citrusy. Maybe the fish is battered, so it’s got a bit of bite to it” he enthuses. “Actually, I could really do with some fish tacos now…” Not the greasy kind, Jack clarifies, more the “Refreshing, very summery, quite clean [variety]. I think the production of the album is like that, it’s not really rough around the edges.”

Photo courtesy of Jack Steadman

“I liked being anonymous and alone in Mumbai, and everything around me moving on fast-forward”

It’s lunchtime in September and we’re sitting in a hotel room in Soho, which is not as seedy, nor as greasy, as it sounds. It’s been a warm month in the capital, which has extended the summer, and the band have played a string of festivals and gigs in support of the dance inspired Bollywood romance album, So Long… Infused by the colourful cultures and climates of Mumbai, Istanbul and Amsterdam where most of the ten tracks where conceived, the album is a huge leap from the soft, lulling sounds of their previous albums, which were more comparable to warm cups of melted chocolate than the fiery spice of So Long…

The shift was a risk, but it paid off. Just days after its release in February, the album reached number one in UK charts.

“When we started playing at the beginning of the year people were enjoying it, but as soon as the summer started and we started playing festivals, it really clicked. We made an album that’s completely suited to playing outside in the sun.”

As with all of the band’s records, Jack wrote this one alone. But unlike previous albums, he laid out the tracks during his travels around the globe, starting off in a remote cottage in the Dutch countryside where he lived with a local family and set up a studio in their barn. “It worked out really well – the guy was not only hugely passionate about music, but also about sound. He had all these speakers and hi-fis that he’d collected which I could use.”

After Holland, Jack went to Istanbul, where again he found a family – “with a little barn” – who offered him board and a place to work. “The guy I was staying with was the head of the village. It was crazy, a tiny Turkish village. One day, I said I needed a drum kit and he drove me to this travellers’ settlement outside of town. He said ‘The local community has ostracised these people and they live here now on this campsite, but they have a wedding band and he’s agreed to lend you his drum kit. But not before you spend the night here and meet everyone.’

They put on a concert for me and there was a guy playing old gypsy folk songs on the violin and there was this nine-year-old kid prodigy who was playing the clarinet. It was the most surreal couple of weeks!” he says of the experience.

recording-studio-Holland Jack Steadman

It was during a month Jack spent in Mumbai that the album really started to come together: “I got so much done and I was just in a really good place. I fell in love with the city. I woke up every morning feeling great and excited to be there, which is the perfect mind set to be writing music in.”

What was so inspiring about the city? “The food, the music, the people. Mumbai is this sort of crumbling old colonial city that is so small, yet it can manage to fit a billion people into it. It’s insane,” he rushes. I posit that it must have been stressful, being in such a densely packed place. “No” Jack says, shaking his head with a smile, “it was the opposite. I’m a big city guy. I liked being anonymous and alone in Mumbai, and everything around me moving on fast-forward. I made sure I took the train everyday to the studio rather than a cab because I loved them being so packed that I had to hang out the doorway, and I had the breeze in my hair. It’s the only way you can stay cool because it’s so hot, it’s like the only air conditioning you get.”

Jack and bandmate, image Jack Steadman

Above: Jack with bassist, Ed Nash
The music video to Feel was shot in Mumbai and takes the form of a mini-Bollywood movie – an idea that that bassist Ed Nash and Jack dreamt up on a trip to Australia some years earlier. “We were in this very authentic Indian canteen which had TV screens everywhere showing Bollywood movies. We were watching them and thinking, one day we’ve got to make one of these. Suddenly, this song came along that was just dying for this video, but there was a lot of hesitation because of our band name. It’s such a cynical country we live in, a lot of people were obviously going to be like, ‘That’s ridiculous, some kid went on his gap year and was suddenly really into Bollywood’. We just take all that with a pinch of salt because I think it’s a hilarious video and the song makes you feel really good.”

“A lot of people might have got the impression that I was going to ‘find myself’ or going to specifically try and write different sounding music…”

What’s it like writing in foreign studios I ask him. “When I’m in London there’s such a blurred line between me just hanging out in the studio and actually having to work. When you go away for the specific reason to write, you feel stupid just hanging around so you’re a lot more driven. That was the entire reason I started going away. In fact, that’s probably quite important to explain because a lot of people might have got the impression that I was going to ‘find myself’ or going to specifically try and write different sounding music… It was to go and have that sense of purpose.”

Did he find it difficult to return home after such a productive period abroad, I ask: “Everywhere I go after about three or four weeks I start missing London buses, rain, and sarcasm” he laughs.  “I really long for it, especially when I’m in places like the States where it’s really hot. I just want it to be green and wet and cold, and I want somebody to be mean to me, and not to just smile all the time!” he jokes. More seriously, he admits, “When I am at home I get restless again. I’m definitely a grass-is-greener type of person, which is annoying. It’s not healthy in any aspect of your life.”

We both agree on this point, but I can’t help feeling that in Jack’s case, it’s not that unhealthy. In fact, it seems to be the vital component of his creativity and success.

Words Millie Walton
Images courtesy of Jack Steadman

This article was originally written for and published by PORT magazine: http://bit.ly/1BajNwt

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Two English Girls in Amsterdam


Amsterdam is a bizarre place; where scantily clad women sit on stools in shop windows, the smell of pot infiltrates the whole city and a church sits slap bang in the middle of the redlight district (talk about ironic). But here’s the thing: it’s not just about the cafes and sex. And you know what I mean by cafes.

Two weeks back in Uni and it was already time for a quick escape. Luckily, my friend’s family had gone away for the weekend and gave us the keys to their rather swanky apartment in Amsterdam. Jackpot! Speaking of pot…you can buy cannabis lollipops and cookies in a newsagent! No biggy. But for us it wasn’t going to be a hazy weekend spent sitting stoned in the apartment. We were in one of the most culturally rich cities in the world and at least had to sample some of what it had to offer.

So we started with Bubble Tea. I’m less and less sure that this is an exclusive Dutch phenomenon, but the guy behind the moustache desk made a good case. It’s less like a tea and more like an ice-blended fruity milkshake with tiny edible balls that burst tropical fruit juice into your mouth. Pretty darn delicious.


Next we hit the sex museum (cultural in its own way), which was…pretty enlightening. There was a giant chair shaped like a willy and some pretty intense pornographic photographs from as early as the 17th century. Who said the Victorians were prudish?

The next day it was pouring with rain so we decided we would see what museums the city had to offer. Turns out pretty much every other tourist in Amsterdam had the same idea. Queuing in the pouring rain wasn’t exactly enticing, so we skipped some of the big names (the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum) and headed to the suspiciously empty, contemporary art and design museum, Stedelijk.  Despite the wariness of tourists, the museum is definitely worth a visit and not only because it’s free with the I Am Amsterdam card (well worth purchasing if you’re doing the cultural rounds, see more details at end of post). I’m not usually a fan of modern art (a line of paint on a white canvas is pretty unimaginative if you ask me), but there were some really great installations including a room full of behaviour sensitive lights and ‘The Beanery’ by Edward Kienholz ( a life-size replication of the artist’s local bar, the Original Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard, L.A.). It was also amazing to see works by the likes of Picasso and Monet.



Again, the queue outside Anne Frank’s house was far too long (in retrospect, it would have been better to book in advance especially on weekends when the queue stretches right along the canal) so we headed over to Het Grachtenhuis, a museum of the history of Amsterdam’s canals. Yes, I know it sounded unappealing to us as well, but we’d heard good things…. In fact, I can safely say it was one of the best museum’s I’ve ever been too. I often find museum’s incredibly draining and the information too dense, but Het Grachtenhuis’s multimedia tour of the history of canals was inspiring and hugely entertaining. Equipped with individual handsets we were led round the upstairs of the house; each room containing something different (videos, dolls house like models of canal houses, music etc.).

It is also well worth taking a canal tour if only for the sensation and sights (the audio guide blasting through the speakers was hard to hear over the chatter of the tourists), though it’s advisable not to go after a heavy night. The swaying motion of the barge and a pounding hangover do not mix well.

The photography museum, FOAM is unmissable for all photography enthusiasts. The current exhibition ‘Framed in Print’, 40 years of Dutch Magazine photography, was really amazing and the gallery space itself, though small, is maximised to show a number of different works without being overpowering or cluttered. Right at the top of the building (if you climb the right stairs) you find a small print sales room, where you can buy various photographs and also browse a number of photography books. We spent a good half an hour sifting through back issues of FOAM’s magazine and my friend ended up buying three to take home.



Aside from the art and the history, there’s the shopping. Dutch fashion isn’t the most cutting edge and the better of the clothes shops tend to be for those who were more flash with their cash, but the antique shops are a real treat. (Though it’s a little painful knowing that you’re going to have to leave it all behind). There are also a few really great privately owned galleries hidden amongst the shops that are worth popping in to. We went into a tiny gallery to find works by Dali, Picasso, Miro. The city is also home to some really unique cafes (let’s say tea rooms to avoid confusion), our favourite of which was Cafe Brecht, which is reminiscent of a granny’s sitting room and serves a constantly changing menu of fresh teas.


Cafe de Prins was our favourite restaurant (just across from Anne Frank’s House). It’s a very small space and a firm favourite with the locals. The food is exceptional with a small menu, but options to suit most and the prices low including the wine (low enough even for two students on a tight budget).  We went fairly early in the evening, but I’d imagine it gets pretty packed after 8 o’clock though you can reserve tables if you’re the organised type.

See, Amsterdam isn’t just the land of Mary Jane…

Getting about: It’s super easy to navigate because of the canal system and the best way to get around if you want to really see the city is to walk or cycle ( the bikes have high handle bars so that you actually look quite elegant gliding along). The tram system is great though if it’s raining or you’re going further afield. Plus public transport is free with the I Am Amsterdam card.

I Am Amsterdam card: If you’re looking to save some pennies and pack in loads in a short amount of time, I would definitely recommend getting your mits on one of these. You can buy a 24, 48 or 72-hour card for 42/52/62 euros and though it seems pretty pricey at the time it saves you a load in the long run as the museum entry fees are high, it also includes a free canal tour, a free coffee/tea at a number of cafes and other nifty discounts. Find out more here: http://www.iamsterdam.com/en-GB/experience/deals/i-amsterdam-city-card

All photographs were taken by me/ my friend.






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