Starring Amsterdam: a conversation with Joost Bastmeijer

Recently, a huge archive of forgotten photos from Amsterdam was discovered, all taken by two men: Hans Sabel and Henk Daniëls. These two press photographers documented dozens of celebrity visits in Amsterdam. The photos have now been compiled into a photo book called “Starring Amsterdam”. All the photos were carefully researched and supplied with text by Joost Bastmeijer. I met him in a cozy cafe across from the Amstel river to interview him about the book he helped create.

He proudly shows me the book when I walk in. Joost already ordered two pastries to give to his girlfriend later that day. I look at the book’s cover. A black and white image of The Beatles on a canal boat and in a small red font, the title of the book: Starring Amsterdam. At the top I read “Photographs from the Sabel & Daniëls press archive”.

“That’s the essence of the book”, says Joost. “If I’d have to explain what this book is about, these photographers would be an important element. Sabel and Daniëls were two press photographers who went to almost every major event in Amsterdam during the 60s and 70s. If there was going to be a performance, if someone arrived at Schiphol Airport or if someone famous stayed at a hotel – Sabel and Daniëls were there.”

I can hear the excitement in his voice as he tells me how these photos were discovered. “The archive was inherited by someone who thought he didn’t have the intellectual property to the photos, but this turned out to be false.” According to Joost, the heir started by putting up an exhibition of the photo collection above a printing office, one which had helped him print pictures from the collection in the past. There, it got picked up by Mendo Books, a publisher of photo books from Amsterdam. “When the guys from Mendo heard of this archive, they couldn’t believe it. They found tons of negatives in the archive, all carefully organized by date and location. Then they made a selection: which photos look the best? Those photos ended up being featured in the book.”

The guys from Mendo already knew Joost from an Instagram competition they organized two years earlier. He had won a trip to New York from Mendo, not only because of his photo, but also thanks to his elaborate well-written caption. It was this natural skill for writing that had caught the attention of Mendo. This would become clear when Joost got a call from them earlier this year, asking if he would like to write the texts for a photo book they were publishing. Having always worked for the Dutch radio, he liked the idea of creating something that lasts, so he accepted the job. It turned out to be harder then he expected.

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“When I begun I had plans of visiting all these archives and interviewing people that were there when certain photos were taken. This turned out to be a little too ambitious – not only for the time frame but also for the amount of photos we wanted to put in. What I eventually decided was to do as much of my research as possible online. I already worked many years for the radio so I’ve learned how to ‘professionally google’,” he laughs. He also made use of online newspaper archives that were actually searchable by text. “I have no idea how that works, but it’s really cool”. He didn’t get a lot of info to work with when he started researching a photo. “They had an approximate date and location for me, if I was lucky. That helped me narrow down my searches a bit, but not much.”

So why did these stars come to Amsterdam? Why Amsterdam? Joost swiftly sifts through the pages until he finds the picture of Yoko Ono and John Lennon at the Hilton Hotel. I can tell by his encyclopedic knowledge of the book that he truly put his heart and soul into this. “I think this quote by Lennon is the best answer to that question.” He hands me the book. John Lennon and Yoko Ono are lying in a bed, dressed in white, and above them hang two signs saying “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace”. This was them advocating world peace, Joost explains, they presumably invited the world press over to their hotel room for a photo session. The quote Joost points me at seems almost poetic:

“It’s a beautiful place. And Amsterdam’s a place where a lot of things are happening with the youth. If we have any influence on youth at all, we’d like to influence them in a peaceful way.”

Joost Bastmeijer is a succesful Instagrammer and all-round media maker based in Amsterdam. He is currently working for the online division of NPO Radio 1. He also contributes texts for photo books published by MENDO. Read more about him on his website here, or check his Instagram profile here. You can order “Starring Amsterdam” for €40,00 at mendo.nl and in their store on the Berenstraat 11 in Amsterdam.

Bastiaan Sizoo

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