I spent a few days in Amsterdam attending a workshop on visual storytelling. I have a special interest in storytelling so I was quite excited to sign up, especially as the workshop was held by a photographer I knew and admired.
What happened, essentially, was that each of us had to develop a mini-photo project: define the concept, go into the field to take photos, come back to discuss them with the instructor and the other photographers, and go back to shoot some more. At the end, all photos were printed and we discussed the narrative line and sequencing for each project.
We were supposed to think of a project topic in advance. I had a couple of ideas but they proved impossible to realize within the time we had available. So I turned to an old interest: how human communities interact with nature.
I thought of how cities manage to bring back nature in the concrete jungle, but also how nature takes over abandoned industrial sites and other places. I thought of how cities negotiate their expansion in the countryside.
Most cities struggle to bring nature back into urban areas after decades of aggressive industrialization and unrestrained urbanization of what used to be the countryside just beyond the city limits.
Cities continue to expand outwards, swallowing forests, ponds, fields, and villages. They also expand inwards, putting ever more pressure on urban green spaces.
City managers are thinking of ways of making this extension more environmentally friendly. In downtown Amsterdam, canals are getting a green makeover. The small biodiversity spots on the side of canals are bringing back animals, birds, and insects. On the outskirts of the city, several sites have been designated nature reserves or protected areas.
The relationship between built and natural environment is negotiated on many levels.
In the city, nature is brought back purposefully with projects such as the greening of canals. Nature also takes over abandoned places, usually industrial sites, with no human intervention. At the city limits, the transition between urban environment and countryside becomes more seamless with bike paths and hiking trails.
What I tried to do during the workshop was bring to the foreground this tension, sometimes troubled and sometimes productive, between city and nature.
The idea was to explore the ways in which modern cities try to reclaim and reinstate nature both within and around urban environments. To explore the consequences of this reclaiming of nature on people living in and outside the city.
There’s not a lot one can do in two days of shooting, but it is a start. I want to develop the project by going back to Amsterdam, where the photos below were taken, but also extend it to the city I live in and to other cities I visit regularly.
And I also want to bring into the project the voices of people negotiating this new relationship with nature, from city planners to farmers and nature protection activists.