Thursday, 29 March 2018

Rotterdam in the rain - finding the extraordinary in the ordinary

I have always been tainted by wanderlust. Sometimes it feels like a condition: this eternal aching for something better that is found in the unknown, the exotic, the far-away. Yet despite having travelled quite a bit during my studies, my curiosity had started to dwindle. Many cities seemed to be the same: always this church in an old town square, these old buildings, these same shops. Most of the time, my travelling brought me excitement due to the exquisite cuisine or jaw-dropping backdrops of nature - things that are not particularly known to the Netherlands.

As such, I barely take my DLSR camera on a date anymore except when I go on a vacation. Especially when the weather is grey and murky, I much rather stay in my cosy bed than embark on a photographic adventure outside. Why should beauty only be found in the exotic, though? Isn't the real challenge finding the extraordinary in the ordinary? I have been dissatisfied with the way my camera skills have remained stagnant during the past year, so I decided: let's try to brush up my skills again. Since I have always been particularly fond of urban settings - the grungy beauty of abandonment and construction - I chose to go to Rotterdam.

The iconic 'Erasmus bridge' of Rotterdam.

Every city has a story, and Rotterdam's story is doused in the theme of reconstruction. During the second world war, almost all of Rotterdam's historic city centre was bombed. Despite the tragedy of the event, the city did not dwell. Instead, it chose to use the past to build a future, the future that is now a landscape of skyscrapers and perseverance. It is almost poetic: we either run away from our past, or we rise where we fall. Rotterdam chose to stay, re-designing its city to what it is today, placing high-risers where the city was laid to ashes.

While wandering around in the rain, the city certainly did not strike me as a happy one. The sky was a blank canvas and much of the city could almost be called monochrome - blending in with the bleakness of the weather. Quite honestly, having checked my weather app the day beforehand, I was hesitant to take pictures in this weather. Thankfully, one of my friends pointed out that there is novelty in photographing on a rainy day: high contrasts, a moody atmosphere. So armed with an umbrella in one hand and my camera in the other, I skimmed alongside the waters of Rotterdam. The surroundings were as bleak as I expected them to be, but sometimes blotches of colour would take me by surprise. They felt like sparks of inspiration to me: hidden beauties between the ruins.

Admittedly, they were not bright and poppy colours. They were still washed-out, but somehow this rawness is what I found beautiful about it. It is honest in a way - not pompous and glamourized. Having spent most of my teenage years in Amsterdam, I never felt attracted to the idea of Rotterdam. It always seemed like a cold city to me, full of modern buildings that did not hold a meaning. I regarded the city's architecture as a lack of history, when in fact, this rawness embodies its history in the best way it can. Everywhere I looked I could still see bits and pieces of construction. Since it is a harbour city, it had an industrial vibe to it with cranes and containers everywhere. I stayed for more than two hours near the Erasmus bridge, and witnessed multiple cargo ships passing by.

The rain did me good as well. I felt intrigued by the shiny surfaces as a result of the rain. I almost felt like a kid playing in the puddles: squatting down to have those low-angled photographs, waiting for individual droplets to hit the pavement and shatter. Multiple people passed by and must have wondered what that silly girl was doing with her umbrella, staying so low to the ground.

Part of the joys of photography is not just discovering bits of beauty, but also stumbling upon dynamic subjects that cannot be accounted for beforehand. Usually while travelling, we will aim for certain sights that must be visited. This time, I just wandered around freely using the Erasmus Bridge as a starting point. I never thought I would end up staying around that area for hours. I probably only covered a 500m straight distance but still found some interesting things that made my day, such as these bunch of huskies that happened to pass by while I was actually busy taking reflection-selfies. Sadly, they went by too quickly for me to take a proper picture. Don't judge me, it was a very nice reflection amongst the grey, with streaks of orange juxtaposed against a passage of pillars and light. The pillars in the background actually made it to the reflection too, making it seem like a double-passage of pillars. Anyway, I think I am getting lost in my descriptions here so let's go back to the huskies. My God, look at those beautiful fluff balls (even though you can only see their bums right now):

All in all, I am very grateful I decided to photograph Rotterdam in the rain. Without it, the experience would have been much different. Surely my wrist started to hurt a bit from holding both my umbrella and camera in the wind. And yes, it was a bit tiring carrying my tripod around which I did not get to use due to the messy weather. But looking at how I have made a very ordinary location somehow special to myself, it fills my chest with a sense of pride and happiness. It is not just the pictures I produced but also the philosophy behind it. I found myself thinking about the city and the weather in a way I didn't before. Also, it is a small victory for me for going out and doing something for myself again amidst the chaos of university life.

So where will I go next? Probably where-ever a train can take me. I've just got to keep my eyes open and blow some motivation into my body.


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