The world becomes a bloop – on the Amsterdam canals

“The water,” says photographer and director Anker van Warmerdam, “can make everything ugly beautiful.” That is why he photographed Amsterdam, from his boat, through the canals. “The water is in fact one long undulating mirror of our city, and everything that happens in it – but with a kind of space-effect.”

The photos he took were initially mainly conceived for his girlfriend’s new cookbook, Welmoed Bezoen, called Welmoeds Wilde Keuken. “It is a very personal cookbook, so I wanted the dishes to be shown on special surfaces. Of course, there is also something wild about the water, something uncatchable.”

Because he had to photograph “about a million dishes,” all of which required a surface, he sailed endlessly through the canals on his boat. Flat on his stomach on the foredeck, camera in hand. He saw bright orange waste containers, fences around construction sites, rustling trees and rows of canal houses. All Amsterdam, but wavy. He also recently shared the photos he took on social media.

Hallucinant and unrecognizable

Looking at the city through the water is not new to him. Van Warmerdam grew up on a houseboat. So that view of the water was there from an early age. “They weren’t my first photos of the water either. I had already photographed reflections with my iPhone. That looked so crazy that I started working on it.”

He became fascinated by the hallucinatory effect the water had on the city. His photos often have something unrecognizable, something surreal. “Like that photo at the Prinsengracht. You know you are looking at a canal house, but it is complete bloop.” And NEMO is no longer recognizable as NEMO, except for the color. Other colors are not recognizable at all. Such as the caramel photo, where it looks as if liquid, swirling caramel has been photographed. “But it really is a canal. That color comes from a container, which reflects on the water.”

Pink like a Monet painting

And if it’s not surreal, it at least looks like it’s a photo taken abroad. Because that photo with that pink colored water and those lilies, that cannot be Amsterdam. “Anyway. There was a steel fence surrounding a construction site near the Olympic Stadium. There was cloth on that fence so you couldn’t see through it and to stop the rubble.” That canvas, which was pink, gives a Monet-esque effect. It is a tip for everyone, says Van Warmerdam. Go to the water, look at it and photograph it: “Watch how it constantly changes, how the colors mix and separate on the surface. It’s enchanting. It’s one ripple and then it’s completely different again. The way you just saw it will never come back again.”