It starts to dawn on me. ‘Mister Van Velde!’ I say, ‘How good to hear from you! How are you doing?’ Once in 2006, I made a photo of him for the annual Year report of the Amsterdam Slotervaart district. ‘Not so good,’ he says and he pauses, ‘my wife passed away.’ As I see Schiphol Airport on my left, I can hear the lump in his throat. Then: ‘I have made a new boat.'
He continues about how he would like to show his artwork to the district, so they can exhibit it in the town hall. However, transportation of the boat without damaging is tough. He needs photos of the boat. ‘Would you like to photograph it?’
A week later I show up at his crowded flat in Slotervaart, in exchange for a coffee. Armed with two flash heads and my camera.
The boat is a jewel in the middle of the room and a visualisation of the distraction Wolter so badly needs in this difficult time. For months he has painstakingly stuck together tiny particles he received by mail each week, the accompanying videotape showing him the exact position for each particle. The result speaks for itself. We try to put up his old slide projector screen as a background and I do my best to photograph the boat without reflection. It's not easy to suddenly be a still life photographer.
Then it's time for coffee. I look around and see the picture of his wife. A blond woman with a friendly face looks back to me. ‘That was her’, he says and he continues, ‘With her, I was happy every day. I never thought that could change.’
The little man sits on his oversized couch and sheds a tear while I do my best to hold back mine. Once he had a good job, a wife, a family. Once Slotervaart was a new neighbourhood with raked gardens. Once all that seemed so obvious.
After our cup of coffee we put the new boat on the exact same spot the other boat was in 2006. We take the same portrait. Apart from the new boat, nothing in his interior has changed in all those years. And at the same time everything is different.
When I send mister Van Velde the prints of his boat, I get a lovely handwritten thank you letter back.