In spring 2020, The Netherlands, like much of the world, was in lockdown. The response to the COVID-19 virus forced many restrictions on normal life. And for many photographers, these unprecedented restrictions have to be documented.
Portrait and street specialist, Brendan de Clercq, says restrictions are what drives him when it comes to his street projects, and so in the face of the lockdown, there was only one thing to do: turn it into an assignment using his α6600.
“I’m a street photographer in my heart,” explains Brendan, “and I love to give myself assignments. That’s what makes photography fun, and it really pushes me to be creative. So, in response to the lockdown – or half lockdown as it is here in The Netherlands – I’ve been shooting the deserted streets of Alkmaar, which is my home town, and Amsterdam, which is close by. It’s such a strange situation because the streets would normally be packed with tourists and locals.”
The streets, emptied of people, are an odd sight for sure, but to up the stakes, another restriction Brendan set himself was to shoot in what would normally be the rush hour.
This contrast really gives these pictures an extra feeling for me, and I used a number of techniques to capture the sense of unease on the streets,” he explains. “I shot with a wide-angle E 10-18mm f/4 OSS lens rather than a 35mm, which is my usual choice for street, to illustrate the emptiness. Most of the pictures are shot from ground level, high up, or with angled compositions,” he continues, “which aren’t the usual approach for street images. It’s not a normal view. And that’s what I was looking for, because it’s not a normal time.
The α6600’s tilting touchscreen was instrumental for some of these shots, allowing Brendan to shoot from ground level with ease. “It’s a great camera for street shooting all round,” he says. “Using the screen sometimes makes you more creative, because it’s like you’re seeing the finished image more clearly, with a physical frame around it. And I can turn and tilt the display every way. For my portrait work, I want a connection with the subject through the viewfinder, but for these assignments I love to work with that big, bright main display.”
“That said,” he continues, “unlike my α7R IV, which has a central viewfinder, the α6600’s EVF is over to the left, in a classic rangefinder style, letting you use both eyes and see what’s about to come into the frame. So, if you do like to work that way, then it’s all set up to do it. And though it’s small and light, it has lots of common features with my full-frame camera, like the menus and the way you can map your most-used settings to the Fn buttons. I can overlap my lenses, and still get beautiful results, and it even has the high-end features like Real Time Tracking AF. There’s a lot to like!”
This is one of Brendan’s favourite shots from the project, which brings many of his motivations together in a classic street composition. “It’s overlooking a street that is normally packed with cars,” he explains, “there’s that obvious change, but there are also the lines of the road. Those are the restrictions, but you still have that human spirit with their shadows breaking through the lines – and on the road someone has written ‘the show must go on’.”
Elsewhere you see those physical restrictions in Brendan’s shots with a plethora of gates and fences, closing off our view of the streets. “Another of my favourites is this shot of McDonald’s,” he says, “because it looks like the bin is a person standing outside on his own. It looks like he wants to be let in. He’s us.”
To shoot this reportage, Brendan followed the rules of social distancing advised by the Netherlands government lockdown rules. Please follow the lockdown rules applicable in your country and stay safe.
"One day I will make the most perfect portrait. One that captures emotion to the fullest. That is the reason I raise the bar in my photography every day"