Rediscovering Theo Bos. An interview

Theo Bos, photographer and artist

Theo Bos graduated from the photography department of the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam in 1987.

In 1993 he moved to The Hague and regularly worked for the Municipality of The Hague, VROM, and other ministries. During this period he also made the Tram 11 series for the Urban Development Department of the Municipality of The Hague and the autonomous series ‘Stedelijke Groeistuipen’ (Urban Growing Pains). From the latter series, the photo Grote Marktstraat is part of the art collection.

The entire series is shown opposite, published with the permission of the artist.
On April 15, 2021 we spoke with Theo Bos about his work.


Johan Nieuwenhuize: When did you take this photo and this series?

Theo Bos: I started when I had been living in The Hague for a short while. I was particularly interested in ongoing urban changes in big cities.

What I found particularly fascinating about this was that people had to avoid changes in public space all the time and that usually happened very law-abiding, along the beaten track.
The disruption of the landscape and the fact people keep moving towards their goal, ike ants. They deviate a bit, or use the same path even though it is in fact impossible.

JN: As a photographer, what did you think of the city?

TB: I came to live in The Hague in 1993 with two young children and I was just getting back on track. I experienced a great inhibition in The Hague. At the time, people in The Hague were much more careful than in Amsterdam. People were closed, prudish and reserved one could say. I had just lived in Amsterdam for 10 years and it was a bit more loose there. It was all much tamer in The Hague.

JN: How did you notice that?

TB: From the behaviour of officials, or to the fact that they always like to organize everything. That defines the character of the city, I wanted to include that in those photos.

JN: What did your working proces look like?

TB: I used a Linhof, a large format camera with 4×5 ”film.
First I had to put my camera on the tripod and stand from a high position, on a ladder. That camera was a bit more manageable compared to other technical cameras. Then it always took me a while to determine my framework.
Then I made myself as small as possible as not to stand out too much. Then it was mainly waiting for things to come together, then it has to happen.

I didn’t want to shoot too much, the film was expensive, and development and the making of contact prints came on top of that. Sometimes I thought to myself “I should have shot this”, but each photo costed me a tenner.
After each photo you had to close the cassette and prepare a new film. And when you ran out of cassettes, you had to go back to the darkroom to put in new film.

JN: What were you paying attention to with those few pictures you could take?

TB: I wanted to take pictures without people looking as if that they are aware that they are being photographed. When people look into the camera, the magic of  the moment is somewhat gone.

JN: What other projects were you were working on during that time?

TB: For the Urban Development Department of the Municipality of The Hague, I photographed Lijn 11 (HTM tram line number 11, ed.) for a while, which ran through all kinds of different neighborhoods in The Hague. I actually did that with the same kind of approach.

JN: Which artists from the collection do you feel most related to?

TB: In a way my work from that time comes from the same school as that of Hans van der Meer and Hans Aarsman. Aarsman was on the jury of my exam at the Rietveld, he thought my work was very good and his vote was really decisive for me graduating.
After my studies I assisted him a few times with photographing of Dutch landscapes, high from an aerial platform.

JN: What are you working on right now?

TB: I work for a number of regular clients, but most of the time I am focusing on landscape photography and I am now working towards a gallery exhibition which will take place after summer.