Otto Snoek’s New Europe

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Getting close to the action is a pre-requisite for most street photographers, and for Dutchman Otto Snoek, immersing himself in the crowd is at the heart of his approach, writes Gemma Padley.

Trying to work out what makes people tick, he spent years photographing his fellow citizens shopping and partying together, focusing on the people of his home town, Rotterdam, the self-styled ‘Gateway of Europe’, before turning his attention to the wider continent.

“Eight years ago, when I got my new passport, the first line on the cover read, ‘Citizen of the European Community’, and that fuelled my curiosity,” explains the 48-year-old. “I know who my fellow Dutchmen are, but who are my fellow citizens? I decided the only way to find out about this continent we call Europe was to take a look myself.”

Snoek has since travelled to countries from Iceland to Greece, seeking out differing national characteristics through the mass rituals that reveal a nation’s sense of self-identity. Often photographing during festivals or marches or football matches, he has captured people from all walks of life – from spectators at military parades in Kiev, to Ulstermen dressed up in orange medals and sashes. Always photographing with the same camera, lens, film, flash mode and camera settings – “to standardise my working process” – Snoek operated on a “hit-and-run” basis, sometimes isolating a character from the throng and at other times capturing the energy of the crowd.

The colourful, vibrant images of We Europe offer up glimpses of diverse cultural traditions and customs, but, as Manon Braat points out in her essay about the series, there are shared characteristics and behaviours: “Snoek has photographed immigrants in Athens selling Greek flags, a group of African students in Reykjavik holding an Icelandic tricolour, and a veiled Muslim girl in Oslo waving a national flag in a parade,” she writes. “One thing is clear: east, west, north or south, the mark of the globalised world is everywhere.” Europeans, Snoek’s images seem to suggest, are not all that different after all.

Otto Snoek’s Miljonair series will be on show at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg as part of the group exhibition Rich Pickings: Displaying Wealth, from 17 October to 11 January.

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