33 minutes with Romke Hoogwaerts
& Mo Mfinanga
- Published January 11, 2019
Romke Hoogwaerts is a New York-based multidisciplinary artist, co-editor of The Reservoir and founder of Mossless. One of Hoogwaerts’ objectives in his work has been to feed his curiosity while being aware of its context. This has allowed him to manufacture a community that explores creativity's relationship to the world, which we discuss, along with our responsibilities as curators, among other topics.
Mo: Hey, man. What's going on?
Romke: Not much! How about you?
Mo: I’m good. Just working a lot on Radar recently.
Romke: Nice, man. I can't wait to see what that becomes. As you know, I posted about it and people are really responding to it.
Mo: Thanks for that. It's really fun being able to create something like this that brings a little transparency in the industry because I feel like so many things are inclusive. So I think it's important to create something that benefits everyone and force people to give. It's funny how people have their own assistant or a person they don't want to tell people.
Romke: Yeah, it's a weird industry and I feel like people are always trying to figure out how to do this differently from both sides. Not only just assistants, but photographers are always kind of at a loss for how to make it work or how to find new people. I've been thinking about the same thing for many years. Like how would a platform like this look? It needs to exist so I'm glad you're doing it.
Mo: Is there anything that you think needs to exist that doesn't in the photo community?
Romke: Something that can help freelancers enforce invoices, like returns on invoices. I think the main problem with a lot of freelancers is that it takes some clients months and months to pay. I've heard some people continually make requests and after a year, they still don't get the payment for the work they've done. It's not just a photographer based problem. Like, that's across the spectrum in the creative field. That's definitely something that is on people's minds. Beyond that, I'm not sure. I've spent so much time on the photo editor side of things; that's what I'm more used to than anything. I'm still getting used to life as a freelance photographer. I still I do assisting and stuff like that, but I haven't done my own commissions yet.
Mo: Do you feel like there's something, such as a resource or anything, that could be useful for photo editors that isn't as prevalent as it could be?
Romke: I think certainly photo editors could benefit from a better resource of photographers. But at the same time, a photo editor’s best weapon is having a special bond to a really great photographer who other people may not know about. Sometimes it's all about access and sometimes photo editors wouldn't necessarily want the photographer to be on a list for other photo editors. It's so funny because it's a competitive thing that at the same time could be beneficial.
Romke: This is kind of a side note, but I remember seeing a post from a photographer, who hasn't worked as a photo editor, that wanted to make a list of photo editors that would have their email addresses, contact points, public and personal emails, and phone numbers public, too. And they were saying how it’s their job to field pitches from anyone, and I found that a bit disconcerting. If they start getting overwhelmed by emails, then they're just going to turn off that email and switch to a new email. Nobody was really resisting that post that person made and I was kind of surprised by that. People have the right to privacy even if they work in a position where they work with freelancers. I feel like it's counterintuitive if the personal information is divulged.
Romke: Anyway, I think that there's a way to do this, you know, to share that information, but in a private setting to select people. That's different.
Mo: A friend of mine recently needed contact info to an art director at a company and instead of picking that person out in the list of my excel sheet, I just gave them the entire sheet. It was kind of liberating because that list had everyone I'm trying to contact and would like to make work for tomorrow or five years from now. And it's not like I had this information secretly. I found their contact points just like how other people might. So I thought why not do that, to an extent, at a larger scale?
Romke: That's really kind of you to do that for your friend, and I don't see anything wrong with that. I was talking to someone I met a year and a half ago about contacts at a conversation event and they were like, "Oh, here's my list." And they shared her Google Drive with me. It was just pages and pages of photo editors and people in the industry with full contact information. We had just met, [so] I was shocked at how generous they were. I actually haven't used that list yet because I feel like I want to treat it with the most respect that I can. I don't want to spam anyone but at some point I might make use of it and then thank that person for it.
Mossless: A brief history
Mossless is an experimental photography publication run by founder Romke Hoogwaerts. Mossless started in 2009 as a blog where a different photographer was interviewed every two days. In January of 2012, with the help of Jesse Hlebo, Mossless was transformed from blog to print with the release of Issue 1 at Printed Matter, and was later exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Millennium Magazines.
Romke teamed up with Grace Leigh in 2012 for the creation of Issues 2and 3 and a number of limited-edition handmade photobooks. Released in 2014 with the help of over 600 Kickstarter backers, Issue 3 was a major milestone for Mossless, featuring the work of over 100 photographers on the theme of America, which garnered a spot on TIME’s list of best photobooks of 2014. Mossless 4 was an overview of privacy and portraiture, published in collaboration with the International Center of Photography to celebrate the opening of their space on the Bowery in 2016. Mossless has since been in hibernation.
Copy taken from Mossless.com
Mo: I like what you've done with The Reservoir in terms of bringing people together in a platform and giving them something to talk about. That doesn't introduce the obvious bucket of questions like what camera do you use? But how long was The Reservoir an idea before it became a reality?
Romke: Well, that was an idea that Lindley Warren, Nich Hance McElroy, and Jack Harries started, which happened after Trump was inaugurated. Nich sent Lindley a message wondering how we could do something that's community oriented around politics of photography. And that kind of coalesced into a print project, like, a newsprint project with The Ones We Love and Heavy Collective, but they reached a couple of obstacles along the way. They had come pretty far developing content and a dummy copy, but because of financial strains and kind of unanswered questions that was kind of put on hold.
Romke: Around this time that they were facing these questions, I actually was spending a lot of time with them because we all shared the same room at The Art Book Fair. We had a lot of long conversations about best practices with this kind of idea. In terms of my own, I wanted to restart Mossless in a different way online—mostly through digital newsletter service. But basically all these different ideas that we had melted into one and I joined the team and helped them develop a new website, and that's what it became.
Romke: The first issue basically already existed and the content was developed before I came on board. But the core philosophy was it being a community oriented thing that should be available to anyone who's interested, and it be in some way about politics. We wanted to take stuff away from being about national politics but more-so being more broad in the idea of what politics can be, so it could be interpersonal politics or the politics of image making as well.
Romke: There's a lot of themes that we cover but ultimately what's most important to us is that the conversations are worth reading. It isn't just, "What camera are you using?" It's, "Why is this an image that you felt comfortable taking?” or, “What makes you a good individual to be shooting this story?" That's the kind of stuff I think people are interested in reading. That's what we've seen from the responses. It's been a really rewarding project to work on.
Mo: What's been the most challenging part about it?
Romke: Well, honestly, I think the fact that we do it all as volunteers. We're exploiting the digital space and going into really long form articles; there's a lot of images; the design is really customized for each piece in a way that we really put a lot of effort into. So this is all time that we're donating to this practice and it's a lot of time, and I think the biggest challenge is balancing that time. We had this idea of doing it as a quarterly, but we are actually going to be adjusting to a sporadic model so that we'll be releasing whenever we're ready, which might be closer to twice a year.
Romke: We don't want to put deadline pressures on us because things come up. Lindley literally just got married this weekend and she graduated; my book and film is coming out; Jack has The Heavy Collective and he works full time. It's a challenge. Our third issue isn't far away, though.
Mo: Being in a digital space allows flexibility, thankfully.
Romke: Yeah, we're exploiting that to its greatest capacity. I remember when they were talking about the newsprint idea initially. One frustration they had with it was that if they did make a newsprint zine, people who would be interested in it probably wouldn't be able to get it. So growing up in Singapore, I wouldn't have had access to it either. The reason I got involved with this whole photo community was because of the amount of time I spent with it online from a distance. That was so valuable to me, but the economy of the internet is changing. Blogging is kind of dead and in the absence of people going to blogs everyday, maybe we could put something out every now and then that is substantial and engages people in a different way. People might spend time on it fewer times a year but that's okay.
Mo: You're catering to an audience who doesn't mind long-form content. That type of audience enables a committed readership because you're easily weeding people out who don't like reading long digital articles. We're so used to six-second videos or YouTube videos, it's interesting to exist in the same atmosphere.
Romke: We're going to be exploring the ability to utilize different content strategies. We're coming out with some videos soon. We might be implementing Instagram stories in a unique way. But I think implementing these ideas in a different way that surprises people can only help. I think ultimately all we want to do is slow down people's engagement with things. Like I said, the articles are quite long, but we want to design it in a way that people would enjoy spending time with it.
Mo: What is a priority in your life right now?
Romke: I would say right now at this very moment would be the book. We're launching the campaign for it in less than a week. We're sending it to press shortly after that and as soon as it goes to press, I have to get the word out and finish up the movie. There's a lot of work to be done and this is my first major work as a photographer, so it’s taking up a lot of my attention, within reason. I'm really happy with how it’s shaping up and I feel like Vreugdevuur is a project that I'm going to be committed to for years as I continue to shoot it. The Reservoir right now is definitely a major priority for me but at the same time, it's something that I do sporadically. I've been a person who's done interviews with photographers and promoting their work for ten years now—the energy comes and goes, but it'll always be there.
Vreugdevuur Scheveningen is a deep dive into a working-class story of epic proportions, photographed and filmed by Romke Hoogwaerts. Every New Year’s Eve in Holland, two neighborhoods build rivaling bonfires on the beaches of the The Hague. These days they are the biggest in the world.
After the Second World War, The Hague, Holland, was a city of skirmishes every year over collections of discarded Christmas trees to burn on the night of the year's passing; often, the violence on the streets leading up to every New Year's Eve would get out of hand. With the blessings of local authorities, the violence slowly evolved into a battle between Scheveningen and Duindorp, two coastal neighborhoods separated by a harbor, to see who could build the biggest bonfire. Romke Hoogwaerts' family is from Scheveningen, and he decided to make their bonfire story the subject of his first major photographic study. After two years of documentation, research, interviews and writing, his book and film are completed.
Select copy taken from Kickstarter.com
Mo: What has surprised you from interviewing photographers?
Romke: There's been so many things that I have learned through interviewing photographers. I used to do really short interviews through Mossless which were four-question interviews every two days. I interviewed over 300 photographers for that and I had some really great help from people who are still friends of mine—all people I got to know online. But I think one of the first things that surprised me was how many people were willing to participate. I thought I would get a lot of no's, but throughout that process it was always really positive, but it does help that I generally focused on emerging artists. I learned so much about the practice of photography and the concerns and needs of photographers, along with experiences people had in shaping their lives as photographers. Making these books with Mossless showed me that that's the best way to learn how to do these things—by doing. At the time, before I made Issue 3, The America book, I was an unpaid photo editing intern, and I couldn't get paid work as a photo editor or anything like that. I actually had a hard time finding internships that I really wanted in the first place, so I figured that if I wasn't going to be paid for the work, I might as well commit myself to my own work almost full-time. I worked part-time as a tour guide to make it work. The book showed—much more than an internship—what I was capable of doing. Once the book was out, I landed a job as a photo editor. I was extremely grateful for that and happy that I did the book.
Mo: Isn't that funny how things connect? A few months ago I suddenly realised that I was learning how to become a photo editor because I saw an application for one that I applied to.
Romke: Yeah, you learn by doing so much more, and faster. I've learned so much throughout these processes. I have spent a lot of time since trying to take on other things in the different practices of photography. Knowing that I can learn by doing, I know how to frame, how to handle art and photography; how to do printing; how to curate; and so much more. My goal in my 20's is to take on as many practices in the photo field as I can, so that when the the time is right, when I need all these things, I can apply what I need as much as possible. Obviously when you spread yourself thin like this, it can be a little crazy and you can make mistakes, which I've had in the past, but mistakes are the best way to learn.
Mo: Do you worry about how a certain position might affect your ability to get accepted to another type? Let's say you're reaching out to a photo editor about possible commissioned work, but in two years the new conversation is about you possibly being a photo editor.
Romke: Certainly. There are certain days where we feel like I've shot myself in the foot. This can happen in a variety of ways but most of my experiences are so independent that a lot of places wouldn't take it into account, which is unfortunate. And other times, I kind of jumped a couple rungs on the ladder, like, going from an intern to photo editing. But I haven't been a photo editor for two years now. I jumped into freelance and that has been incredibly rewarding because it's exactly what I wanted to do. But now I've done so many different things that if I applied for a photo editing position, it would kind of be hard to be considered because it doesn't look very formal to be jumping around like this.
Romke: Even though it's an annoying word, I'm just trying to make the best content I can. [both laughing] Every time I tackle a project, I do the very best that I can, and I think in the end once something comes out there's always a reward for it, whether its sales, people getting excited, or people involving you in projects that you didn't foresee. I have no idea what the future has in store, but as long as I keep my head down and keep working I'm pretty sure I'll be okay.
Mo: What do you find are the most important things you focus on in an interview? And within that, do you ever know when an interview is way different than the others before you end it?
Romke: If it's a call, I usually figure it out later because it's a lot easier to see where the conversation is going when you're reading it. I'm always looking at work and sometimes you can tell if a person has had an extraordinary set of experiences, and I think that, that is the most appealing thing to me. Either if leading up someone's work or through their work, you can usually tell if its unique and it's something that I have questions about. If I have questions that I want to ask this person, then that means that they're fit for an interview. Sometimes someone's work can be really amazing but there's no questions in my mind. I recently encountered a video artist from Pakistan in Holland, and I was extremely curious about the context of his work and it proved to be incredibly enlightening. I've also learned I'm not as good at doing interviews in person!
Romke: I remember when I'd do short interviews for Mossless, I would go through their website, look at everything they had, and if I had a question that came up while looking at their photographs, I would write it down and it could be as simple as, "What's the story behind this picture?" or, “Are you religious?” Even if it sounded stupid, I felt a responsibility to ask it because that stupid question was in the back of my mind and it felt relevant at the time, and if that was the case, then I felt like it was likely that other people also be curious about this question.
Romke: I used myself as a vehicle for the curiosity I had. My intention was never to seem like a great interviewer; my point was to go after the things I was most curious about. Sometimes that meant putting myself in an awkward situation. Other times, I would push at things that were nagging me. If there was a male fashion photographer only shooting women, I would ask about that. That's stuff that I feel like is important.
Romke: I think one of the most interesting interviews that we've ran at The Reservoir was one that the photographer, David Kasnic, did with a subject. Initially, he was interviewed by another photographer, and it just wasn't addressing some key issues, so we asked him to take another look at this idea. Kasnic photographed a church in rural Milwaukee in a predominately African-American neighbourhood, and he is a Caucasian male. So he ended up interviewing the pastor of the church, Martha Freeman. And among the questions that he asked her, was if the community felt comfortable with his presence, and how she feels about it. I felt like it was the best way to tackle these really important questions that were looming over the work at large. Just talking to the source, the subject, and seeing how they feel—I feel like that was really beautiful. Her answers were really poetic and enlightening.
Mo: It sounds so obvious, but at the end of any interview, your biggest goal is to answer people's curiosity.
Romke: Exactly! The thing that I have to be thankful for is that sometimes the questions or answers that are most interesting are the ones that put the subject in the most vulnerable position because of how open they are. I think that's why it's important for us to keep The Reservoir fairly community-centric. We're not looking for it to be this big magazine that the general public will be engaged with. I feel like if we want to involve photographers in this sensitive way, we have to keep it within the family.
Mo: I think if you're aiming for a conglomerate publication, the ship becomes so big which makes it harder to steer rapidly.
Romke: Yeah, and I think people will be much less likely to be so transparent.
Mo: You want things to be tight, too. You have Mossless with more than 300 interviews, which is great, but you can get easily overwhelmed by that number as a new reader. I've only done 50 interviews in four years, but about 30-something of those have been published.
Romke: Oh wow. What are the reasons for not publishing those?
Mo: I was really bad about it when I first started, because I didn't clearly communicate with the interviewee that our interview wouldn't go live. For me, I knew when an interview covered new surface and I knew when one regurgitated information through a different voice. That wasn't to say that the interviewee was a bad artist or that their answers weren't good answers, but the conversation wasn't engaging a new topic unfortunately, and I want every interview to have its own language.
Romke: I think that's a sign that you're doing a really good job. You're standing by what you think is really credible and rewarding, and if something isn't good enough, you don't publish it.
Mo: Yeah, every interview takes a long time to manufacture because it's just me transcribing, editing, designing, and publishing. It's a big commitment to go through with an interview, so if it doesn't have a spark, I can't go through it. But I hope podcasting, which the interviews will transition to, will help push more out. To clarify, this is separate from the other podcast I’m working on.
Romke: Podcasts are great.
Mo: They are, but there aren't many good photography podcasts.
Romke: You know, there are photography podcasts that are really close... but some are a little dull. I feel bad for saying that, but if your format is interviewing one person and the podcast is over 30 minutes, you have to really rely on the personality of the subject for it to be engaging. Photographers usually aren't naturally born speakers. Not everyone is charismatic. Not everyone can deliver really interesting conversations, so if you end up in a situation with a really fantastic photographer, and the conversation becomes flat because of the speaker, then what are you going to do? I think that's the trap for a lot of arts-related podcasts. It's really hard to make it engaging.
Romke: The ultimate problem, though, is that there aren't visuals. You can have a really great conversation, but if you have a hard time displaying the photos or complimenting them with a web-thing, it's kind of a non starter.
Mo: I've thought about setting up Viewfinder's [upcoming] podcast as web pages with audio bits that are cut up and separated by the interviewee's work.
Romke: That's great. We're experimenting with that with our upcoming video content. What will be coming in our next issue includes three conversations, which were filmed in a studio in Bed-Stuy that we kept intimate. The conversations that took place were really, really compelling and at times extremely vulnerable. But because of that, some of that isn't safe for web because its too revealing about the professional or personal lives of these photographers, so the best way to do that is to break it up into parts and complement it with photos and text, which I'm really excited about. And to that point, I think this is why photo lectures that are on large stages with big audiences end up being a little dry sometimes, because it's such a public-facing thing, that people feel uncomfortable with being vulnerable.
Mo: It's interesting. Regardless of how saturated the podcast market continues to become, photography is so niched that there will be an audience.
Romke: Yeah, I wouldn't worry about the saturation because it's the quality that matters. If it's good, it'll spread. People will listen to it.
Mo: That's super important. Getting someone characteristic is hard. Wouldn't it be interesting if there was a talk show for artists?
Romke: Yeah! It could be a podcast/video talk show where you have quizzes like getting someone to guess what photographer shot a ecom campaign. [both laughing] You never know who shot it, but it's so often someone we know. [both laughing] You can turn that into a segment.
Romke: When I went into photo editing, my goal was to... [pauses] I think a lot of photo editors come at it either having been a photographer or having worked at a non photography, editorial space. My goal was to go into photo editing. At the time, that's what I wanted to do. Instead of it being my plan B, it was my plan A, and I wanted to do photography after that. And I think that's not what people expect, but I found it to be really fulfilling. People come at it from different angles and perspectives.
Mo: I've started to realize that a lot lately. I remember reading an interview with Holly Hay from AnOther Magazine where she mentioned that although she loves photography, she knew that if she put it as her main occupation, it would completely change her relationship with it in not the best way. That made sense to me and was the first time I saw someone talk about that subject in a way that I resonated with but couldn't put into words.
Romke: It's an industry that's really significant, especially with the growing image economy that our society is engaged with. But a lot of titles are cutting down the number of photo editors they have. I've seen some pretty disheartening situations in my own formative experiences but at the same time, it's growing in other ways. You have titles like Refinery29, who have a huge army of photo editors. They've been doing that for a couple years now, but to me that's pretty new; a website having that much staffing potential is pretty awesome. The future is pretty great for photo editing, but at the moment, the transitional state that it’s in can be pretty volatile. Look at National Geographic and how many photo editors they cut after they were bought out.
Mo: What do you think is the catalyst to the transitional period that we're in?
Romke: Advertising. 100-percent. Money's down, sales are down, and images are much harder to monetise so it's just numbers. The other thing is, look at what a photo editor did as a scope of work 40 years ago—it was completely different. They were writing inventive captions. They might have had a darkroom. They were cropping images by hand; that was in their role. Roy Stryker famously hole-punched negatives he didn't like. Nowadays, because we don't do that kind of stuff anymore, a lot of photo editors will leave the editing to the photographer. That changes what they do in one respect. The other respect, one of the places I worked at, the executives were confident that the text editors were good enough to choose photos themselves through newswires, so they didn't need photo editors, which I think, to an extent, kind of true practically—but its dangerous.
Romke: A photo editor is trained, not just to choose a good looking image, but to choose an image that works best with the politics of representation, which are really hard to put into words and train someone to do properly. So when that happens, that becomes disconcerting. An extreme is, I believe the Chicago Tribune, trying to use Tronc to develop online content. They were trying to have AI do image selection. And that is even more scary if you think about it. Having an AI pre-choose selects and having a text editor come in and pick from the small selection that the computer has already chosen based on keywords is crazy. Obviously it didn't work but that's a sign of what could happen in the future. I'm rambling here. [both laughing]
Mo: You're good! Even them introducing the thought is scary. Imagine someone looking at how they failed and fixing the rough patches. It opens up a pandora's box of shit to worry about for the people whose job this technology is replacing.
Mo: Maybe we aren't the right authorities to have this idea, but do you believe that the title "photo editor" will still be what it is in 20 years?
Romke: It's a good question. [pauses] Ultimately, images will always be important. I think the biggest threat to photo editors is video.
Mo: Wouldn't that transition the role into being a video curator, or at least the role encompassing that?
Romke: I think in terms of what resources have allocated, and I'm thinking mostly about news publications here, but news magazines will always be a thing. The New York Times Magazine is really successful. I don't know how much money it makes, but it's this thing that generates a lot of value for the weekend paper, and so photography in that respect will always be important—they will always need photo editors.
Romke: I think what's really inevitable is for digital content distribution to dramatically change inherently and how it functions. Websites like Instagram and Reddit are really, really early versions of what publishing is capable of. I think publishing is going to ultimately shift towards decentralization. I know that sounds crazy and sophomoric and watering down this quality of content, but I think that there's going to be a really beautiful transformation of the utilization of the public sphere in the sense that everyone can be "photo editors".
Romke: Everyone's been talking about how everyone is a photographer, but I think the idea of everyone being an editor is going to be a more significant thing. Thing is, all these things haven't come to life yet, if you're talking twenty years in the future, that's 2040; that's a whole different world we're going to be living in. I like to read about economic changes that we're going to be seeing in the future. I think the early 2030’s will be a game changer for a lot of global economies.
Mo: I think one thing you mentioned that I want to discuss further is think of the language of curation and how much that has rapidly changed. Glen O'Brien said that the internet gave the individual power, and I think that power, within the context of an art practice, allows everyone to be a curator. Because they're a curator of their own identity, they're mindful of what's associated with their identity.
Romke: That's very true. I think that, that's going to evolve even further beyond that. We can't really foresee how that's going to happen, but I think it's something to be excited about, but it is also something that threatens creative industries like photo editing. Photo editing will always be around but it's going to be shaken up some more for sure.
Economy & Creativity
Mo: Mossless was one of the first websites that showed me that I could be publicly curious and have a platform for it. I just wish that there were more publications, currently, like that. It's kind of disappointing to only see a few publications create content that talks about the practice of photography. We have Rocket Science, The Reservoir, Photographic Journal, to name a few, but I wish there was more. It's interesting to see individuals tackle that, though. Someone like Jake Stangel is championing that dialogue with his new blog, Blah Blah Blag,
Romke: The funny thing is that his earlier blog, Too Much Chocolate, was something I caught wind of as it was closing. I was blown away and wish I knew about it earlier, but it is a shame that people aren't doing it more, but then again, as I was saying earlier, the economy of people's attention online has changed. People don't engage with blogs as much anymore and there's nothing you can really do about that. I think what you and I are doing are the best ways to tackle it—within longform style.
Romke: Going back to another point I was making, the economy really plays into this. It's been a long time since the economy has crashed and people are still having a hard time paying rent! As soon as that becomes easier, everything else will fall into place in so many ways. Not just in terms of how many websites are going to be made by curious, excited young people that are going to change the game, but also how people are going to spend their time. Writing and reading hinges on how much we can afford to do those things. So I'm optimistic about the future. It's going to take a little longer, but 10 years from now isn't that far away. The years are going to go by pretty quick.
Mo: Having a steady economic wavelength helps. I've asked a few prolific photographers about how their career has treated them the past couple months or year and the answers are widely opposite; it's either really good or really bad. The highs are high; the lows are low. And I've encountered more people going through the lows than the highs.
Romke: It sucks but it only makes us hungrier, right?
Mo: It does! But within that hunger, does it make us unnecessarily jaded?
Romke: I don't know. I think everyone responds to it differently. Ultimately, this stuff comes in waves. We might be excited tomorrow and that's what I look forward to because along the way, we can only do the best that we can.
Mo: Is there anything in your career, now or in the past, that you're more cautious about?
Romke: I think when I was younger I was really naive about [things]. I just wanted to work for anybody I could do something for and I didn't really care about who the individuals I was working for were. I got into situations where I worked for people who weren't good culture matches for me which ended up not being healthy for me. You need to really be careful about where you end up working sometimes in terms of making sure that the people are a match. I think the best example of that is before I was a photo editor.
Romke: I was still doing a lot of video at the time and I got a job as an assistant video editor at a small ad agency. It was run by a co founder at VICE, who at the time still had a lot of street cred, and I grew up reading some of his stuff. But he was a really toxic person to work with. I did this job during the summer and when I left, I had no desire of becoming a video editor. It kind of killed my spirit. Now, the co founder is stoking the flames of white nationalism and that's really upsetting and I can't believe I worked for him. Like, damn. [both laughing] There's no way I could predict that, but it's funny how much this stuff can affect you.
Mo: What do you think is the biggest responsibility you and I have with our platforms right now?
Romke: I think as a photo editor, the most important thing is that with your choices, you're cognizant about not only what you like, but representative of the needs of all kinds of people. You don't want to edit for yourself or a select group of people. When you edit photos, you want to keep the world in mind. It sounds corny, but there's a responsibility there to think beyond yourself. That takes practice. Keeping up with news and global events helps, depending on what work you do, but nonetheless, you need to be thoughtful.
Mo: Yes, and it's important to ensure you're having a healthy relationship with your readers. Or at the end of the day, any type of relationship counts.
Romke: There needs to be respect.
Mo: They're giving you time. In this world we unfortunately either have time or money. Never both.
Romke: Exactly. If you're not treating them with respect then why else are you doing it?
Mo: Why do you think you're doing all of this?
Romke: I don't know. I ask myself this all the time. [laughing] I'm drawn to telling stories and my whole life I've been obsessed with images and how the dissemination of images affects societies. That's always been the thing I've been most interested in. Even if I wasn't drawn to telling stories, I was drawn to analyzing how stories are told. I would pore over all types of printed matter that I could find and figure out the visual decision-making process. That's always been a curiosity of mine as far back as I could remember.
- It was fun talking with Romke who’s project, Mossless, became one of the beacons of inspiration for me in terms of building and nurturing a community. I can’t stress how important it is for us to contribute to the proverbial creative garden we’re plucking from.
Where can we follow you?
- Website and Instagram
Last thing you googled?
- Dutch proverbs
What does working with you feel like?
I don't want to know! Probably fantastic. Hire me.
How many photo editors are needed to change a light bulb?
One to commission it and another to handle the invoice and in the end neither leave their desks.
Favorite thing(s) you’ve read recently?
- An essay on Depression by William Styron.
What question do you hate getting asked?
- Are you a wizard?
What would your tombstone say?
Here lies a man who asked too many questions.
- Elizabeth Renstrom
“People are really open to how you build community in your own way.”