YAMANDÚ ROOS INTERVIEW
April 14th 2018 marks the anniversary of the kickoff of photographer Yamandú Roos’ project Europeans. It was in Marseille (France) on this day 13 years ago that Roos, Patta collaborator and friend of the brand since day one, took his first steps into a journey that would last 10 years. Driving throughout the whole continent of Europe in his trusted Peugeot 205 which he dubbed The Eagle, taking photos in every country, Roos has seen his share of interesting scenes. The one that he wants to highlight today is that very first week spent in France, where the idea for his project was conceived. The way the Marseillaise youth is dressed has a certain freshness that holds up even to this day, more than a decade down the line. We sat down with Mandú and learned how Europeans was formed. Find out below.
Yamandu, you started Europeans 13 years ago. Were you studying photography then?
Yeah, I studied at the Royal Art Academy (KABK) and I was living two lives. There was the art academy life, dealing with teachers and their bullshit and their stupid assignments, and the stress that that gave me.. and at the same time I was living my Amsterdam hiphop life, being free to do whatever I wanted, documenting and hanging out..
In 2005, on the 14th of April, I had been focusing on Uruguayan football for a couple of years, I had graduated with it. And at a certain point I was like “Okay, this is an ongoing thing and it’s cool but I need to do something fresh, something new..” I was interested in Europe, I was still very much into football, as in a visual documentation of football and trying to do something with urban culture, hiphop blablabla. I had this great opportunity: someone was in Marseille, in the banlieue, working on a graduation project and I was invited. It sounded like a good place to land: just go there and stay and you have a “in” into the Marseille suburbs/ghettos/banlieue/quartier/whatever you want to call them. So I was like “LETS GO!” And I went and got into this weird place, kindof like a crazy atmosphere.
Well, it’s not friendly and happy, it’s pretty rough. There’s a lot of poverty and drug dealing in the banlieues. But even though the settings were quite grimy, there was always a great atmosphere around the football, a lot of fun. So once you’re a bit inside, it is nice and friendly and warm.
So how did you manoeuvre this not so happy place when you got there?
It was grey, it was overcast, it was cold. It was the beginning of spring and I didn't know what I was gonna do. Clean slate. I wrote one line in my diary that day “Today I think I took my first steps into THE EUROPEANS, trying to see and feel what to picture and what not to picture.” I literally wrote that down. I was there and I made a portrait of this kid at a skate pool and that became the opening photo of my book. There’s a lot of stories, a lot of things that you can make up yourself when you see this image, whether it’s about politics, whether it’s about people coming from Africa to Europe, or whether it’s about style. And that’s the cool thing about this photo. Maybe it’s a kid getting drunk at a park bench, which is a very simple thing. You can go all over the place with this image and that’s what I like.
That note you took..
Yeah.. I was already thinking about Europe going to Marseille, but on that day I wrote it down. So it’s nice to say: “I did a project that lasted 10 years, from taking this first photo until the book was launched and it’s complete.” For me it’s nice to celebrate that on that day, wether it’s an IG post, which I did last year, in 2015 I did a big event at the present plus HQ with Nalden. We did a huge exhibition with a book launch of another Europeans book, made by Red Lebanese from Paris, so that was 10yr Europeans. And now we’re doing a small publication on the Patta blog.
That week in Marseille was kind of grimy; it was cold, it was lonely.. I was feeling down in those days. I was going through this transition, didn’t have a lot of jobs.. I had done big stuff but people weren't calling me anymore.. I did this big Ronaldinho campaign for Nike and whatnot, but at the same time I was very junior, I was 25 you know so it’s not that things go by themself. Still not. You can never think “oh I did all these big things, I can just kick back and wait for it to rain.”
So you went looking..
So I was going through a lotta shit in those days and I got to that really dark place, with a lot of rough vibes. People there are surviving you know, there’s a lot of drama going on there. But I got lucky because this guy Alex Kals, this photographer, who was graduating and invited me.. he took me on. There were a lot of social workers in the area and they’ll let you tag along.. they’ll take you everywhere, you get introduced and it’s kind of like a safe pass in the banlieue. They just explained to me what to do and how to act, like “don’t walk around with your camera in your hand, ever.” And that worked out well for me. I had a great time in the end, a lot of fun. Nice people, nice atmosphere.
So how does this become a 10 year project?
I’m trying not to get into this kinda project anymore. It just got out of control. The best situation would have been “OK, I grab a bunch of cash, take a car and I’ll drive through Europe for a year. Visit every country on the continent, make a book, call it a day.”
That did not happen.
That did not happen. I did Marseille and Paris in 2005.. After that, I knew for sure I was doing this project and it was three years of doing other things. I was conceptualising the project and sorting out my career, I was doing a lot of stuff to give myself a boost. Doing a lot for magazines, advertising, making money.. doing a whole bunch of stuff which really kind of elevated me as in getting work, making money, getting my name out there, making contacts.
And then in 2008, at the beginning of March I regrouped and said “OK, let’s do this.” I think I was really afraid of being alone and going out on the road on my own. So that was a big thing that held me back. I was trying to get funding to do the project and that didn’t really work out.. so there was a certain moment where I just said “if I don't just do it it will never happen.” I had a car, I had some cash, I had time.. what’s keeping me back? I had to admit I was afraid to go and just drive alone somewhere. So basically that was the first obstacle that had to be overcome. I started driving and I felt so alone.. Anxious, like “where am I going to sleep??” I had already figured out “if I go to Berlin I can stay with those people..” But still it was scary, so the first night I didn't even make it out of the country. I had a place that I could crash and I chickened out. The next day I woke up feeling fresh, I went out and I arrived in Bremen, then I arrived in Hamburg where I stayed in a youth hostel. In those days I was really like “youth hostel? Hell no! Camping? Hell no! I want comfort..” I was really super picky, afraid…
I had this mission where I needed to train myself in all these things, ‘cause if I was gonna do this Europeans project and visit all countries of Europe and do roadtrips and all that, I needed to be ready for all kinds of shit, I needed to be ready to sleep on a dirty floor, or a dirty house, in whatever circumstances. So this was training day, basically. I stayed one night in a youth hostel in Hamburg, sleeping in a dorm room. You know, people snoring and that stuff. That wasn't the last time, that was just the beginning. And the day after I went to Berlin where I stayed with friends, very comfortable, very nice. But.. it was dark and it was snowy and I was driving around Marzahn, you know this rough area..
And that was almost like 2.0 of the project. It started with Marseille and Paris and in 2008 I finally got my shit together and I said OK, we’re gonna do this. After that I applied for funding at Mondriaan, they rejected my application. I was still without any funding, thinking to myself “what are you gonna do?” Followed by “FUCK IT, LETS GO!” I went to do a Norway tour, I drove to Norway.. and that was more solid than my short Germany trip. Norway, alone, camping, youth hostel, everything. It was nice, it was pretty…
A lot of the photos in Europeans are in a super intimate setting, how do you end up in these situations with people you don’t know?
What I discovered during those trips is that this aimlessness and having a mission but not knowing what this mission is exactly, letting things go within this framework of Europe, is also a tool. My whole thing is that there’s all these personal things that you get attracted to and want to shoot, and that also evolves. So the whole idea of being bored or being alone, not having much to do except going out there and trying to grab some nice shots, without having a concept or rules like “this is a repetition project.” There’s this beautiful repetition project by this amazing photographer Hans van der Meer, he photographed European football fields, starting with Dutch pitches and he photographs them when there’s an amateur game going on, from a very specific angle, and it’s in my opinion the best football photography ever done, it’s completely amazing, but it’s very specific. Once you have that, you just grab it and repeat it over and over again, boom. This project is not that. This kind of freedom I gave myself is not really freedom, it’s a big problem. Because..
Yeah, aimlessness.. When all the countries were visited and all the photos were taken, and the whole archive was made, I didn’t know how to make it a book because I didn’t know what the book was about. What was the project about? Every time people were asking me this question I couldn't really answer it. “Aimlessness sounds really vague, ya fuckin idiot!”
I don’t think aimlessness sounds vague necessarily but it’s more like “How do you make a story out of that full archive? What is the story you want to tell?” There’s so many paths you could take.
You would have to make a story out of it and by making a story you also kill a lot of other things.
So how did you make the book?
I did a lot of stuff, I tried a lot of stuff and at the end of the day together with a graphic designer we figured that we’d make it chronological, and choose our favorite shots. But that took two years of a lot of options. I started making a book with someone, payed a lot of money, to make my book. Gave them the material, here’s the book.. and.. when it was getting ready to be printed I realized “OK, this is not gonna work” and I had to start all over again. That was painful, it was rough. The whole making of the book was a whole journey of its own.
So basically there was an aim doing the book but no narrative..
Exactly, there was no predefined narrative.
It was just “we’re gonna take all the photos, line them up chronologically and choose our favourite shots.”
There’s one thing you do when it comes to making a book: “are they gonna work with each other?” That is the thing and since I visited 40 countries I tried to get every country into the book, which I didn’t do in the end. But we got close.
What’s your connection to Patta actually?
I’ve hung out since ’98 with Gee & Edzon, during the Fat Beats days. I met them at Fat Beats and we slowly established a friendship from there. I remember at a certain point they gave me a corner in Fat Beats to hang prints of my work. And then me and Edzon started doing stuff, he’d be like “Yeah, we’re gonna do a project.” Ed is always this kinda guy that wants to do “projects”.
Hahahaha! And then he’ll find someone to work on the project with him. I think this thing is still going on now. I would be the photographer, he’d be doing a mixtape and we’d do a whole bunch of photos and then they’d end up in the mixtape and on the cover.”
You did a t-shirt together with Patta.
Yes yes yes, the wine t-shirt. That’s a great story. Uhmm, we did a job together by chance. For Converse, we went to Toulouse, we had to interview/photograph Futura. So we go there and I like natural wines and there is this specific wine I always try to get, which is hard to find.. so before going to Toulouse I figured out where I could buy it and there were two places there that possibly had it. It’s like this sneaker store somewhere far away and they have a few pair you want and they may want to sell you one pair, maybe..
.. You want to get into their stock room but they don't know you yet..
Exactly! And they’re not just gonna sell it to you like that.
Gee & Vinz didn’t know about my hidden agenda. I had my work agenda and then my second mission was to cop some bottles. So we were there and I was like “hey guys, I’m gonna go to this wine store, I’ll be right back!” Gee and Vinz decided to come along. I ask for a bottle of Overnoy and the guy looks at me like “who are you?!” “Yeah, you can buy one bottle, but you’ll have to buy something else as well..” So we bought some bubble, bought the Overnoy, we do the photoshoot, and then we have dinner and then we were in the mood for a nightcap. I knew of this one place that was supposedly really cool, and when we walk in there’s a bottle of Overnoy on the bar with two guys sitting there drinking it. “NO WAY! Hey, could we order that?” The guy behind the bar said “No, it’s finished, there’s only a white one left” So we ordered a white one, started drinking and became friends with the guys sitting there and blablabla.. it was all very funny. Then our new friends told the bartender to give us a bottle of the red and miraculously there was still an Overnoy. Gee & Vinz didn't know what was going on.. they loved this whole process and so the idea was Brankie to do a t-shirt. I wrote a letter to the winery, my mom translated it to French and they reacted with a “let’s go for it” and we did it. In the natural wine scene it’s known now that the t-shirt was around..
It sold out instantly..
That was perfect, cause we just did it to do it, we didn't expect it to sell like that. The fact that it did is a great end to a cool story. I don’t think it sold out because of the wine, I just think it sold out because Patta has such an amazing fanbase. Not too many people inside of the wine business were aware of this. They found out too late, and now they’re going nuts about it, also cause they can’t get it anymore. I still get hit up about it. I think Patta and I will do stuff in the future, we live in this very small city. Everybody keeps on growing, doing their stuff. It’s nice to make sure our paths cross, even though we all do different stuff. For old time’s sake or whatever, it’s just important.