Photographer Niels Stomps considers himself an explorer of places and people. His work focuses on how people adapt to their surroundings and the ways in which a place can affect the behavior of its people. The starting point, he says, is to visit the place once or twice and simply see what he finds.
“Just go,” the Dutch photographer says. “What I hope to find there, I’m not really sure, but I’m always hoping to find something.”
His studies range from places like the tiny North Italian village of Viganella to New York City to the rural towns of central China. In 2012, he began a project at Utrecht University just 25 miles from where he lives in Amsterdam. Funded by the Urban Photography Utrecht Foundation, Stomps was given free reign to produce any kind of photography project he wished, with one stipulation– that the pictures were focused on Utrecht.
In the fall of 2012, Stomps set out to explore Utrecht and the university in the Dutch town of about 320,000 people. He began by shooting traditional landscapes, but quickly felt they were too boring. He tried to shoot the landscapes from an elevated perspective, but was dissatisfied with his results.
While working in his studio one day, Stomps noticed a window washer using a long telescoping pole outside. Through some negotiating, the man agreed to let Stomps borrow an extra pole.
Stomps created a mount for the camera on the telescopic pole and began shooting from this new 35-foot-high perspective. His photos give a bird’s eye view of early morning life around Utrecht’s university.
As Stomps spent more and more time shooting he began to notice a common bird that populated the area, the Western Jackdaw, and that’s when it clicked for him.
“It was as simple actually as photographing the birds and photographing from the sky,” Stomps says, “then it felt like that’s the way I should edit this series. Make it feel like a bird flight through the area.”
Stomps crafted his project into three parts: Air, early birds and Jackdaw, the common bird he photographed mostly.
From the early rising commuter biking before sunrise to people socializing at bus stops to a group of Jackdaws perched in a tree and a lone Jackdaw isolated in flight, he studied the similarities shared between the two populations and how each has adapted to the environment.
“This is one thing I wanted to show: that people adapt to their environment but also animals adapt to their environment,” Stomps says.
Stomps, who has published two books and is working on his third now, says he hopes to continue working on “Early Birds” and eventually publish it as a book as well.
“I prefer making photo books because to me this way of storytelling it’s very important how you connect it all,” he says. “You can do several things but I think a book is a perfect pace for pictures, for my way of storytelling.”
- Raymond McCrea Jones, CNN