by Aaron Schwartz
In One Way to Live, photographer Arnold Karskins documents brief snippets of the lives of some of the women working the Red Light District in Amsterdam. Karskens offers the reader humanizing aspects of their lives, showing them to be more than the happy-go-lucky simplifications that too often are ignored. The format speaks volumes to the authenticity of the essay. Through small pieces of information, the reader puts a face to the story when one of the eight photographs appears on the page. The stories and especially the images are raw, seemingly uncut looks into these women’s lives. One drawback of this photojournalism standpoint is that unlike other forms of writing and storytelling, there is no place for opinion or solution. Karskens is not able to offer the women help or advice, keeping himself out of the story and letting the women continue on with their lives. Therefore, the reader gets an untarnished look into the lives of Dutch women, and what the reader sees is a shocking, gritty, and eye-opening. Karskens appears to have no connection to the story other than his writing. While this is true for much of journalism and photojournalism, it is especially ringing true in this instance as Arnold Karskens is a man taking pictures of semi-nude prostitutes and telling their stories.
Another, less integrated form of Dutch perspectives appears albeit briefly in the first-person essay Who Is Zarte Piet? by Emily Raboteau. In her essay, Emily discusses the controversial Dutch holiday and its arguably racist and historically-numbing traditions. Emily writes as an outsider; An American looking at the tradition horrified at what she is seeing. The piece is argumentative, taking a stance almost immediately against the holiday’s racism. Written in the first person, the essay struggles to put forward much perspectives of the Dutch, save for the arguments yelled at her which she immediately shuts down. However, Raboteau has moments where she relates the beauty of the holiday to that of Christmas, but quickly retracts to her thesis. While this may have been the best course for her in this form of writing, there is nonetheless a lack of writing into the Dutch people’s counter arguments.
In short, both pieces of storytelling offer snippets and glimpses into the lives of the Dutch. They do this through different forms and through different means. In the case of One Way To Live, there is little to no thesis, but rather an unopinionated look into the lives of Dutch prostitutes and drug addicts. Raboteau on the other hand, offers what she sees in the Dutch culture (through the form of the holiday) and leads the viewer to a specific point of view.
Image: Karskens, Arnold. “One Way to Live: Photographic Essay,” Critique of Anthropology 7.3 (1987): 69-79.