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Photos

20 Years of Street Photography Shows Just How Boring We All Are

Dutch photographer Hans Eijkelboom captures the universal anti-style of pedestrians around the world.

Phaidon/Hans Eijkelboom

Somewhere between August Sander's portraits of early 20th-century Germans and the very recent embrace of "normcore" lay Hans Eijkelboom's photographs of pedestrians around the world.

In his latest project, People of the Twenty-First Century (Phaidon, $35), the Dutch photographer shares the results of 20 years of lurking and shooting along the world's busiest streets. The images reflect just how completely average we all are.

Heavily influenced by Sander and Ed Ruscha's striaghtforward photographic styles, Eijkelboom has a keen eye for the banal. Since 1993, he has worked on his "photo notes"—arriving in a city, setting up on a major street, and then, within 10 to 15 minutes, choosing a recurring visual theme before shooting in the same spot for one to two hours. Once he's done, he puts the best examples into a grid, with the place and time at the bottom of the page. This technique yielded a stream of Louis Vuitton-style murses in 2006 Paris, a pack of Canadian tuxedos (denim on denim) in 2007 Amsterdam, and an army of shirtless rollerbladers in 1997 New York.

Photo Note, 9 September 2006, Paris, FR, 11.20-12.45 (Hans Eijkelboom)

Long before the fashion world coined a term for the idea of intentionally dressing like everybody else, Eijkelboom sensed that people were (accidentally or not) looking more like one another than ever. "You see the same themes in Moscow and São Paulo now," says the photographer.

It's a message Eijkelboom touched on with his 2007 book, Paris, New York, Shanghai, where boringness reigns in the past, present, and future culture capitals of the world. "In the last 10 years it's really changed. Every shopping center in the world has the same brands now."

Photo Note, 7 November 2007, New York City, US, 14.00-15.30 (Hans Eijkelboom)

One could argue that Eijkelboom's most interesting grids come from Amsterdam, where he currently resides, but he says he has a hard time there composing his photo notes. "For me, Amsterdam is problematic because there are too many tourists."

Lately, Eijkelboom is more interested in smaller cities with limited tourism; he's especially intrigued by England's second biggest city. "Birmingham," he says, "is very inspiring and not so many tourists. There, it is possible to to get the real Englishman only influenced by the culture around him."

A book and exhibit on his work in Birmingham is in the works for 2015. No matter what city strikes his fancy next, Eijkelboom says he has no plans to stop his ongoing project anytime soon.

Photo Note, 22 June 1995, Arnhem, NL, 13.20-13.55 (Hans Eijkelboom)
Photo Note, 24 August 1997, New York City, US, 10.50-11.20 (Hans Eijkelboom)
Photo Note, 22 November 2004, Rotterdam, NL, 12.00-16.00 (Hans Eijkelboom)
Photo Note, 15 April 2005, Amsterdam, NL, 12.10-13.10 (Hans Eijkelboom)
Photo Note, 12 October 2005, Shanghai, CN, 12.00-13.00 (Hans Eijkelboom)
Photo Note, 10 November 2013, Amsterdam, NL, 13.30-16.30 (Hans Eijkelboom)

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