The Dutch and their bicycles, they’re pretty legendary. In her new photo book US photographer and author Shirley Agudo gives us a glimpse of Holland's unique cycling culture. The Dutch & Their Bikes: Scenes from a Nation of Cyclists will be available internationally from May 2014. We met up with Shirley Agudo and asked her about this fascinating book.
Shriley Agudo presenting her new book. Photo © Holland-Cycling.com
What do you want to show in your book?
Through the almost 700 photos in my new book, The Dutch & Their Bikes, I want to show the rest of the world what cycling in the Netherlands – the most cycling-friendly country on earth – is really like. The photos in my book show everyday cycling in Holland as a way of life; they show how and where the Dutch use their bikes, what they carry on them, and how the incomparable infrastructure supports their cycling lifestyle.
As a street photographer, I primarily shoot candid photographs. I like to capture the natural expressions and behaviour of people and, therefore, I prefer not to stage shots, whenever possible. That’s the difference between my work and other photographers who pose people with their bikes, for example. I am capturing the moments, not creating them. I rarely stop people to ask if I can photograph them because, to me, that ruins the ‘real-life’ moment. Look at some of the expressions in my photos and you’ll see what I mean. They’re priceless.
What do you want to achieve with your book? Is it just about beautiful pictures, or is there more?
Cycling is a very hot topic around the world right now, as many other countries are looking to the Dutch to learn how they do it – how they get people to cycle on an everyday basis, not just for sports and recreation, and what sort of cycling infrastructure is needed. My book serves two purposes: to visually show other countries what the world’s best bicycle culture looks like, and to provide a photo book that everyone can enjoy, no matter what language they speak. There are many humorous photos in my book, as well as very typical scenes. And, there are a few surprises…
What is it about the Dutch and their bikes that fascinates you so much?
There is simply no other country in the world with this kind of cycling-friendly culture. It’s the best there is, and as an American photojournalist living in the Netherlands, I am privileged to be able to photograph it, write about it, and present it to the rest of the world.
Were you already into bikes and cycling before you came to the Netherlands?
Absolutely not. Sure, I learned to cycle from a very young age, as most American children do, but I was never particularly interested in cycling until I moved to the Netherlands in 1993. Then I was blown away by what I saw, and, as a photographer, I started photographing everyday cycling scenes. When I realised how many photos I had of this topic, I decided to publish a book about it. My first book on the subject was called Bicycle Mania Holland, which did very well and sold out twice. So, instead of reprinting for the third time, my publisher, Scriptum/XPat Media, and I decided to do an all-new book, with all new photos and text, and The Dutch & Their Bikes: Scenes from a Nation of Cyclists was born.
How much do you cycle?
I am asked this question all the time. The truth is that I do not cycle often, as most people would expect, because most of the time I’m photographing when I’m out and, if I were to ride my bike, I would have to stop and put it down every time I saw a shot, and then get my camera ready, and, in 95% of the cases I would miss the shot – especially since I want candid action shots. With street photography, you have to be extremely quick. Since cyclists are moving, of course, I could not get the kind of shots that I do by cycling. So, I take the bus or train or tram to where I want to go, and then I walk all over the town or countryside, and photograph. Walking works best for me.
Many of your photos in this book depict cycling in the city. Does your book give a complete impression of the Dutch cycling culture?
There are indeed many photos in my book that were shot in Amsterdam, Groningen, Utrecht, Maastricht and The Hague, with a particularly healthy amount from Amsterdam because it’s regarded by many as ‘the world’s best cycling city’. However, I have travelled around the country to include many other towns and villages, such as Staphorst, Eemnes, Marken, Alphen aan de Rijn, Nijmegen, Kinderdijk, and many others. The latter part of the book concentrates more on these.
This is your second book about the Dutch cycling culture. Is there to be a follow up, or are you now done with the topic?
That remains to be seen. All I know is that I can’t stop photographing cyclists in the Netherlands, even when I try. I’m afraid it’s in my blood. So perhaps there will be another new edition. The interest is certainly there, so, time will tell.
How can people get hold of your book?
The Dutch & Their Bikes is available in bookshops throughout the Netherlands and also in some other countries, including the US and the UK It’s also available online via my publisher at www.hollandbooks.nl, as well as www.bol.com, plus www.amazon.com and www.amazon.co.uk.
Signed copies are available at book-signings. I will be signing books at the American Book Center (ABC) in Amsterdam on Saturday, 10 May, from 3-5 p.m. and at ABC in The Hague on Thursday, 15 May, from 6-8 p.m. Everyone is welcome to come! I will also be visiting WorkCycles in Amsterdam for a very special book event, so keep an eye on their site for the date!
About Shirley Agudo
Shirley Agudo is the author and photographer of six books: Fodor’s Holland, Network Your Way to Success (with C. Ruffolo), Here’s Holland (with Sheila Gazaleh-Weevers), Hot Pink (about the gay parade in Amsterdam), Bicycle Mania Holland, and The Dutch & Their Bikes: Scenes from a Nation of Cyclists.
Her photography is represented by Eduard Planting Gallery, Fine Art Photographs, in Amsterdam. Her work has been exhibited around the world, and her photographs are available for purchase, both prints and digital via the website of Shirley Agudo.