By Clémence Waller
Joram Krol (39) is a well-known face amongst the marginalized homeless, addicts and prostitute communities of Groningen. He wanders around the city streets with his camera and backpack in search for justthe right shot.
Joram walks towards me with a slow, confident swagger, a discreet backpack casually hanging over his green jacket. His style is his own, unique and matching to his personality. He is covered in intricate, dark tattoos, indicative of his nature as an artist. They represent images, words and phrases that have different meanings in his life. The afternoon is graced with blazing sunshine and a cool breeze.
Great weather, in his opinion, to take photos. Not so much because of the light, though. “People tend to be more open to having their picture taken on days like this,” says Joram. He guides me around the city as I take the rare opportunity to see what the day may bring to this photographer.
“I have no typical day. I once had to walk 18 kilometers for just for one photo. We shall just see what happens today. If we meet somebody, that’s great, if we don’t meet somebody, then we don’t,” he says calmly.
Getting up close and personal
His story as a photographer begins at the age of 34, even though he has built roots in Groningen since he was a student.One day, he picked up a camera and started shooting.
He has always been an active person, needing to move, to vibrate. “I have always been an athlete, you know, whatever gets my energy out. Walking two or three hours is a way to vent, it relaxes my mind. So, I put a camera on my back and I just wanted to take pictures.”
Throughout the years his photography style evolved and developed. Inevitably, a particular theme started to recur in his work: photographing those marginalized and ignored by society.
Joram has been patiently taking photos of the homeless, drug addicts, and prostitutes for over four years. After documenting around 100 homeless people in Groningen, he has gained some ‘positive notoriety’, as he puts it.
He vehemently corrects a misconception people have made about him and his work as a photographer. “People think I only take photos of the homeless, that’s not true. I take photos of interesting people in one moment in time. If it’s not natural, I don’t think it’s interesting.”
Joram walks and scans the streets. He spots Kareem, a homeless man. Kareem is dressed from head to toe in black and khaki. He is a kind faced man with weathered features from his time in the streets. A single white tulip is delicately tucked into his backpack strap.
Joram immediately accosts him and switches to Dutch. Kareem agrees to have his picture taken and Joram leads him to a quiet street with a redbrick wall. I watch as Joram unpacks his kit and starts directing his model.
Nothing else matters in the moment: Joram gets inches away from Kareem’s face. The air is still and silent. Suddenly, Joram shouts “OH STOP, STOP, STOP! Dit is perfect. YES! Dit is it, Kareem”. The camera makes a clicking sound. The shots are taken. Kareem observes the screen curiously. He nods. And then they part company.
“I have a duty”
To the streets, Joram is a watchdog, trying in his own way to help them claim back their face, their name, their identity. “[The subjects of the photographs] really appreciate me giving them a face. It says, ‘I am a person, I have a name’. I want to give people their name back.”
According to Joram, most homeless people like Kareem are addressed by their name once every three months. “They hear their name four times a year,” he stresses.
He follows a specific mantra that guides his work. “As a photographer, I feel like I have an obligation to show reality. I want my photos to have a social impact.”
He describes an experience he had with a 19-year-old homeless boy.
“I deliberately posted a photo of this 19-year-old homeless kid in front of a big Christmas tree on Christmas eve. It went viral! I didn’t make a cent off that picture but I wanted to shove it in people’s faces that ‘Hey, there is this kid out there tonight with no home’.”
The same kid is no longer homeless and has since put on weight and is working through his trauma. When he sees Joram, he smiles and thanks him.
Joram is also smiling. “This means the world to me.”
See you in court
To some institutions, he is that sharp thorn in their side, armed with a camera and a fire in his belly for social change.
“The shelters don’t like me because they think I’m meddling around. I see things they don’t want me to see. The Gemeente wants to sweep things under the carpet and I’m exposing them.”
He finishes with one more anecdote about a prostitute. Joram took a photo of her during a vulnerable moment where she had a psychotic episode. He then posted it on his professional Facebook page. Not long after, the shelter where she lived at contacted him to pull it down.
“I told them ‘I’ll see you in court. Get at me. I am a photographer. I have my values. I took a photo in a public space and she gave her consent even after the episode.’ In the end they couldn’t get me to take it down.”
Today, the woman is in a mental and rehabilitation facility and getting the help she needs. For Joram, that is why he takes his photos. He says that this type of photography has never been done in Groningen. Before him, there weren´t any good photos of those marginalized.
“We live life through an Instagram filter. I wanted to distinguish myself from others. I took photos of people taking crack cocaine, and of prostitutes selling their bodies. It’s raw. It’s never been done before.”
When asked if he has ever been to court, he
smiles and shakes his head with impatient glee. “No, I haven’t but I look
forward to it. Bring it on!”
Photo credit to Joram Krol
Learn more about his work on Twitter and Facebook