Frans Pegt is a photographer for the Rijksmuseum located in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In this interview we discuss how he became a photographer and a bit about the Rijks. The interview was conducted in March 2019.
Mike Rippy (MR):How did you get interested in photography and then find yourself working with cultural heritage?
Frans Pegt (FP):I started photography in high school. They had a photography class to choose from and I thought, “Well, it’s nice to do.” I had always wanted to paint. I had an uncle who was a painter, but my father told me, “Well, you can’t get a lot of money with arts so take a profession where you can have a good income.” That was photography.
I started there with photography lessons in the darkroom and it was quite fun. Then I went to photography school and art academy to do some studies. In 1989 I started as an advertisement photographer and I did that until 2007. In 1996, I started digital photography. I invested a lot of money in HDMI lights and a Phase One.I was one of the first in Holland working with digital photography.
Advertisements was fast working and when they don’t see you, they forget you and it’s kind of–it’s not nice. It was not my thing really. I love art and so there was a job at the Rijksmuseum so I applied for it and I got the job. I’m still here now for 12 years. I am very happy. It combines my love of art and photography. The Rijksmuseum has the highest quality photography department so you can experiment with everything. It’s perfect for me. It’s a perfect job.
MR:It sounds like you and I had a similar path. In high school, I worked on the school newspaper. That’s where my first experience was with photography. I really wasn’t thinking of anything like a career. I was just thinking, “Oh, this is fun.” Then when I went to college, I had a similar experience but it wasn’t my father, but I had some friends and we started talking and saying, “What are we going to do with a degree in art?” I was focused on drawing at the time. I ended up switching to photography.I loved being in the photography program.
I left school and then started working for a commercial photo finish lab. I went on to get a master’s degree in library science, and that snowballed into where I am now. Yes, I love the fact that I can create photography, have an income, and be around artwork daily. It’s great. It is a dream job.
FP:I always say my uncle was my inspirator as an artist and my father was a businessman and he was my motivator. This combination was very good for me at the start of my career. I started at a company as a salesman for professional equipment and they also had a photo lab for developing film. I thought, “Well, how am I going to photograph for my studies.” I studied in the evenings. It was very heavy time working at day and studying in the evenings.
MR:I was going through the same thing. In graduate school it was work all day long and then go to school at night. That was a two-and-a-half-year process for me, for graduate school. I sympathize with what you had to go through to get where you are now. Would you talk a little bit about the Rijksmuseum?
FP: Yes. It’s the biggest museum in Holland. Most people know we have the Night Watch of course made by Rembrandt. This year is the Rembrandt year so now all the Rembrandts we have, all the paintings, drawings, and etches we have will be shown in the museum. It’s very special. When people think of the Night Watch, they think of the Rijksmuseum.
MR: I think you’re right.
FP: The Rijksmuseum shows the history of Holland from the 17th century until now. We also have modern art. We even have an airplane in the collection. We have all kinds of stuff you can’t imagine. I always say it’s a kind of IKEA for the Dutch history. We have furniture, ceramics, too much to mention. We show it all in the museum. Nearly 8,000 objects of the 1.2 million objects that we have in the gallery. The rest is in the depot. We have to photograph everything that’s in the depot, so this is a quite big job. We have already photographed 50,000 objects.
MR: The total size of the museum object collection is 1.1 million is that what you said?
FP: Yes. It is something like 700,000 prints on paper, drawings, etchings, photos, etc., etc. For this we have the photography department print room on line that actually photographs all the work on paper.
Interviewer: Does each photographer focus on a particular medium? Does one photographer focus on sculptural objects, another on prints, then someone else on paintings?
FP: The prints are in another department. They are always in the reproduction studio and a reproduction area.
In principle, all photographers photograph all kinds of objects. We do have people who enjoy doing certain things or are more specialize in something
MR: That’s tough considering the number of objects.
FP: When things are more difficult I find it more fun. Something must trigger me. What I really like is the Asian collection. I done a lot of Japanese lacquer work. I enjoy every paint box like a poem.
Glass and silver are also collections that I like work with.
Furthermore, we get everything from the collection in the studio and we try not to become too specialized so that you can still be amazed by other objects from the collection.
MR: How large is the imaging staff at the Rijks right now?
FP: We have some people in short contracts. We now have 12 photographers in nine studios. We have nine Hasselbladmulti-shot cameras.
The department is very spread out, we have 4 studios in the main building, 1 in the workshop building where all conservation departments are located. and we have 4 studios in the storage house that is located 50 kilometers outside of Amsterdam.
MR: Has your staff looked into getting involved with 3D modeling?
FP: 3D scanning, not yet, but we have a PhotoRobot, 360-degree equipment. We are very busy with other things now so have not had much time to work with it.
A year ago, I photographed the Vianen ewer, that was used for a movie in the exhibition. The Vianen ewer is a top piece from the silver collection.
Photographing silver with 360-degree equipment is difficult and I always say that you can only do silver if you have mastered the device very well, but I had to photograph it first. Fortunately, it worked out well but everything could have been better.
MR: What are some of the objects that you photographed that you have a personal attachment to?
FP: My thing. What I like, are the Japaneselacquer boxes (what I mentioned earlier). I love them. They tell a little story. Once I had one with the theme of the beach. Everything was represented on the box, the sand, the pine trees, the water … it was beautifully made. Even the splashed water drops were copied heavily. It moved me like a beautiful poem. I can talk for hours about these types of objects.