On Valentine’s Day we interview TRVLBEES member, Reinier van der Aart – a well-known portrait photographer – about his love of Paris, their family travels and his work as a photographer of course. Reinier has been married to Susi Sommer, www.susisommer.nl, since 2011. Susi, originally German, is a stylist and co-founder of www.yoki-store.com. Since 2013, Reinier and Susi are the proud parents of daughter Bess and they live in a converted clubhouse of a brass band in Weesp (The Netherlands).
Your home is one of the most beautiful we have ever seen- and rumor has it you and your wife Susi love to travel to Paris to hunt for unique and special interior items…lucky you!
First of all, thanks for the compliment regarding our house! We are really happy here; it really is ‘home’ (after years of rebuilding…). And you are correct, some pieces in our house are Parisian, and we did go to Paris specifically to get them!
What’s the most romantic place in Paris in your opinion? Would you consider spending Valentine’s Day there?
Unfortunately, I won’t be sending you off to one spot. To me, the romance in Paris lies in the atmosphere in general and particularly in strolling about town with my wife and daughter, Bess. I equally enjoy an afternoon in Jardin du Luxembourg as I do lunch at Les Deux Magots, sharing a plate of French fries with my girls (yes, surrounded by other tourists…), a stroll along the Seine, early coffee somewhere in Le Marais or a magnificent bottle of red wine at Hotel du Nord.. Back at home we can be so busy, that just being with the three of us, anywhere in Paris is enough to make my heart overflow with gratitude.
I would definitely like to spend Valentine’s Day with my wife in Paris, once! And with Bess… haha, Bess is so fond of Paris, I doubt she’ll ever look at me again if I would take Susi and go without her…Alas, no Paris this year though… Too busy with work.
And Paris with kids: what would you advise to be the very best (secret!) spot? Does your daughter Bess agree, or does she have her own special place?
We always stay at Hotel du Temps. It is a sweet hotel on its own, but, for parents, the icing on the cake is a very nice public playground just across the street! So, every day starts with Bess-time, and when we come to the hotel to prepare for dinner, it’s Bess-time again. She really loves playgrounds, so it is always a treat to her to either go out or come ‘home’!
If you ask Bess for her favourite spot though, she’ll glow and say “chocolate mousse” at Chez Janou. The best in town or probably in the world…
What is Paris’ most photogenic spot? Do you always look at the city through a lens or can you leave work behind and just enjoy its beauty?
Well, in photography I do not look for a landmark, a building or a street. It is, again, the atmosphere. Wat does Paris feel like and can I capture what Paris does to us? To me, the photo of Bess and my wife on the Pont des Arts is all I want to bring home from Paris. I love the photo of Bess in the streets of Montmartre; she is so free, and so full of confidence. I think that Bess is so vibrant because we, Susi and I, feel so alive and at ease walking the streets of Paris; and that is what I want to capture.
Parisians doing their thing, an unexpected reflection of sunlight and sometimes I might shoot the occasional Sacre Coeur if I see something there to portray as more than ‘just’ the famous building. And so yes, unfortunately, I always see ‘life through a lens’. There’s always a camera present.
As a hard-working father, you need a holiday sometimes! What is the best place to relax in France for you and your family? What made it such a great place to spend your holiday? What were your highlights and those of your daughter?
That’s a difficult question since we have hardly been on holiday the past few years! Due to rebuilding our home we had to prioritize and holiday/travel fell short. However, we have spent a week in Normandy with the family for a few years- ‘family’ meaning the larger variant: my mother, father, brother, his wife, my sister, her guy and 5 (now 6) nephews and nieces… so that proved to be a different kind of holiday… Great nonetheless! A cozy countryside-style cottage in Pitié with a huge backyard, cooking, games and building fires. Naturally, Bess loves being with her cousins for an entire week, playing, drawing and running around for no apparent reason.
Susi and I have always loved the south of France before we had Bess and started the rebuilding. My then brother-in-law had a family-apartment in La Croix Valmer, near St. Tropez, so all the good bits nearby, but no hassle or crowded tourism. Day trips to Ramatuelle, dining with your feet in the sand at La Salamandre, or just drinking slightly too much Grand Marnier while reminiscing, overviewing the bay on the tiny home-terrace. Another fond memory comes from Thonon-les-Bains (next to Evian), Lac Léman., with its small town customs, great food, evenings with our hosts’ friends on lovely roof terraces. The lake is mesmerizing, and Geneva is so close you can easily enjoy city-culture and nightlife if you want to.
But ever since Bess, France has mainly been Paris. And that suits Bess just fine!
What do you wish to teach your little Bess during your family travels?
Of course we try to point out the beauty of different cities, surroundings, cultures… and Bess is quite visual, so she doesn’t need us to tell her that The Louvre is a building you should register. But she was still only 5 last time in Paris, so it’s not that we really take her to educate her on the ‘culture’. For us it is important that she enjoys all the time we have for each other and we enjoy that she is interested and actually looks at all the ‘new’ stuff around her. But it is a holiday after all… If she enjoys backflips in the playground more than the stairs of the Sacre-Coeur that is fine by us. It turned out that the kids-department of the Centre Pompidou could easily be beaten by blowing soap bubbles over Paris from the top floor of that same museum. So, we blew bubbles..
Do you have any hotels/villas in France (both in the areas you mentioned above and with kids) that should not be missed when spending the holidays there?
Here ‘I fall through the basket’ as the Dutch say. We spend our family-family weeks in Normandy in a house owned by friends of my parents, and when we stayed in La Croix Valmer it was always at the house of my sisters’ former boyfriend. In Thonon we were invited to stay at our friends’ house…so no recs here! But in Paris: Hotel du Temps. Definitely!
TRVLBEES represents stylish, green, family-friendly hotels and villas: to what degree do you and Susi find these criteria important when booking a property or accommodation yourself?
Most important is that we want it to feel genuine and local. So that sort of rules out the worst accommodations related to style and sustainability. What we search for may not be our style, but if it feels genuine then that is perfect for a holiday in that country. Normally that leads to something small, family-owned and therefore mostly more sustainable than some huge holiday set up. You either shop your own groceries or it is a small served breakfast. No huge breakfast-buffets waiting to be thrown away shortly after 10am for us. Do note: we were once invited to a prime all-inclusive and we enjoyed the living daylight out of it! Very family friendly, very good food (way too much, but good), and very hospitable. So, thanks again mom and dad! Honestly! But we rather book a small local accommodation when we travel with the three of us, and yes, given a choice we will pick the more stylish variant.
We are absolutely mesmerized by your work… Please tell us your story!
Haha! That’s just too long of a story but the shortest shortcut I can make could sound like; I fell into photography whilst being on a very different trajectory in life. But it stuck. I just love to tell little stories and I love working with people. I love their stories and love to make the effort to actually try to grasp their lives, their stories, their accomplishments in the portrait that I make. (Whether that is a portrait of Damien Hirst, of Peter Lindberg or of the city of Napels… a single penguin in Simon’s town, a rained down horse, the life story of Michaela DePrince in a series of portraits, the adolescent children of a client… Or my wife and daughter on the Pont des Arts😉 I could bore you for hours with the why and how of my work and how this career came to life, but I won’t!
Do you ever turn down projects that are notably not committed to preserving our planet or have a negative impact on the environment? And, on the other hand, have you ever specifically chosen an assignment because of its dedication to sustainability or green agenda?
Well, this might disappoint you. If I were asked to shoot the board of Shell or would be given the opportunity to lens mr D. Trump I would not hesitate to do that while they are not the best specimens to guard our environment, and with whom I obviously disagree. But I do not have to agree with you in order to make a good portrait. However, I always have mr Arnold Newman’s portrait of Alfred Krupp in mind (you can look that one up)…
I do work for a couple of charities every year, on a ‘first come, first serve’ base. But given my body of work that is usually more in relation to people than to sustainability. I know that sustainability is for and by people (we often refer to sustainability in regard of saving the planet, but as I see it; this planet will survive. We just won’t.), but the visual content of sustainability is usually more of an earthly matter. Some of the charities I worked for/with are The Red Cross, the foundation for metabolic diseases (mainly in children), the Queen Wilhelmina Foundation and their sub-division: fight cancer. But if Greenpeace is reading along: if they need a photographer for a project they can call me, free of charge (within reason, haha!).
Who else do you consider to be a TRVLBEE?
Haha, YOU Felicia! And, of course, the obvious bloggers out there (Liesbeth Rasker! Unfortunately, no kids). But I would love to read from Jetteke van Lexmond. She travels for work, but also with her family, and I have a suspicion that she has a conscious mind.
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Interview by: Felicia da Costa