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The Story Behind the IKEA Photo of Amsterdam (petapixel.com)
301 points by danso 86 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments

Please watch the video rather than just reading the article (there's much more material in the documentary).

Actually, the video made me cry a little bit.

After watching the video, I found https://www.deepakg.com/the-canal-in-ikeas-amsterdam-photo which gives the location and the name of the houseboat. (If you want to see it in Google Street View, a better search is probably Brouwersgracht 56.)

I just tried the co-ordinates for the spot in the link you provided but its directs you to the IKEA store in AMS and not where the photo was taken. As I'm currently in Amsterdam I might go snap my own photo of it just for the hell of it.

Please do

I have, it's quite a busy spot but I managed to get something similar

I'd love to see it if you're willing to share

The video is quite good. It's interesting how many trivial decisions lined up to make an iconic photo

I don't think the decision to make the bike red was as trivial as it seems. Even though the designer mentioned the bike could have been any color, there's a clear aesthetic precedent for red against black & white (see e.g. schindler's list) which also has a emotional component that I think pairs well with the supposed melancholy of the picture.

The documentary shows that there are several other posters in the same series, which all of have some kind of color against black and white. All of them are realistic in some way (for example, yellow taxicabs in New York and a red double-decker bus in London), but not all of them are red.


In photography circles selective color is up there with HDR in that it’s seen as a fun but amateurish venture which detracts from an original but while trying to make the original “pop” more.

None the less, this was a trend in the 90s I think with greeting cards companies whose tropes were highlighted kids, roses/flowers, balloons, etc., against a gray backdrop.

I think it’s funny that in this case amateurish is perfectly fine for the audience. Photography circles aren’t necessarily concerned with creating accessible art that hangs in people’s home and affects them every day. IKEA is.

“Finally, I got in touch with the lead designer at IKEA who had picked the photo more than 10 years ago. I ask him why he picked the photo, and he told me that the first thing they design at IKEA is the price.

This photo was just very, very cheap, and that’s why they picked it.”

Thank you for highlighting that to us. I dismissed the article, but I'm very glad I went back and watched the video.

I too thank you. That's such a well produced, well told, compelling story.

As someone a bit older, I almost can't stand how awesome everything is today.

Just one technique that popped out was the timing, animation of the captioning. Done before, sure, but this author's technique somehow adds to the story telling.

What a time to be alive.

I tried watching the video, my Dutch is a bit rusty. As a warning to others, there is a nsfw bit.

I'm always a bit surprised by this. Is watching videos otherwise fine at work?

It's blurred out though, so you should be fine.

Where I grew up almost every pizza shop would have two specific photos hanging.

- "American Girl in Italy" which appeared to be a lady being leered at by a whole load of guys. https://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/30/europe/tbt-ruth-orkin-ame...

- "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper" which is a bunch of guys sitting suspended in the air. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QCYDzsQ_yM

Not sure why those particular two, but I'm almost surprised if I don't see one of them in one of those types of shops.

Men At Lunch [1] is an interesting documentary about the skyscraper photo, and an attempt to identify the men in it.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZEvNYKEnVw

>American Girl in Italy" which appeared to be a lady being leered at by a whole load of guys.

When you are not good looking, leering behaviour is called harassment. So, this painting promotes harassment it seems.

It not a painting, it's a photo.

And it's a GREAT photo, it tells a story, it tells of another time and another place, of a behavior that today it would be considered unacceptable, but probably at the time was considered normal.

It's sad that today we feel compelled to judge everything based on how "offensive" something is according to modern standards, without for a moment stopping thinking about context.

I am worried for my mom, sister and female friends who find learing offensive. I hope, people remove those photos from pizza parlors to not truamatize more women.

please also remind them to remove their sense of humor as well, since these are often offensive and traumatizing.

I don't think rape jokes are acceptable these days. What do you say?

@choot From the 2017 CNN article

// The caption on the photo of Craig walking down the street reflects cultural mores of the era. "Public admiration ... shouldn't fluster you. Ogling the ladies is a popular, harmless and flattering pastime you'll run into in many foreign countries. The gentlemen are usually louder and more demonstrative than American men, but they mean no harm."

It's a far cry from what we tell women these days, but for its time the mere notion of encouraging women to travel alone was progressive. That's what made the photos so special, Craig says. They offered a rare glimpse of two women -- behind and in front of the camera -- challenging the era's gender roles and loving every minute of it.

"I look at it and I'm taken right back and it was wonderful," she says. "I was an art student. I was carefree. I was 23 and the world was my oyster."


Sorry you're being downvoted. I just spent 30m poking around. Their story is terrific and remains relevant today.



Craig said in 2014 "At no time was I unhappy or harassed in Europe" and that the photograph is not a symbol of harassment. It's a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time!" and "Italian men are very appreciative, and it's nice to be appreciated. I wasn't the least bit offended."

That photo happened long ago. That's a key point here. Today things have changed.

Sure, even some slaves weren't offended at the time when slavery was acceptable. Today, this behaviour is considered harrasment.

Feel free to try it on the street and put a video for us.

I don’t think this is a reasonable assumption. If the participants explicitly stated that the photo isn’t harassment, then it’s unjust for us to assume things about the situation unless we have some information that supports the assumption.

Still, as a woman myself, I feel vividly uncomfortable looking at the image. Her expression does not help, and even if she was smiling or looking happy - this is what you'd do to protect yourself. (A smile under pressure means nothing. You'd even say it was fine during situation itself for the same reason.)

I'm glad she says it was fine, and I notice my perception is coloured by my own experiences. Still, for me, it's a powerful image, and one I wouldn't put up for background decoration.

I’m sorry you feel uncomfortable looking at it. As an agoraphobe, as am I.

Hopefully, with a strong support system, we can both overcome our irrational discomfort from pictures of things that truly present no harm.

Restaurants are really incapable of trying to accommodate all the edge cases for discomfort. Interestingly, I bet seeing these in some way helps.

The thing is, from my experience, this is not always a harmless situation. Seeing this reminds me of those times and makes me think of mitigation strategies to make sure I'm safe. (See that look on her face? My first read of that is 'Don't make eye contact, don't acknowledge them or they'll follow you around the block and into any smaller streets and if you're unlucky back to your house.')

The fact that there's so many groups of seemingly unrelated guys in the picture is good though, they will keep each other in check and if there's trouble some of them will step up to help. If you can be sure there won't be a small subset of them following you one minute later, it could be worse. They seem to be on some sort of break, so you're probably safe from that. The guy with the scooter looks the most problematic, so keep an eye on that one without looking at him.

This is a normal though process for many women. In almost all cases it's perfectly safe, but you need to catch the one where it isn't. Are you telling me this is irrational?

So war photography promotes warfare?

Not by itself, but putting the pictures up in your restaurant might.

Does that glorify it do, yes.

When you are good looking, harassment behaviour is called leering. So, this painting promotes leering it seems.

It is not a painting, it is a picture and it does not promote something, it captures an image from an era you obviously know nothing about. If you judge other cultures from your perspective you can easily get to wrong conclusions and talk about it on the Internet.

It also depends on culture i guess.

There's something about this that resonates with me, in the stark reality of the intersection / tension between art and commerce:

“Finally, I got in touch with the lead designer at IKEA who had picked the photo more than 10 years ago. I ask him why he picked the photo, and he told me that the first thing they design at IKEA is the price.

This photo was just very, very cheap, and that’s why they picked it.”

We {makers | artists | artisans} want to create something that's great, or beautiful, or complete. But commercially, what's viable is the (forgive the cliche) Pareto solution. This photo is 80% of a great photo, at 20% of the price. I tend to forget that the 80% solution is an option to consider when I'm working on a project.

I coincidentally live in Amsterdam and also have been learning photography, not because of any intrinsic interest but because my wife said "buy an SLR because we'll be having kids in a few years, and I want to have nice photos of them." We now have a baby (and many wonderful photos), but I find myself really frustrated that I've put significant effort into learning the technical part of the skillset and she has not. But when I really consider the imbalance, it's true that she can get the 80% result with point and shoot auto or my presets, and there's no reason for me to get judgmental that she doesn't make more of an effort.

Reminds of the saying "You can own 100% of nothing or 10% of something big."

When partnering with a distributor like IKEA, and considering they've sold ~500K of these prints, a "cheap" royalty can be very lucrative.

So true. One of my dreams is to sell Ikea on an affordable, extensible set of construction toys hearkening back to the great industrial sets rather that the branded plastic collectible stuff that’s popular now. One day...

Haha, I spent years running around the world with SLRs, now I have a kid I have no energy for it and just shoot mobile.

> Finally, I got in touch with the lead designer at IKEA who had picked the photo more than 10 years ago. I ask him why he picked the photo, and he told me that the first thing they design at IKEA is the price.

> This photo was just very, very cheap, and that’s why they picked it.

It makes total sense, but seeing it stated directly like that reduces my desire for their art and decor. Not knowing how they do things lets you fool yourself into thinking there's something more there than the cheapest acceptable photo from an archive.

Edit: decor -> art and decor

>the first thing they design at IKEA is the price

this has been used as a promotional tagline in their catalogues for at least a decade, it's not just some quip an interviewee came up with. If it's the sort of thing that makes you not want to shop at ikea, you probably already weren't shopping at ikea.

>you probably already weren't shopping at ikea.

Is one of the reasons I pronounce it 'ickier'. Well, that and their repeated inability to cut bed slats all to the same length. Sitting down heavily on an ickier bed is strictly for gamblers.

I would agree with the substance of your comment if the form wasn't as childish as the old meme of replacing S with $ in various tech companies ...

I've had a lot of issues with IKEA bed slats. It's a shame because the beds themselves are great.

>I would agree with the substance of your comment if the form wasn't as childish as the old meme of replacing S with $ in various tech companies

Well, I did start calling it ickier at around the age of twelve.

I have also had a lifetime obsession with "I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue" on BBC Radio 4, so a fondness for excruciatingly bad wordplay is just part of my general makeup by this point.

It's totally not my thing either. But I still appreciate and respect it deeply.

+400k humans from everyone now have this one thing in common.

I feel the same about sports, church, music, politics. I vividly remember the watch party for the last episode of Seinfeld. Totally not my thing, I didn't even own a TV, my girlfriend dragged me along. I watched the people watching the TV. They related to each other thru this one shared cultural experience. For a brief time, most everyone's minds were synced.

Sometimes I envy people who connect in those ways.

> This photo was just very, very cheap, and that’s why they picked it.

The corollary to that is that by focusing on price Ikea makes the best products for the price.

Were you under the impression that IKEA's flimsy materials and construction were some quaint design choices unrelated to cost?

Well yes, the cheapest version of the furniture at ikea isn't exactly what I'd call sturdy, but try buying some of the more expensive stuff. It's still stupid cheap compared to other furniture stores and no worse quality.

That’s a bit uncharitable.

I found out about IKEA’s Democratic Design Day through My Mini Factory.

It’s probably not a unique philosophy. But I like the idea that good quality design should be available to everybody.

It’s probably a tough gig trying to design an item starting with the cost first. But I think they have largely succeeded.

The construction is also optimized for amateur builders.

You can get wonderfully built artisan furniture, but it won't be as robust against abuse as IKEA stuff generally is.

> Were you under the impression that IKEA's flimsy materials and construction were some quaint design choices unrelated to cost?

The interesting thing about IKEA is that while the materials are cheap, they are also build to last. You can disassemble IKEA stuff and reassemble it without breaking it too much and they know that because their customer support is amazing. I carried boatloads of things back and replaced them because they were no fit.

If IKEA would build just flimsy thing they could not afford that level of customer support because everybody would just replace the broken parts. They don't break nearly as often as you would believe.

There's a fairly regular stream of the really budget stuff chucked out on the streets around where I live; drawers, wardrobes, shelving units etc. Some of it has probably lasted a fair while but I wish the better made models were more even more affordable somehow.

We have a misunderstanding. I was only talking about decorations and art, not more functional items like furniture and utensils.

I don't know if Ikea has some rule to not talk about copying, but I would assume that to be the case also here: that they're actually imitating some relatively well known photo.

what well known photo is it copying?

It's nice to hear from the designer himself not to overinterpret the choices. It could have been any other photo, any other colour for the bike.

Yeah I loved his reply

Really enjoyed this!

I find it funny that 400K people have put up a photo with an overflowing trash bin in their living room. We noticed this after we bought and couldn’t stop laughing. We literally hung up a picture of garbage.

> This photo was just very, very cheap, and that’s why they picked it.

Sounds like a poor justification. There are tons of pictures in the public domain so it's not like there is no abundance of choice there.

It was from a famous photographer and it was cheap. Sounds like a good deal to me.

En example of why I love the HN community - there's something special in this story that is hard to explain and not everyone will understand. But people here seem to!

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