Amazing portrets of amazing students

‘They’re like a breath of fresh air’, says photographer Baukje Venema when she is asked about the international students’ effect on Groningen for her latest project, What’s up with the hagelslag?, which will be exhibited at the Let’s Gro Festival this week.

Baukje Venema’s had just acquired a studio and started to photograph professionally again. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do – portraits maybe, as she was interested in people? Something with Groningen, because this was her city now? Until the idea hit her one day when she was waiting at a bus stop and heard some international students talking. She recalls: ‘I really didn’t know anything about that group of students and I guess I was just curious about how they see the city and experience it.’

She decided to go travelling. Not by going places, but by doing a project about international students and Groningen. ‘I wanted to put a face to them.’

Blown away

The first international students – from Brazil, Canada and Indonesia – found their way to Venema’s studio via Facebook and flyers. She was blown away by their enthusiasm and vivacity. ‘Their energy surprised and inspired me. I never thought that our city could have such a positive impact on people.’

Amisah Zenabu Bakuri from Ghana does the Research Master Modern History and International Relations / Photo Baukje Venema

In her exhibition Venema focuses on the interaction between her and the international students in front of the camera. She wasn’t looking for perfection or beauty. ‘I wasn’t looking for masterpieces, but I was aiming for real contact.’ She focuses on the moments in between. ‘The ones I like the most are the moments just before a smile or thinking really hard.’


The black and white portrait of Dimitris, a German student, stands out. In a series of three, Venema tries to show various moments throughout their conversation. She describes how he is laughing very loudly in the first picture, the next one is an in-between moment where he closes his eyes and the third one shows him very skeptically. ‘I had a really good conversation with him.’

Venema also collected quotes from the students to reinforce their portraits and her message. Dimitris, for example, remarked that the Martini Tower looks slightly crooked when you approach it from the Oosterstraat. Venema says: ‘It’s a funny remark, but it has a deeper meaning. Look twice, Stadjers (Groningers), and rediscover the city!’

Extra colour

Just as she made contact with international students, she wants the city to have more direct contact with this expanding group. ‘At the moment we just walk past each other, which is such a pity because we can learn so much from each other.’ For Venema, international students bring a lot of extra colour to Groningen.

Also, international students like Dimitris see the city from a different perspective. ‘Their time here is an adventure’, Venema explains. ‘We locals could look at things in a different way as well and see what’s special in things we would otherwise regard as ordinary.’

If you want to experience the city through the eyes of international students, come to the Old Post Office at Munnekeholm 1, Groningen, on Thursday between 8 and 10 p.m.