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  • Writer's pictureSarah Tulej

Rotterdam Photographer with Emma van der Leest, Biodesigner and Founder of Blue City Lab

Updated: Mar 11, 2023

I feel like I’ve passed some kind of hurdle as a citizen of Rotterdam now that I’ve had the chance to hang out in Blue City. Located under the dirty glass dome of a former aqua park, Blue City is a hub for a bunch of ambitious people from "the world of biodesign in order to build a regenerative, circular and sustainable world."

Down in the basement, via a jungle mural and Flinstone-esque fake rocks, you will find a bunch of biodesigners busy growing fungus and bacteria to make things like bio-based leather, insulation panels, and alternatives to concrete. All in a bid to get us off fossil fuel intensive materials and to take us towards a sustainable future.

I’d been really looking forward to photographing Emma van der Leest, the founder of Blue City Lab. Emma had decided it was time she got some up to date photos as ambassador for Blue City Lab, and also got some photos of her at work in the lab as her work can seem quite abstract.

To plan the shoot we thought about which aspects of her work she wanted to capture. She brought along her microscope, biomaterials (that gloopy thing is a SCOBY and makes kombucha), lab equipment and books to bring into the shoot. We made the most of the fabulous location shooting in the lab, under the dome and outside in front of the river Maas.

This was my second shoot with a biodesigner. Back in 2021 I photographed seaweed (and sea grass, sea kelp) designer and architect in training Katie Larsen. I am so impressed by the vision both these women have for pioneering new materials and methods with no guarantee of fame or fortune. And their generosity in sharing their learning with others in the field.

Since we had the shoot, Emma was featured in Elle magazine talking about biodesign, along with one of her favourite photos from our shoot. Congratulations Emma!

Here’s what she had to say about the experience:

"Sarah is a very relaxing and kind person. She uses a small handy camera, no fuss, which makes the shoot location very flexible. She works fast and efficiently, and she really thinks with you how you would like to capture yourself.
"I appreciated how she is really interested in your work and ideals. And that she really makes you feel comfortable throughout the day.
"I'll be using the photos across social media and my website. They reflect my work better since I now have pictures in the lab that makes my work more credible since it is sometimes a bit abstract."

Here's where to find Emma:



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