Ed van der Elsken (1925-1990) was a unique figure in Dutch photography. Seen internationally, he was at the top of his genre of street photography. His photography bears an affinity with the ‘decisive moments’ of Henri Cartier-Bresson, with William Klein’s probing shots and with the suggestiveness of Robert Frank.

The exhibition examines the relationship between his photographs and films, which are less well-known. Van der Elsken found the majority of his subjects in the working class neighbourhoods of large cosmopolitan cities: Paris, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Tokyo. In contrast to what he often himself claimed, he was not a photographer of the fringes. He was in search of a form of beauty which could best be described as plastic, earthy and sometimes undisguisedly erotic. In fact he was fascinated by people who exuded pride, vitality and a certain measure of exuberance.

These are qualities which strongly determined his own character. Van der Elsken photographed his people in situations which often have a theatrical dimension and to which he would put his own director’s hand when need be. In many of his photographs it looks as though he has literally engaged his subjects in a dialogue. He knew how to make contact, with his lively presence and fierce look. He challenged people to accentuate the character traits he perceived in them.

A description of this nature applies to the heart of his work, of course, but it is by no means complete: along with explicitly theatrical, extroverted images, one also finds countless quiet and heartrending scenes throughout his work which bear witness to a poetic disposition and to a feeling of sympathy and solidarity with people, and on occasion with animals as well.

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Personal problems, but also disappointment in the cultural poverty and the lack of perspective in the Netherlands during post-war reconstruction, were important reasons for Van der Elsken to go to Paris at the age of twenty-four. As was the case for many of his generation, World War II had been the determining force of his adolescence. For one year during the war, he followed the foundation course at the School of Applied Arts in the Gabriel Metsustraat in Amsterdam where he was primarily interested in sculpture. Thereafter, in order to escape service in the German Army, he was in 1944 hidden underground in Bergeyk, in Brabant. In 1947 he went with a 9" x 12" plate camera of his father's to take photographs in the streets Amsterdam and had jobs with various photographers. A first trip to Paris and Marseille in 1949 resulted in photographs which he showed to Annelies Romein, a photographer at the elite organization of Dutch photographers, the GKf, which considered engagement and personal vision to be paramount. The enthusiasm about his work was virtually unanimous within this group and he was accepted for membership. Here he came in contact with photographers like Emmy Andriesse (whom he greatly admired) and Ad Windig for whom he worked as assistant for a year. His photography training if one can call it that was completed in Paris when he worked for Pictorial Service, the photo laboratory of the Magnum photographers, and printed photographs which included those of Henri Cartier- Bresson, Werner Bischof and Ernst Haas.

Van der Elsken only stayed there a few months. He was too unconventional and too individualistic to be able to work consistently on assignment for others. Although many of his photographs over the years were published in daily and weekly papers or magazines, and he made travel documentaries for Avenue between 1967 and 1982, he initiated his most important (book) projects himself.

In total, Van der Elsken completed just under twenty books of photographs. It was his preferred means of presentation. Although his books were designed by professional designers who are known for their own personal outlooks (Jurriaan Schrofer, Anthon Beeke), he determined the layout to an important degree and he usually also wrote the introductory texts himself. These books of photographs were characterized by tremendous liveliness and spirit. Pages with numerous photos placed tightly against one another are interspersed with enlarged images covering the double spread. The image originally photographed was never an unalterable given for Van der Elsken, as is apparent from the frequently very diverse cropped details, prints and combinations of images. The texts consist of background information, often written down directly as he spoke, often pointedly phrased.

website

Platforms

 Selfportrait, Paris, 1951
Selfportrait, Paris, 1951
© Ed van der Elsken
South Africa, 1959.
South Africa, 1959.
© Ed van der Elsken
Amsterdam, 1956
Amsterdam, 1956
© Ed van der Elsken
Paris, 1952.
Paris, 1952.
© Ed van der Elsken
Tokyo, 1981.
Tokyo, 1981.
© Ed van der Elsken
Nigeria, 1959.
Nigeria, 1959.
© Ed van der Elsken
Paris, 1951.
Paris, 1951.
© Ed van der Elsken
Amsterdam, 1983.
Amsterdam, 1983.
© Ed van der Elsken
Long Live Me! at Amsterdams Historisch Museum, 1997.
Long Live Me! at Amsterdams Historisch Museum, 1997.
Long Live Me! at Amsterdams Historisch Museum, 1997.
Long Live Me! at Amsterdams Historisch Museum, 1997.
Long Live Me! at Amsterdams Historisch Museum, 1997.
Long Live Me! at Amsterdams Historisch Museum, 1997.
Long Live Me! at FotoMuseum Antwerpen, 2006.
Long Live Me! at FotoMuseum Antwerpen, 2006.
Long Live Me! at FotoMuseum Antwerpen, 2006.
Long Live Me! at FotoMuseum Antwerpen, 2006.
Long Live Me! at Galleria Civica, Modena, Italy, 2001.
Long Live Me! at Galleria Civica, Modena, Italy, 2001.
Long Live Me! at Galleria Civica, Modena, Italy, 2001.
Long Live Me! at Galleria Civica, Modena, Italy, 2001.

Exhibition

The exhibition examines the relationship between his photographs and films, which are less well-known. Van der Elsken found the majority of his subjects in the working class neighbourhoods of large cosmopolitan cities: Paris, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Tokyo. In contrast to what he often himself claimed, he was not a photographer of the fringes. He was in search of a form of beauty which could best be described as plastic, earthy and sometimes undisguisedly erotic.

  • 20.01.200628.05.2006FotoMuseum Provincie Antwerpen, Belgium

    22.10.200619.11.2006Foto&Photo Festival, Cesano Maderno, Milano

    07.10.200106.01.2002Galleria Civica, Modena, Italy

    01.01.199801.03.1998Centro Portugues de Fotografia, Porto, Portugal

    01.12.199701.02.1998Amsterdams Historisch Museum, The Netherlands

    01.01.200601.03.2006Institut Néerlandais, Paris, France

  • Number and size of works
    Photographs
    Ca. 50 (colour) and ca. 70 (black & white) recent prints,
    all framed, sizes varying from 42.5 x 60 to 60 x 85 cm

    Film
    Number of film fragments: 17 film fragments on video
    (various lengths, totalling at 57 min.)

    Space required
    60-70 running meters

    Shipping
    Number of cases ca. 20, volume ca. 8 m3.

    Insurance value
    Euro 400.000,–
    Care of venue during exhibition and transportation (2 ways)

    Exhibition fee
    Euro 7.000,–, shipping, equipment and insurance not included. Fee based on standard period of 6 weeks. Additional weeks at 8%.

    Optional
    1.) A number of original books (depending on availabilty of
    appropriate show-cases);
    2.) Large size video and slide projection (depending on space and availablity of screens and projection equipment);  digital projection of slide shows upon request.
    3.) Adaptation of original exhibition design installation

Long Live Me! book cover
Long Live Me! book cover

Book

In total, Ed van der Elsken completed just under twenty books of photographs. It was his preferred means of presentation. Although his books were designed by professional designers who are known for their own personal outlooks (Jurriaan Schrofer, Anthon Beeke), he determined the layout to an important degree and he usually also wrote the introductory texts himself. These books of photographs were characterized by tremendous liveliness and spirit. Pages with numerous photos placed tightly against one another are interspersed with enlarged images covering the double spread. The image originally photographed was never an unalterable given for Van der Elsken, as is apparent from the frequently very diverse cropped details, prints and combinations of images. The texts consist of background information, often written down directly as he spoke, often pointedly phrased.

  • Long Live Me!
    Ed van Der Elsken, Paradox, 1997.
    Editors: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst, Flip Bool, Bas Vroege
    Pages: 96
    Colour: black & white
    Language: Dutch
    Booksize: 15×22 cm
    ISBN: 90-802655-4-3

    SOLD OUT

In the media

  • Tot bijna zijn laatste snik was de belangrijkste gesprekspartner van Ed van der Elsken de wereld. Hij wilde die verleiden, er indruk op maken, er zijn ideeën, zijn liefdes, zijn emoties, zelfs zijn ziekte en naderende dood mee delen.

    Annejet van der Zijl, HP/De Tijd (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 28/11/97
  • In zijn fotowerk wordt hij erkend als de straatfotograaf pur sang, de portrettist van het volle leven. In zijn films is het niet anders. Het draait daar alleen, en nog exploderender, ook om hemzelf.

    Willem Ellenbroek, De Volkskrant (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), 27/11/97
  • Ed van der Elsken was op zijn manier een exhibitionist, iemand die schaamteloos
    gemakkelijk zijn lichaam, zijn aftakeling, zijn paniek kon en wilde laten zien.

    Willem Jan Otten, NRC Handelsblad (Rotterdam, The Netherlands), 11/11/94

Supported by

General Credits

Curators: Anneke Hilhorst, Jeroen de Vries, Bas Vroege (Paradox). Concept: Anneke Hilhorst, Flip Bool (Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam), Ruud Visschedijk (Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam). Selection of film fragments: Han Hogeland, Ruud Visschedijk, Bas Vroege. Exhibition design: Jeroen de Vries

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