In the last years of his life Ed van der Elsken worked on what should have been his audiovisual magnum opus: Tokyo Symphony. The installation was meant to be his homage to Japan – a land that had embraced him personally as well as as a photographer and author.

The installation was never finished due to his early death at age 60 (in 1990). It was thought that the collection of 1,600 images, which is currently stored at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam, was all that remained of this ambitious project. In 2007, researcher Frank Ortmanns discovered five audiotapes belonging to the project at Van der Elskens home. Fascinated by this missing piece of the puzzle, Ortmanns approached Paradox to discuss the possibility of posthumously realizing Tokyo Symphony.

Taking into account Van der Elsken’s fascination with AV technology, it was concluded that a contemporary approach to this installation would be most appropriate. In other words: to make an installation as if Van der Elsken were still alive. In 2010, Tokyo Symphony was on show at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam.

As a street photographer Ed van der Elsken (1925-1990) is often mentioned in the same breath as international photo icons like William Klein and Robert Frank. Not just because of his style, but also because of their common contribution to
the photo book as the main platform for expression, experimenting with design and narrative structures. In total, Van der Elsken produced over 30 photo books, 34 movies and about 13 audiovisual arrangements.

Van der Elsken visited Japan on a regular basis for more than 30 years. He became close friends with Eikoh Hosoe and his agents Tatemi Sakai and Jintaro Takano, which resulted in the publication of his photo books Sweet Life (1966), L’Amour à Saint-Germain-des-Prés (1986) and Elsken: Japan 1959-1960 (1987) in Japan.

Authors


Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type bool in /domains/paradox.nl/DEFAULT/wp-content/themes/paradox/single-project.php on line 126

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

Tsukiji Fishmarket, Tokyo, 1986
Tsukiji Fishmarket, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
Tsukiji Fishmarket, Tokyo, 1986
Tsukiji Fishmarket, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
Tsukiji Fishmarket, Tokyo, 1986
Tsukiji Fishmarket, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
Tokyo, 1986.
Tokyo, 1986.
© Ed van der Elsken
Tokyo, 1986.
Tokyo, 1986.
© Ed van der Elsken
Street demonstration of Chukaku Ha, Tokyo, 1986
Street demonstration of Chukaku Ha, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
Street demonstration of Chukaku Ha, Tokyo, 1986
Street demonstration of Chukaku Ha, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
Street demonstration of Chukaku Ha, Tokyo, 1986
Street demonstration of Chukaku Ha, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
Street demonstration of Chukaku Ha, Tokyo, 1986
Street demonstration of Chukaku Ha, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
Kugayama, Tokyo, 1986
Kugayama, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
 Kugayama, Tokyo, 1986
Kugayama, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
Girls Wrestling, Yokohama, Tokyo, 1986
Girls Wrestling, Yokohama, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
Kugayama, Tokyo, 1986
Kugayama, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
Kugayama, Tokyo, 1986
Kugayama, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
Asakusa, Tokyo, 1986
Asakusa, Tokyo, 1986
© Ed van der Elsken
Selection of the 1,600  images by Van der Elsken.
Selection of the 1,600 images by Van der Elsken.
Selection of the 1,600  images by Van der Elsken.
Selection of the 1,600 images by Van der Elsken.
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
© Bas Vroege
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
© Bas Vroege
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
© Bas Vroege
Spatial multi-screen installation Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
Spatial multi-screen installation Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
© Bas Vroege
Spatial multi-screen installation Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
Spatial multi-screen installation Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
© Bas Vroege
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
© Bas Vroege
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
© Bas Vroege
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
© Bas Vroege
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
Installation shot of Tokyo Symphony at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 2010.
© Bas Vroege

Exhibition

The immersive installation based on hundreds of unknown colour slides confronts the viewer with various traditional as well as contemporary and little known aspects of Tokyo: from demonstrations in Shibuya to weddings and memorial celebrations, from girls wrestling and karaoke in Harajuku to the Tsukiji fish market. Van der Elsken switches constantly from intimate portraits to lively street scenes.

The spatial multi-screen design of the installation, which is accompanied by a soundtrack based on his original recordings, adds to the dynamic experience of the strange mixture of tradition and modernity that characterises the metropolis of Tokyo. Through the harmonic as well as disharmonic interplay of various audiovisual elements, the installation can be seen as a true modern symphony about urbanism and eastern culture – a symphony that reflects the notion of the all absorbing and omnipresent urban environment.

  • 10.04.201020.06.2010Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam (NL)

    04.02.201721.05.2017Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (NL) (Part of the retrospective Ed van der Elsken - Camera in Love)

  • AUDIOVISUAL INSTALLATION
    Exhibition for 170 m2 – 250 m2

    – 3 screens (2×3 m) + captions running from 4 SSD players or 4 mac Minis
    – resolutions available from XGA to HD 1080p
    – 1 Sony 4:3 CRT screen incl DVD player

  • Frank Ortmanns (Research, co-editor/curating)
    Mark Glynne (Sound Design)
    Jeroen de Vries (Installation Design)
    Peter Claassen (Editing & Postproduction)
    Susanne Schanz (Retouching)

News

Show more

In the media

  • Postume ode aan Japan door harde fotograaf

    Posthumous ode to Japan by a rough photographer

    Wim Bossema, De Volkskrant, 9 April 2010 Read more »
  • Minder brutaal in Japan

    Less cocky in Japan

    Rosan Hollak, NRC, 16 April 2010 Read more »
  • Japanse visie van Ed van der Elsken

    The Japanese vision of Ed van der Elsken

    LINDA., 2 April 2004 Read more »

Supported by

General Credits

Frank Ortmanns (Project manager)

Related projects