Ed van der Elsken

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Ed van der Elsken
Ed van der Elsken.jpg
Ed van der Elsken (1988)
Born (1925-03-10)10 March 1925
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died 28 December 1990(1990-12-28) (aged 65)
Edam, Netherlands
Nationality Dutch
Known for Photography, film

Eduard "Ed" van der Elsken (10 March 1925 – 28 December 1990) was a Dutch photographer and filmmaker.

His imagery provides quotidian, intimate and autobiographic perspectives on the European zeitgeist[1] spanning the period of the Second World War into the nineteen-seventies in the realms of love, sex, art, music (particularly jazz), and alternative culture.

Early life[edit]

Ed van der Elsken was born on March 10, 1925 in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. In 1937, pursuing a desire to become a sculptor, he learned stone cutting at Amsterdam's Van Tetterode Steenhouwerij. After completing preliminary studies at Instituut voor Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs, the predecessor of the Rietveld Academy (dir. Mart Stam), he enrolled (in 1944) in the professional sculpture program which he abandoned to escape Nazi forced labour. That year, after the Battle of Arnhem he was stationed in a mine-disposal unit where he was first shown Picture Post by British soldiers. Later, in 1947, he discovered American sensationalist photographer Weegee's Naked City. These encounters inspired his interest in photography and that year he took work in photo sales and attempted a correspondence course with the Fotovakschool in Den Haag, failing the final examination. He subsequently gained membership of the GKf (photographer's section of the federation of practitioners of the applied arts).


At the suggestion of Dutch photographer Emmy Andriesse (1914–1953) he moved in 1950 to Paris. He was employed in the darkrooms of the Magnum photography agency, printing for Henri Cartier-Bresson (who was impressed with his street photography), Robert Capa and Ernst Haas. There he met (then in 1954, married) fellow photographer Ata Kandó[2] (b. 1913 Budapest, Hungary), twelve years his senior, living with her three children among the 'ruffians' and bohemians[3] of Paris from 1950 to 1954. Ata was a principled documentarian[4] whose pictures taken in the forests of the Amazon among the Piraoa and Yekuana tribes are her best known,[5] but her more poetic leanings, exemplified in her later Droom in het Woud (Dream in the Wood 1957) must also have been an influence on van der Elsken and his decision to move from newspaper reportage to aim to become a magazine photojournalist. Consequently, much of his work documented his own energetic and eccentric life experience subjectively,[6] presaging the work of Larry Clark, Nan Goldin or Wolfgang Tillmans.[7] Thus his adopted family and their lives became the subjects of his photographs along with the people he met, during this Paris period, including Edward Steichen[8] who used eighteen of the photographer's Saint-Germain-des-Prés images in a survey show (1953) of Postwar European Photography and another in "The Family of Man", and probably Robert Frank (who found and introduced European photographers to Steichen[9]). Another encounter was with Vali Myers (1930–2003) who became the haunting kohl-eyed heroine of his roman à clef photo-novel[10] "Een liefdesgeschiedenis in Saint-Germain-des-Prés" (Love on the left bank)(1956).[11][12] This book, designed by Dutch graphic designer, sculptor, typographer Jurriaan (William) Schrofer (1926–1990) was the first of some twenty van der Elsken publications. It quickly sold out, and its filmic qualities led to his experiments with, and parallel career in, cinema. Amongst its pages can be found the faces not only of artists but also of nascent Lettrist International members and Situationists at the cafe Chez Moineau.[13] Twenty years later Myers re-appeared in his film 'Death in the Port Jackson Hotel' (1972, 36 min. 16 mm colour).

Amsterdam and international travel[edit]

Upon moving back to Amsterdam in 1955, he recorded members of the Dutch avant garde COBRA, including Karel Appel whom he later filmed (Karel Appel, componist korte versie, 1961, 4 min. 16 mm black & white). He separated from and divorced Ata Kando.

He then traveled extensively, to Bagara[14] 1957 (now in Central African Republic), and to Tokyo and Hong Kong in 1959 to 1960, with Gerda van der Veen (1935–2006) also a photographer, whom he married (25 September 1957). He filmed for Welkom In Het Leven, Lieve Kleine[15] the homebirth of their second child, Daan, in the old-fashioned, working-class Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam.[16] This is an early example of cinema production with a small shoulder-mounted camera synced with sound. He continued in motion imagery his subjective stance[17] in which the camera operator interacts live from behind the camera with subject, obviating the need for the intrusion of an interviewer or presenter, and recording the immediate experience.[18] His style was immediately influential on the television of Hans Keller Hans Keller and Roelof Kiers and others.

Later life[edit]

From 1971 he lived with his third wife, photographer Anneke Hilhorst (1949 - ), in the country near Edam, where their son, John, was born. During this period he continued to travel and worked prodigiously between film and photography, producing a further 14 books and broadcasting more than 20 films with the collaboration and assistance of Hillhorst.

His last film was Bye (1990, 1 hour 48 min, video, 16 mm film, colour and black & white) a characteristically courageous autobiographical response[19] to his terminal prostate cancer.

He died on 28 December 1990 in Edam in the Netherlands.


  • Een liefdesgeschiedenis in Saint Germain des Prés (1956)
  • Bagara (1958)
  • Jazz (Photobook)|Jazz (1959)
  • Dans Theater] (1960)
  • de Jong & van Dam NV 1912-1962 (1962)
  • Sweet life (1966)
  • Wereldreis in foto's vier delen (1967–1968)
  • Eye Love you (1977)
  • Zomaar een sloot ergens bij Edam (1977)
  • Hallo! (1978)
  • Amsterdam! Oude foto's 1947-1970 (1979)
  • Avonturen op het land (1980)
  • Parijs! Foto's 1950-1954 (1981)
  • Are you famous? (1985)
  • San-jeruman-de-pure no kol (1986)
  • Jong Nederland 'Adorabele rotzakken' (1987)
  • Japan 1959-1960 (1987)
  • De ontdekking van Japan (1988)
  • Natlab (1989)
  • Once upon a time (photobook)|Once upon a time (1991)
  • Hong Kong (1997)


  • 1955: Documentary on the Centre Europeen Oe Recherche Nucleaire in Geneva, VPRO (with Jan Vrijman)
  • late 1950s: Traffic Safety Film, VPRO (with Jan Vrijman)
  • late 1950s: Film about Van Gelders Paper Factory (badly underexposed). VPRO (with Jan Vrijman)
  • 1958: Safari Film commissioned by safari leader Menri Quintard (lost)
  • 1959-60: Travelogues, AVRO (lost)
  • 1960: Rond De Wereld Met Ed Van Der Elsken (Around the world with Ed van der Elsken) Year produced: ca. 1960, Camera: Ed van der Elsken, Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen, Sound: sound track missing. Technical assistant: Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen 16 mm. black-white 38' 18"
  • 1960 Handen (Hands), Broadcast: February 6. 1960, in Mensen kijken, VPRO, 16 mm, black-white, Sound: perfotape, 4' 43"
  • 1960 Homemovies 16 mm, black-white, silent 4' 00"
  • 1961 Van Varen (About sailing) Commissioned by: Koninklijke Nederlandse Reders Vereniging (Royal Dutch Shipowners' Association) Technical assistant: Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen, 16 mm, black-white, Sound: optical, 19' 55"
  • 1961 De Appel-Iep (Appel elm) Camera: Ed van der Elsken, Koen Wessing, Technical assistants: Johan van der Keuken. Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen, Koen Wessing, 16 mm, black-white, Sound: optical, 29' 16"
  • 1961 Bewogen Beweging (Moving motion) Broadcast: shown in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 16 mm, black-white, Sound: silent, 4' 06"
  • 1961 Karel Appel-Componist (Karei Appel, composer) Broadcast: shown in the Stedelijk Museum. Amsterdam, Technical assistant: Frits Weiland, 16 mm, black-white, Sound: optical, 16' 25"
  • 1962 Dylaby, Broadcast: shown in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 16 mm, black-white, Sound: optical 10' 00"
  • 1963: Welkom In Het Leven, Lieve Kleine (Welcome to life, dear little one) Broadcast: January 15, 1964 and January 24, 1982 VPRO, Technical assistant: Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen, 16 mm. black-white, Sound: perfotape, partially post-synchronised, 36' 00"
  • 1963 Lieverdjes (little darlings) 16 mm, black-white, Sound: silent, 10' 58"
  • 1963: Grenzen Van Het Leven (Margins of life). 16 mm, black-white, Sound: silent. 28' 16"
  • 1963: Spinoza, 16 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 40' 38"
  • 1965: Waterlooplein, 16 mm, black-white. Sound: perfotape. 12' 11"
  • 1965: Afbraakwaterlooplein 1 (Waterlooplein demolition 1). 35 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 5' 45"
  • 1965: Afbraakwaterlooplein 2 (Waterlooplein demolition 2). 16 mm and 35 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 2' 36"
  • 1965: Afbraakwaterloopleincrazyscope. 16 mm and 35 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 13' 59"
  • 1965: Afbraakenopbouw (Demolition and construction).35 mm. black-white. Sound: silent. 5' 45"
  • 1965: Fietsen (Cycling) 16 mm. black-white. Sound: silent. 10' 35"
  • 1965: Trots Israel (Proud I srael). Commissioned by: Willem Sandberg. 16 mm, black-white. Sound: optical. 16' 33"
  • 1965: Oberhausenxie Westdeutsche Kurzfilmtage. Broadcast: in Film '65, KRO. 16 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 7' 48"
  • 1965: Stiefbeen En Zoon ("Steptoe and Son"). 35 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 2' 48"
  • 1965: De Dokwerker (The dockworker). 35 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 0' 44"
  • 1967: Het Waterlooplein Verdwijnt (Waterlooplein disappears!) Broadcast: March B. 1967 in: Uit Bellevue. VARA. Sound recording: Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen. 16 mm. black-white. Sound: perfotape. 11' 32"
  • 1968: Orldwturmac. 35 mm, colour. Sound: silent. 3' 39"
  • 1970: Springende Man En Vrouw (Jumping man and woman). 35 mm, black-white. 1' 38"
  • 1971: De Verliefde Camera (The Infatuated Camera). Broadcast: June 24. 1971 VPRO. Camera: Ed van der Elsken. Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen. Technical assistants: Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen, Bert Nienhuis. 16 mm, colour and black-white. Sound: optical. 42' 50"
  • 1972: Death In The Port Jackson Hotel, subtitle: Een portret van Vali Myers [A portrait of Vali Myers] Broadcast: September 28. 1972 VPRO. Montage: Co van Harten, Sound recording: Bert Nienhuis. 16 mm. colour. Sound: separate magnetic. 36' 12"
  • 1972: Spelen Maar... (Keep on playing...) Commissioned by: AVRO. Broadcast: October 28. 1972 AVRO. Sound recording: Gerda van der Veen. 16 mm. colour. Sound: separate magnetic. 80' 19"
  • 1972: Paardeleven (Horse's life) 16 mm. colour. Sound: perfotape. 8' 08"
  • 1972: Dleren Op Het Land (Animals in the countryside). 35 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 1' 00"
  • 1972: Kogelstootster (Shot-putter). 35 mm, colour. Sound: silent. 1' 05"
  • 1973: Tom Ükker. 35 mm, colour. Sound: silent. 0' 32"
  • 1973: Edam. 16 mm, colour. Sound: silent. 8' 52"
  • 1973: Het Prins Bernhard Fonds Helpt (The Prince Bernhard Fund helps) I, II, III. Commissioned by: Prins Bernhard Fonds. 35 mm, colour. Sound: optical. 3' 50"
  • 1974: Slootje Springen (Ditch jumping). 35 mm. colour. Sound: silent. 0' 43"
  • 1976: Touwtrekken (Tug-of -war|). Commissioned by: Nederlandse Touwtrekkersbond. Technical assistant: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. .Super 8. colour. 14' 45"
  • 1978: Het Is Niet Mis Wat Zij Doen (What they're doing is a good thing): Een film van Memisa. Commissioned by: Memisa (Medical Mission Action). Broadcast: January 16, 1978 AVRO. Editing: Ed van der Elsken, Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Sound recording: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. 16 mm, colour (Super 8 original now lost). Sound: perfotape. 60' 00"
  • 1980: Avonturen Op Het Land (Adventures in the countryside). Broadcast: March 30, 1980 VPRO. Editing: Ed van der Elsken, Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Sound recording: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Super 8, colour. Sound: perfotape. 78' 41"
  • 1980: Cameratest Van Der Elsken. 16 mm, colour. Sound: silent. 2' 42"
  • 1981: Mlster Ed En De Sprekende Film (Mr. Ed and the talking film). Broadcast: May 31. 1981 VPRO. Editing: Ed van der Elsken. Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Super 8, colour. Sound: perfotape. 74' 31"
  • 1981: Welkom In Hetleven, Lieve Kleine Bis (Welcome to life, dear little one: the sequel). Broadcast: January 24. 1982 VPRQ. Sound recording: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Technical assistants: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. William Vogeler, Klaas Beunder, Anton van de Koppel, Henk Meinema. 16 mm, black-white and colour. Sound: perfotape. 38' 45"
  • 1981: World Press Photo. 16 mm, colour. Sound: perfotape. 4' 00"
  • 1982: Een Fotograaf Filmt Amsterdam (A photographer films Amsterdam!) Working title: Amsterdams Peil (Amsterdam sounding). Production company: MMC Film BV. (Thijs Chanowski). Commissioned by: Ministry of Culture, Recreation and Social Welfare and the City of Amsterdam. Broadcast: June 29, 19B3 VPRO. Technical assistants: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst, Klaas Beunder, Peter Hekma. Henk Meinema. 16 mm, ECN, colour. Sound: optical 57' 11"
  • 1990: Bye. Broadcast: January 27, 1991 VPRO. Camera: Ed van der Elsken, Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Editing: Ulrike Mischke. Sound recording: Ed van der Elsken, Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Technical assistant: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. video, colour and black-white. 1 hour 48"


  1. ^ "A good deal has been said about [Documenta X's] ‘over-representation’ of the 1960s and 1970s, calling it nostalgic and anachronistic radicalism. Some, however, rejoiced in its unflinching rejection of the art and culture that had become dominant as globalization intensified [...] dX reached back to 1950 or even earlier, tracing and juxtaposing genealogies and individual interventions in photography, performance, installation, and videos, often cries-crossing genre boundaries. Interesting things happen to the work when a celebrated documentary photographer of the American Depression of the 1930s, Walker Evans, is seen in the same show as a contemporary Canadian photographer, Jeff Wall, who works with large, digitally constructed photographic narratives. The variety of work on display was striking: Helen Levirt, Aldo van Eyck, Maria Lassnig, Lygia Clark, Richard Hamilton, Marcel Broodthaers, Ed van der Elsken, Nancy Spero, Öyvind Fahlström, Garry Winogrand, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Robert Adams, Hélio Oiticica, James Coleman, Gordon Matta-Clark, Susanne Lafont, William Kentridge, Martin Walde, and many more." Miyoshi, M. 'Radical Art at Documenta X', in New Left Review I/228, March–April 1998. London : Verso.
  2. ^ Ata Kando (born Budapest, 1913), the daughter of Hungarian parents, writer Margit G. Beke and Professor Imre Görög. She calls herself 'Ata' from her first name Etelka,, and Kando is the name of her first husband, the painter Gyula Kando, with whom she left for Paris in 1932. Her commercial photographic career began with being assistant at the Magnum photo agency immediately after the War. Later she photographed for Paris fashion houses and continued to do so after accompanying Ed van der Elsken to the Netherlands.
  3. ^ "In Paris, this kind of urban roaming was characteristic of Left Bank bohemianism, where the art of drifting was a favorite way of cultivating that feeling of being 'apart together' that Huizinga described as characteristic of play. A vivid record of this time and place is Ed Van der Elsken's book of photographs, which recorded some of the favorite haunts of the lettrists". Andreotti, Libero. "Play-Tactics of the "Internationale Situationniste". October, Vol. 91 (Winter, 2000), pp. 36-58 : The MIT Press
  4. ^ Kandó, Ata; Sándor, Anna; Interview with Ata Kandó in Múlt és Jövő (Past and Future) Journal Issue 2, 2003, pages 72-75. Budapest: Past and Future Publishing House (Múlt és Jövő)
  5. ^ see her illustrations in Soundmaking, magic and personality / by Jacqueline van Ommeren. (English translation of Bevrijd de dommen van hun domheid). Amsterdam : Rodopi, 1979. ISBN 90-6203-792-5
  6. ^ Aletti, Vince. Cafe noir (biography). [Article. Biography] Artforum International. v. 38 no7, Mar. 2000, p. 98-103, 105-7.
  7. ^ Dziewior, Yilmaz. Yilmaz Dziewior talks with Annelie Lutgens (interview). Artforum International. v. 38 no7, Mar. 2000, p. 104. An interview with Annelie Lutgens, curator of a comprehensive survey of the work of photographer Ed van der Elsken at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany, from March 2000.
  8. ^ Steichen appears in an Ed van der Elsken photo taken in a Paris cafe in 1953 in Ed Van Der Elsken: Parijs Foto's--1950-1954. Edited with text by Anthon Beeke. Amsterdam, Bert Bakker, 1981.
  9. ^ Kroes, R. Photographic Memories: Private Pictures, Public Images, and American History (2007) UPNE. ISBN 1-58465-593-3, p.137. "Frank, who helped Steichen get in touch with European photographers in preparation for the exhibition, may have known Van der Elsken and introduced him..."
  10. ^ Gierstberg, F. and Suermondt, R. (2012) The Dutch Photobook: A Thematic Selection from 1945 Onwards. Distributed Art Pub Incorporated, 2012 ISBN 1597112003, 9781597112000
  11. ^ Schwabsky, Barry. Ed Van der Elsken. The Photographers' Gallery, London. [Article. Exhibition] On Paper. v. 6 no2, Nov./Dec. 2001, p. 86.
  12. ^ The book of 101 books : Seminal photographic books of the 20th century. Andrew Roth (editor); essays by Richard Benson ... [et al.] ; catalogue by Vince Aletti, David Levi Strauss. New York : Roth Horowitz, 2001.
  13. ^ Including Eliane Papaï (1935–?) and Jean-Michel Mension (1934-2006) "(who) turned himself into a living poster and paraded through the streets of Saint-Germain-des-Prés with cryptic slogans scrawled up and down his pants...A few days later, Mension and Fred [August Hommel, later a painter in New York] got drunk, streaked their hair with peroxide, and stumbled through the quarter slapping female shoppers and picking fights with businessmen." Ed Van Der Elsken's caption in the book
  14. ^ Jan Vrijman (text), Bagara, Amsterdam (De Bezige Bij) n.d. [1958]. Idem French, English, South African eds.; German ed.: Das echte Afrika, Hamburg (Hoffmann und Campe)
  15. ^ Welkom In Het Leven, Lieve Kleine (Welcome to life, dear little one) 1963, broadcast: January 15, 1964 and January 24, 1982 VPRO. Technical assistant: Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen. 16 mm. black-white with sound: perfotape, partially post-synchronised. Running time: 36' 00" Repository: NFM
  16. ^ "When Ed van der Elsken rages through Amsterdam's empty streets-those passages of film were shot in the very early morning and are run at high speed-the silence of the city is striking[...]The morphology of the city is filmed. 'This is the décor of my film. My hunting ground.'" from Jansen, A. C. M.: The atmosphere of a city centre. In: Area, 16 (1984), S. 147-151. : Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
  17. ^

    "Horak's selection of artists to exemplify the entangled relationship of film and photography is necessarily idiosyncratic. Rather than attempting an overview or comprehensive history, Horak opts for a close, circumscribed reading of the work of a few individuals who have traversed the two media throughout their careers. The artists selected, Chris Marker, Helmar Lerski, Paul Strand, László Moholy-Nagy, Helen Levitt, Robert Frank, Danny Lyon, and Ed van der Elsken, range from the renowned to the obscure, making the book at once invitingly familiar and provocatively broadening. The subjects of Making Images Move are defined as:

    . . photographers who ventured into the field of cinema without relinquishing their interest in photography Unlike many ... who only trained as photographers before moving more profitably into the field of moving pictures, these photographer/filmmakers have traveled across the borders of both media, learning from each mode of expression, wholly allegiant to neither"

    Martha P. Nochimson. 'Review of 'Making Images Move' By Jan-Christopher Horak'. in Film Quarterly, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Summer, 1999), pp. 51-53. University of California Press
  18. ^ Anderson, Steve [Reviewer]. Making images move; photographers and avant-garde cinema [Book Review]. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997. ISBN 1-56098-744-8. [Book Review] Film Quarterly. v. 52 no4, Summer 1999, p. 53-4.
  19. ^ "At the end of his film Van der Elsken says goodbye to the audience: looking, talking, comforting, and leaving a word of advice: 'I stop now, I am taking leave. I am almost there. Keep it up, all of you. All the best. Make an effort. Show who you are. Bye.' " quoted from Marga Altena & Eric Venbrux in Visual Anthropology Special Issue:Living Pictures, Reviving the Dead: Claiming Ritual and Identity through Posthumous Films. Published in cooperation with the Commission on Visual Anthropology. Volume 25, Issue 3, 2012, p.207
  20. ^ Filmography: Mireille de Putter, in Bas Vroege, Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst, Flip Bool Voorwoord: Flip Bool (eds. curators), Leve ik! Ed van der Elsken- Foto & Film Essays Filmografie. Essays: Thomas Honickel, Jan-Christopher Horak, Johan van der Keuken en Roel Bentz van den Berg Design: Barends & Pijnappel Antwerpen. Edam, Paradox (1997) ISBN 90-802655-4-3

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