Oldies from the photo collection of the Amsterdam City Archives show the modern history of Amsterdam


In 1957, Emiel van Moerkerken photographed ‘Kolenkit’, the Dutch Reformed ‘Resurrection Church’ on Bos en Lommerplein in Amsterdam.Statue B. van Moerkerken

Henk Jonker (1912-2002) has a remarkable life story. When Holland was occupied by Nazi Germany, he worked at the population register in the municipality of Amsterdam. He joined the resistance and forged identity cards. He learned photography from photographer Maria Austria, a resistance member.

After the war, Jonker founded the later very successful photo press agency Particum together with Austria, now his beloved. The two married, but Jonker would later leave her to live alternately in Spain and the Netherlands. Striking detour in his career: in Spain he baked French fries for four years. When he quit that, he went to work at the Harry Pot photography studio, arranging props for photo shoots for all and Jeweler. At an advanced age, he began painting, among other things to better cope with his war trauma.

It is fortunate for photography that history has placed a camera in his hands. Jonker had an eye for people, which his portraits and reportage photos prove. Take the photo he took in 1951 of a disheveled girl with a dog in a trailer park on the western outskirts of Amsterdam. We know that location thanks to the title of the recording: ‘Woonwagenkamp op Osdorperweg 705’, the site where the Rooie Ben car scrap yard now stands.

Henk Jonker, 'Woonwagenkamp on Osdorperweg 705' (1951).  Picture MAY

Henk Jonker, ‘Woonwagenkamp on Osdorperweg 705’ (1951).Picture MAY

Jonker took the photo from a low vantage point, revealing a trailer behind the girl, and a woman watching the photographing stranger from there. The child’s face lights up like an angel. Presumably that accent was done in the darkroom – a trick that several photographers used.

The recording is part of the exhibition All those Amsterdam people… Pictures 1935-1975 in the Amsterdam city archive. It shows 147 prints due to a happy decision.

vintage print

Just over fifty years ago, Wim Vroom, then curator of Amsterdam’s city archive with a passion for photography, had a bright idea: why not have the development of the city captured by contemporary photographers? In 1972, the first ‘documentary photo assignments’ were handed out. Three photographers still receive grants each year to capture something special in the city. All the work created will be added to the collection of the Amsterdam City Archives.

Shortly after the start of this project, the idea arose that Amsterdam’s works by older photographers, some of which were already half-forgotten, should also be part of the collection. This led to the ‘historic photo assignments’: between 1978 and 1988, around 50 images were selected from the archives of 27 photographers (all now deceased). New prints were made of these – the importance of vintage prints was not yet recognized at the time. Each photographer received a total of 5,000 guilders.

More than 1,300 prints poured into the collection in this way. From here, a selection has been made for the exhibition that is now on display. It is the first exhibition since photo curator Anneke van Veen retired after more than forty years of service at the Amsterdam City Archives. Remarkably, she was not followed by a photo expert, although the archive has a huge collection of photos. The urban history curator in the municipal institution has put together the new exhibition.

It is structured chronologically. So: images of the 1930s, the war, reconstruction, rising prosperity, the hippie era. Many Amsterdammers will drink this out of nostalgia, but this choice makes the exhibition somewhat predictable. Well-known photos by Ed van der Elsken reinforce this impression.

Fortunately, there is also strong work from photographers who are much less celebrated. Like Henk Jonker. And Kryn Taconis, who was also part of the resistance movement and is the first and only Dutchman who belonged to the famous international photo collective Magnum. His action shot of a competition for bicycle buyers (1953) shows well the determination of the participants. Also special is a recording of the first car exhibition in the new RAI building (1961). Maker Jan Versnel especially had an eye for the geometric roof.

The first car exhibition in Europahall in the RAI, photographed in 1961 by Jan Versnel.  Picture MAY

The first car exhibition in Europahall in the RAI, photographed in 1961 by Jan Versnel.Picture MAY

The exhibition does not only show Amsterdammers, just like the title – a stanza from the song On the Amsterdam canals – suggests, but also cityscapes. In 1957, Emiel van Moerkerken shot the Church of the Resurrection (also called ‘Kolenkit’, because of the shape of its tower), which still stood alone on Bos en Lommerplein, with a moody light, with boys playing football in the foreground. The busy A10 ring road is now where Van Moerkerken must have printed.

Architecture photographer Jaap d’Oliveira’s work has an almost opposite atmosphere. Among others, he was trained by the famous Albert Renger-Patzsch, a German photographer who was considered part of the new objectivity. In 1961, D’Oliveira immortalized newly built apartments in the Slotervaart district in line with this movement – sleek, unadorned.

Thanks in part to support from the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts, which funded the documentary and historical photo commissions, Amsterdam City Archives has collected more than 8,000 prints by more than 160 photographers to date. They show not only a picture of a century of urban history, but also of Dutch photography.

All those Amsterdam people… Photos 1935-1975Amsterdam Stadsarkiv, until 12/2.

Too few women

Women are underrepresented among the 27 photographers who provided images from their oeuvre at the request of the Amsterdam City Archives. There are only two (but not the smallest): Eva Besnyö and Violette Cornelius. To restore the balance somewhat, photographs were lent to the exhibition by two other female photographers, Maria Austria and Jutka Rona. These come from the Maria Austria Institute.

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