Photographer Ed van der Elsken is one of the Netherlands’ most influential contemporary artists. His striking photographs captured the European zeitgeist of the 20th century. From Second World War austerity to the alternative subcultures of the seventies, the Dutch photographer shot tens of thousands of photographs from an autobiographical perspective. He documented intimate moments that provide today’s audience with a glimpse into European cultural history and paved the way for a host of Dutch photographers in the eighties to follow in his photo-journalist footsteps.
In his first major retrospective, Lust for Life, currently showing at The Nederlands Fotomuseum, the institution celebrates the artist’s contribution to Dutch photography. The museum has successfully restored over 42,000 colour slides from Ed’s archive of negatives and slides, exhibiting the works in homage to the renowned photographer who passed away in 1990, and who is sadly, lesser known today than during his heyday.
Frits Gierstberg, curator of Lust for Life tells It’s Nice That on the photographer’s significant contribution to the discipline: “Ed van Der Elsken was one of the Netherlands’ major street photographers. He focused mainly on people and his theme was love, life and the eternal struggle between man and woman.” Also available to view in a newly published comprehensive compendium of the artist’s works, the book places Ed’s colour photography in an art historical context whereas his previous books celebrated his more famous black and white output.
“His speciality was having eye contact with the people he photographed,” continues Frits, “and he challenged them to show a bit of who they are.” One of the first Dutch photo-journalists to fully embrace colour photography, Ed originally gained global fame with his depictions of society. With a painstaking amount of work, The Nederlands Fotomuseum went through a process of conserving and restoring the colour slides from the mould. None of the images have been artificially recoloured, ensuring authenticity to the historic images.
For Frits, his favourite image from the exhibition changes weekly with the enormity of the collection he tells us. “This week, my favourite image is the man throwing a stone to an armoured police vehicle,” adds the curator. “Ed van Der Elsken considered it a symbol of protest and rebellion against the powers that be, the people who in every generation, try to suppress the ideals and the call for freedom of the youth.”
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