The Rijksmuseum and the Nederlands Fotomuseum have discovered a design for an unpublished photo book in the estate of Ed van der Elsken. Feest, as Van der Elsken wanted to call the photo album, will be published in book form on Friday. “You see extremes, from fairground to state visit, from smile to tear.”
The book design is part of the exhibition Ed van der Elsken: Crazy World, which opens on Friday 30 October in the Rijksmuseum.
At the end of 2019, the Rijksmuseum and the Nederlands Fotomuseum acquired the estate of the Amsterdam photographer Ed van der Elsken (1925-1990). It consisted of more than eleven thousand prints, contact sheets, dummies and other objects, which his widow Anneke Hilhorst had carefully managed after his death in their wooden house on the IJsselmeerdijk in Edam. Among the many surprises and forgotten photos was the design for the photo book Feest, on which Van der Elsken worked between 1950-1960.
The importance of this acquisition is difficult to overestimate, according to Rijksmuseum director Taco Dibbits. “It is his photo books that have given Ed van der Elsken international fame. That makes the discovery of Feest extra special. Party gives an impression of the 1950s and early 1960s. You see extremes, from fairground to state visit, from smile to tear. You see connection and discharge and above all what brings people together. ”
The basis of Feest – which has now been cast in a beautiful booklet by Irma Boom – is formed by a stack of 134 assembled photos, which the curators Hans Rooseboom and Mattie Boom found together in one box. The earliest recordings are from around 1950, shortly after the start of Van der Elsken’s career; the last recordings date from 1960. A number of photos were known because Van der Elsken later included them in other publications, but the vast majority are new.
They show a succession of festive events and of sweat and tears when the party is over. From festivities on Dam Square at 10 years of peace, in 1955. From fireworks over the Oosterdok, the funfair on the Nieuwendijk, a café on the Rembrandtplein, the regular parties in the artists’ society De Kring and the annual Boekenbal. But also of grim-looking protesters waving their fists and of a man lying drunk on the street.
Black Bear Pocket
It is not known when Van der Elsken started on the book design, how long he worked on it and at what stage he got stuck. The existence of a cover made by him with a title, the selection of the photos and the note on the size (at the back of one of the photos it says in ballpoint pen in Van der Elskens cock’s feet: ‘cover follows. ”/ E van der Elsken ‘) suggests that he had come a long way.
The party was finished by Van der Elsken in the format of a Zwarte Beertjespocket, a pocket series by A.W. Bruna Publishers who were very popular at the time. But whether the booklet was commissioned by a publisher is unknown. Nothing about it can be found in the archives of Bruna and De Bezige Bij, and Van der Elsken does not mention it at all in his letters. When asked, photographer Eddy Posthuma de Boer and publisher Andreas Landshoff, with whom he was friends at the time, say they have never heard anything about it. His first wife Gerda van der Veen died in 2006, Anneke Hilhorst appeared too late in Van der Elsen’s life to have been involved.
Rooseboom and Boom do not have a definite answer to the question why Van der Elsken put Feest aside, but they see a connection with Sweet Life, Van der Elsken’s magnum opus, which he has been intensively working on from the early sixties and which took him to West and South Africa, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, the United States and Mexico, among others. “That release must have been paramount for him,” said Mattie Boom.
Rooseboom: “It is probably no coincidence that Van der Elsken just then – out of grief that it was not possible to get Sweet Life released – decided to focus mainly on film. From 1961 onwards he photographed significantly less and worked on the films Bewogeneging, Dylaby and Welcome to life, dear little one. It was not until 1967 – Sweet Life had already been released – that he took up the camera more often. At the time, Feest was possibly too far behind him to pick up the thread again. ”