Went to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam last week, to see the exhibition about Dutch photographer and filmmaker Ed van der Elsken.

“The Stedelijk presents the largest overview of the photographic and filmic work of Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken (1925-1990) in twenty five years. A unique figure, Van der Elsken was renowned as a street photographer, and is recognised as the most important Dutch photographer of the 20th century. “

For the first time ever I sat through the complete introduction video. I don’t much like getting my info by way of video:  I can’t fast-forward, or stop, or tune out, but have to follow the narrative like a good little listener. This video, however, was riveting stuff. Especially the part at the end, where snippets of van der Elsken’s  ‘Bye’ are shown, where he portrays himself as an old-testament prophet. Impressive!

I noticed that I look at an exhibition in a new way – this must be the result of the course I’m enrolled in. More than before I look at the way the exhibition is built up, the way information is carried to the visitor, the narrative that is chosen and the way works are hung and lighted. So my investment is already paying off :)


Some notes:
– van der Elsken’s working years span the period from before television changed everything up until just before the advent of Internet. He moved from photography to film and from black and white to colour because of this – ‘because of television, people got used to watching moving pictures in colour’.
– His best work is in black and white photography, though. This was explained in the introduction video –  ‘van der Elsken was a photographer of ‘compressed emotion’- photography forced him to compress, video did not -and it shows.
– I wonder what he would have done if he had had access to a smartphone.
– I also wonder if his work carries over to the present day so well  because his work corresponds with the ‘I document my own life’ attitude made an option by smartphones and Internet
– His life conformed totally to the romantic legend of ‘the artist’: bohemien, pennyless, women, obsessed with his art. Was this a true story or a homage to the legend?
– Van der Elsken was very, very conscious of his [future] viewers – it is as if he adresses them directly in every photo and film he makes.
– Nice idea to do a few rooms in black, another few in white;
– ‘Black’ rooms had great mix of [one] blowup, photo’s, [one] video, pictures, documentation. White rooms less interesting qua layout.
– His colour photographs were not to be sneezed at – reprints?
– The design of his books is dated – how come design is datable the way fashion is – at a glance?

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