News — 3 Nov 2016

Amsterdam, November 3, 2016 - He was the master of street photography, an inspiration for many generations that followed. Ed was fascinated by young people – and now young people are fascinated by Ed. In Paris, he captured young love. He unflinchingly filmed his own decline and death. Ed van der Elsken (1925-1990) is one of the twentieth century’s most important Dutch photographers, and with Camera in Love, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam presents the largest overview of his work in 25 years. An exhibition that celebrates his extraordinary vision as photographer, book- and filmmaker, and his experimental presentation formats. In a new, multidisciplinary experience that affirms the relevance of his work.

In her essay for the catalogue, Hripsimé Visser, curator of photography at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, writes: “Ed van der Elsken: a man so driven to record reality, he wanted to graft a camera into his head. A cameraman with a passion for technology (…) and modified his film cameras so he could work solo. (…) A hunter of photographic game who seduced and provoked his prey. (…). A child of his time: melancholic in the ’50s, rebellious in the ’60s, liberated in the ’70s, contemplative in the ’80s. A vibrant personality who ruthlessly threw himself into the fray, and with his film Bye, the heartrending document of his struggle with terminal illness, had the courage to embrace the new until the very last.” 

Street photographer

As a street photographer, Ed van der Elsken roamed cities like Paris, Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Tokyo in search of uncompromising, colourful characters, striking young women and wayward youth. Van der Elsken’s photos and films are visually powerful and uncompromising, emblematic of their time and yet utterly timeless. Ed van der Elsken both chronicled, and influenced the ‘Zeitgeist’. In his work, he developed a direct, unconventional and personal style. Traces of Van der Elsken’s presence are visible throughout his oeuvre: he wanted his photographs to capture a connection with his subjects. He often staged situations, adopting the role of playful art director.

The oeuvre of Ed van der Elsken is mentioned in the same breath as those of legendary international photographers Robert Frank and William Klein and his legacy inspires contemporary artists such as Nan Goldin and Paulien Oltheten.

Nan Goldin writes for the catalogue: "When I first saw the book Love on the Left Bank I realized I had just met my predecessor. My real predecessor. The feeling was similar to that of meeting a lover, or that I had found a brother. Somehow he was able to document life in the truest way, and always finding beauty and staying connected to otherwise mundane. He had a unique way of transporting himself into the scene.

Ed van der Elsken, Beethovenstraat, Amsterdam (1967) Nederlands Fotomuseum / © Ed van der Elsken / Collection Ed van der Elsken estate


In 1956, the young Van der Elsken became an international sensation with Love on the Left Bank (Een Liefdesgeschiedenis in Saint Germain des Prés), a photographic novel inspired by his own life, about a group of young bohemians leading an aimless life in post-war Paris. Van der Elsken identified with their bohemian ethos, but retained the detachment necessary to photograph his companions. With its flashbacks and ever-shifting viewpoints, the book’s cinematic structure is both characteristic of, and foreshadows, the filmmaker Van der Elsken would later become.

It was the first of around twenty photo books, including Bagara (1958), which records impressions of village life, big game hunting, and rituals in Central Africa, Jazz (1959), Sweet Life (1966), Amsterdam (1979), Adventures in the Countryside (Avonturen op het land) (1980) and Discovering Japan (De ontdekking van Japan) (1988).

These books, in conjunction with his films, form the heart of his oeuvre and the core of the exhibition, which has been structured as two courses. The outer course focuses on dummies, contact sheets, and sketches that reveal how the books were made, and Van der Elsken’s working processes. The inner course is devoted to over 200 iconic prints. A selection of film fragments and slide projections accentuate his significance as a filmmaker, and the relationship between his films and photographic work.

Ed van der Elsken, Yakusa territory Kamagasaki, Osaka (1960) Nederlands Fotomuseum / © Ed van der Elsken / Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Van der Elsken and the Stedelijk Museum

The exhibition is made by Hripsimé Visser, curator of photography at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, who has written extensively on Ed van der Elsken, and curated several exhibitions of his work. The Stedelijk has followed Van der Elsken’s work since his career began in the 1950s, and acquired a series of photographs within a year of founding its photography collection. Sandberg also gave Van der Elsken several important commissions, such as documenting the exhibition Dylaby in 1962 – currently on view in the Tinguely exhibition. Today, the Stedelijk holds the largest museum collection of photographic prints by Van der Elsken. In 1966, the museum organised the major presentation ‘Hee... zie je dat?’ and the survey exhibition ‘Once Upon a Time’, shortly after his death in 1991.

The Stedelijk recently mounted a well-received exhibition in the United Kingdom, on Willem Sandberg as director and designer. In a slightly modified format, this show will also be on view in the Stedelijk from 11 November. Featured are examples of Sandberg’s graphic design, significant artworks he acquired for the collection, and three photos by Ed van der Elsken. For more information click here.


The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with essays exploring the central themes addressed in the exhibition, his photography, films, and the various platforms he used to present his work. The publication places his oeuvre within a cultural and historical perspective, and sheds light on Ed van der Elsken’s artistic practice.

Exhibition organised by Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in collaboration with Jeu de Paume. 

After Amsterdam Ed van der Elsken: Camera in Love travels to Jeu de Paume (Paris) and Fundación MAPFRE (Madrid).

With special thanks to Anneke Hilhorst and Han Hogeland, Nederlands Fotomuseum Rotterdam, Special Collections Leiden University, EYE Film Museum Amsterdam, Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid Hilversum, Annet Gelink Gallery and Paradox Edam.

Note to editors

For more information and images, please contact the Press Office of the Stedelijk Museum, +31 (0)20 573 26 660 / 656 or