Monday, September 07, 2009

Ed Van Der Elsken: Sweet Life.

Sweet Life. Photographs, text, and layout by Ed Van Der Elsken. Harry Abrams, New York, n.d. (1966). 179 pp. Large square quarto. Clothbound in photo-illustrated dust jacket. Gravure reproductions by Tokyo Gravure Printing. (describes original edition).

"The life of photographer, film-maker, artist and world traveller Ed van der Elsken was closely linked with his work. He did not hide behind the camera but used it to establish direct contact with the people he liked to photograph most: eccentric types in big cities, often down-and-outs.

Nevertheless, his photos are not meant as an indictment against the evils in this world. They should be seen as homage to strong personalities whose attention he deliberately attracted before quickly taking their picture. That is why many of the people he photographed, both in the Netherlands and on his travels abroad, look straight into the lens.

Ed van der Elsken did not regard photography as an autonomous phenomenon but as something that only acquires meaning in relation to other images. He published a large number of photo-books and experimented with slide projections.

The books are characterised by his direct, personal treatment of image, text and layout. All these aspects bear his hallmark: as well as being responsible for the photography he also had a say in the text and graphic design. Moreover, his photo-books demonstrate the style of prints that he developed, with pronounced contrasts, dark skies and a strong emphasis on relevant areas.

Van der Elsken's approach to photography is echoed in the way he tackled his films. Here, too, virtually everything was in his hands - production, direction, camera, editing and commentary.

He started filming in 1955, and it is from that time that an interaction between the two activities can be observed. Because of the way the images are combined, and because of the story and structure, the photo-books have a markedly filmic character.

Conversely, the unconventional editing of his films often gives them the character of a photo-book, with scenes consisting of double pages which when turned unexpectedly reveal surprising new images. This interaction is furthermore demonstrated by the fact that in his films he often picks up the thread of a story which he had previously photographed, and vice versa.

Ed van der Elsken's life and work fall into three periods. His Paris years (1950-1954) are linked with his first wife, Ata Kando, and with his first photo-book, Love on the Left Bank, which was published in 1956 and attracted international attention.

The second period (1955-1970) concentrates on Amsterdam and the many journeys he made alone or with his second wife, Gerda van der Veen. His most important books of this period include Bagara (1958), Jazz (1959) and Sweet Life (1966).

The third period (1971-1990) is closely associated with Edam, his last domicile, and with the rural life he shared with Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. During these years he made a large number of travel reportages for Avenue magazine (1967-1979).

He also took frequent trips to Japan. Among his most important publications of this period are his first photo-book in colour, Eye Love You (1977), Amsterdam! Old photos 1947-1970 (1979), Adventure in the Country (1980), The Discovery of Japan (1988) and the posthumously published Once Upon A Time (1991)."

Read more about Ed Van Der Elsken and see more of his work at Nederlands fotomuseum website.

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