Ed van der Elsken  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Eduard "Ed" van der Elsken (10 March 1925 – 28 December 1990) was a Dutch photographer and filmmaker, best known internationally for Love on the Left Bank (1956).

His imagery provides quotidian, intimate and autobiographic perspectives on the European zeitgeist spanning the period of the Second World War into the nineteen-seventies in the realms of love, sex, art, music (particularly jazz), and alternative culture.


Early life

Ed van der Elsken was born on March 10, 1925 in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. In 1937, pursuing a desire to become a sculptor, he learned stone cutting at Amsterdam's Van Tetterode Steenhouwerij. After completing preliminary studies at Instituut voor Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs, the predecessor of the Rietveld Academy (dir. Mart Stam), he enrolled (in 1944) in the professional sculpture program which he abandoned to escape Nazi forced labour. That year, after the Battle of Arnhem he was stationed in a mine-disposal unit where he was first shown Picture Post by British soldiers. Later, in 1947, he discovered American sensationalist photographer Weegee's Naked City. These encounters inspired his interest in photography and that year he took work in photo sales and attempted a correspondence course with the Fotovakschool in Den Haag, failing the final examination. He subsequently gained membership of the GKf (photographer's section of the federation of practitioners of the applied arts).


At the suggestion of Dutch photographer Emmy Andriesse (1914–1953) he moved in 1950 to Paris. He was employed in the darkrooms of the Magnum photography agency, printing for Henri Cartier-Bresson (who was impressed with his street photography), Robert Capa and Ernst Haas. There he met (then in 1954, married) fellow photographer Ata Kandó (b. 1913 Budapest, Hungary), twelve years his senior, living with her three children among the 'ruffians' and bohemians of Paris from 1950 to 1954. Ata was a principled documentarian whose pictures taken in the forests of the Amazon among the Piraoa and Yekuana tribes are her best known, but her more poetic leanings, exemplified in her later Droom in het Woud (Dream in the Wood 1957) must also have been an influence on van der Elsken and his decision to move from newspaper reportage to aim to become a magazine photojournalist. Consequently, much of his work documented his own energetic and eccentric life experience subjectively, presaging the work of Larry Clark, Nan Goldin or Wolfgang Tillmans. Thus his adopted family and their lives became the subjects of his photographs along with the people he met, during this Paris period, including Edward Steichen who used eighteen of the photographer's Saint-Germain-des-Prés images in a survey show (1953) of Postwar European Photography and another in "The Family of Man", and probably Robert Frank (who found and introduced European photographers to Steichen).

Another encounter was with Vali Myers (1930–2003) who became the haunting kohl-eyed heroine of his roman à clef photo-novel "Een liefdesgeschiedenis in Saint-Germain-des-Prés" (Love on the left bank) (1956). This book, designed by Dutch graphic designer, sculptor, typographer Jurriaan (William) Schrofer (1926–1990) was the first of some twenty van der Elsken publications. It quickly sold out, and its filmic qualities led to his experiments with, and parallel career in, cinema. Amongst its pages can be found the faces not only of artists but also of nascent Lettrist International members and Situationists at the cafe Chez Moineau. Twenty years later Myers re-appeared in his film 'Death in the Port Jackson Hotel' (1972, 36 min. 16 mm colour).

Amsterdam and international travel

Upon moving back to Amsterdam in 1955, he recorded members of the Dutch avant garde COBRA, including Karel Appel whom he later filmed (Karel Appel, componist korte versie, 1961, 4 min. 16 mm black & white). He separated from and divorced Ata Kando.

He then traveled extensively, to Bagara 1957 (now in Central African Republic), and to Tokyo and Hong Kong in 1959 to 1960, with Gerda van der Veen (1935–2006) also a photographer, whom he married (25 September 1957). He filmed for Welkom In Het Leven, Lieve Kleine the homebirth of their second child, Daan, in the old-fashioned, working-class Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam. This is an early example of cinema production with a small shoulder-mounted camera synced with sound. He continued in motion imagery his subjective stance.

in which the camera operator interacts live from behind the camera with subject, obviating the need for the intrusion of an interviewer or presenter, and recording the immediate experience. His style was immediately influential on the television of Hans Keller Keller and Roelof Kiers and others.

Later life

From 1971 he lived with his third wife, photographer Anneke Hilhorst (1949 - ), in the country near Edam, where their son, John, was born. During this period he continued to travel and worked prodigiously between film and photography, producing a further 14 books and broadcasting more than 20 films with the collaboration and assistance of Hillhorst.

His last film was Bye (1990, 1 hour 48 min, video, 16 mm film, colour and black & white) a characteristically courageous autobiographical response to his terminal prostate cancer.

He died on 28 December 1990 in Edam in the Netherlands.


  • Een liefdesgeschiedenis in Saint Germain des Prés (1956)
  • Bagara (1958)
  • Jazz (Photobook)|Jazz (1959)
  • Dans Theater] (1960)
  • de Jong & van Dam NV 1912-1962 (1962)
  • Sweet life (1966)
  • Wereldreis in foto's vier delen (1967–1968)
  • Eye Love you (1977)
  • Zomaar een sloot ergens bij Edam (1977)
  • Hallo! (1978)
  • Amsterdam! Oude foto's 1947-1970 (1979)
  • Avonturen op het land (1980)
  • Parijs! Foto's 1950-1954 (1981)
  • Are you famous? (1985)
  • San-jeruman-de-pure no kol (1986)
  • Jong Nederland 'Adorabele rotzakken' (1987)
  • Japan 1959-1960 (1987)
  • De ontdekking van Japan (1988)
  • Natlab (1989)
  • Once upon a time (photobook)|Once upon a time (1991)
  • Hong Kong (1997)


  • 1955: Documentary on the Centre Europeen Oe Recherche Nucleaire in Geneva, VPRO (with Jan Vrijman)
  • late 1950s: Traffic Safety Film, VPRO (with Jan Vrijman)
  • late 1950s: Film about Van Gelders Paper Factory (badly underexposed). VPRO (with Jan Vrijman)
  • 1958: Safari Film commissioned by safari leader Menri Quintard (lost)
  • 1959-60: Travelogues, AVRO (lost)
  • 1960: Rond De Wereld Met Ed Van Der Elsken (Around the world with Ed van der Elsken) Year produced: ca. 1960, Camera: Ed van der Elsken, Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen, Sound: sound track missing. Technical assistant: Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen 16 mm. black-white 38' 18"
  • 1960 Handen (Hands), Broadcast: February 6. 1960, in Mensen kijken, VPRO, 16 mm, black-white, Sound: perfotape, 4' 43"
  • 1960 Homemovies 16 mm, black-white, silent 4' 00"
  • 1961 Van Varen (About sailing) Commissioned by: Koninklijke Nederlandse Reders Vereniging (Royal Dutch Shipowners' Association) Technical assistant: Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen, 16 mm, black-white, Sound: optical, 19' 55"
  • 1961 De Appel-Iep (Appel elm) Camera: Ed van der Elsken, Koen Wessing, Technical assistants: Johan van der Keuken. Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen, Koen Wessing, 16 mm, black-white, Sound: optical, 29' 16"
  • 1961 Bewogen Beweging (Moving motion) Broadcast: shown in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 16 mm, black-white, Sound: silent, 4' 06"
  • 1961 Karel Appel-Componist (Karei Appel, composer) Broadcast: shown in the Stedelijk Museum. Amsterdam, Technical assistant: Frits Weiland, 16 mm, black-white, Sound: optical, 16' 25"
  • 1962 Dylaby, Broadcast: shown in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 16 mm, black-white, Sound: optical 10' 00"
  • 1963: Welkom In Het Leven, Lieve Kleine (Welcome to life, dear little one) Broadcast: January 15, 1964 and January 24, 1982 VPRO, Technical assistant: Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen, 16 mm. black-white, Sound: perfotape, partially post-synchronised, 36' 00"
  • 1963 Lieverdjes (little darlings) 16 mm, black-white, Sound: silent, 10' 58"
  • 1963: Grenzen Van Het Leven (Margins of life). 16 mm, black-white, Sound: silent. 28' 16"
  • 1963: Spinoza, 16 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 40' 38"
  • 1965: Waterlooplein, 16 mm, black-white. Sound: perfotape. 12' 11"
  • 1965: Afbraakwaterlooplein 1 (Waterlooplein demolition 1). 35 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 5' 45"
  • 1965: Afbraakwaterlooplein 2 (Waterlooplein demolition 2). 16 mm and 35 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 2' 36"
  • 1965: Afbraakwaterloopleincrazyscope. 16 mm and 35 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 13' 59"
  • 1965: Afbraakenopbouw (Demolition and construction).35 mm. black-white. Sound: silent. 5' 45"
  • 1965: Fietsen (Cycling) 16 mm. black-white. Sound: silent. 10' 35"
  • 1965: Trots Israel (Proud I srael). Commissioned by: Willem Sandberg. 16 mm, black-white. Sound: optical. 16' 33"
  • 1965: Oberhausenxie Westdeutsche Kurzfilmtage. Broadcast: in Film '65, KRO. 16 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 7' 48"
  • 1965: Stiefbeen En Zoon ("Steptoe and Son"). 35 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 2' 48"
  • 1965: De Dokwerker (The dockworker). 35 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 0' 44"
  • 1967: Het Waterlooplein Verdwijnt (Waterlooplein disappears!) Broadcast: March B. 1967 in: Uit Bellevue. VARA. Sound recording: Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen. 16 mm. black-white. Sound: perfotape. 11' 32"
  • 1968: Orldwturmac. 35 mm, colour. Sound: silent. 3' 39"
  • 1970: Springende Man En Vrouw (Jumping man and woman). 35 mm, black-white. 1' 38"
  • 1971: De Verliefde Camera (The Infatuated Camera). Broadcast: June 24. 1971 VPRO. Camera: Ed van der Elsken. Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen. Technical assistants: Gerda van der Elsken-van der Veen, Bert Nienhuis. 16 mm, colour and black-white. Sound: optical. 42' 50"
  • 1972: Death In The Port Jackson Hotel, subtitle: Een portret van Vali Myers [A portrait of Vali Myers] Broadcast: September 28. 1972 VPRO. Montage: Co van Harten, Sound recording: Bert Nienhuis. 16 mm. colour. Sound: separate magnetic. 36' 12"
  • 1972: Spelen Maar... (Keep on playing...) Commissioned by: AVRO. Broadcast: October 28. 1972 AVRO. Sound recording: Gerda van der Veen. 16 mm. colour. Sound: separate magnetic. 80' 19"
  • 1972: Paardeleven (Horse's life) 16 mm. colour. Sound: perfotape. 8' 08"
  • 1972: Dleren Op Het Land (Animals in the countryside). 35 mm, black-white. Sound: silent. 1' 00"
  • 1972: Kogelstootster (Shot-putter). 35 mm, colour. Sound: silent. 1' 05"
  • 1973: Tom Ükker. 35 mm, colour. Sound: silent. 0' 32"
  • 1973: Edam. 16 mm, colour. Sound: silent. 8' 52"
  • 1973: Het Prins Bernhard Fonds Helpt (The Prince Bernhard Fund helps) I, II, III. Commissioned by: Prins Bernhard Fonds. 35 mm, colour. Sound: optical. 3' 50"
  • 1974: Slootje Springen (Ditch jumping). 35 mm. colour. Sound: silent. 0' 43"
  • 1976: Touwtrekken (Tug-of -war|). Commissioned by: Nederlandse Touwtrekkersbond. Technical assistant: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. .Super 8. colour. 14' 45"
  • 1978: Het Is Niet Mis Wat Zij Doen (What they're doing is a good thing): Een film van Memisa. Commissioned by: Memisa (Medical Mission Action). Broadcast: January 16, 1978 AVRO. Editing: Ed van der Elsken, Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Sound recording: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. 16 mm, colour (Super 8 original now lost). Sound: perfotape. 60' 00"
  • 1980: Avonturen Op Het Land (Adventures in the countryside). Broadcast: March 30, 1980 VPRO. Editing: Ed van der Elsken, Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Sound recording: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Super 8, colour. Sound: perfotape. 78' 41"
  • 1980: Cameratest Van Der Elsken. 16 mm, colour. Sound: silent. 2' 42"
  • 1981: Mlster Ed En De Sprekende Film (Mr. Ed and the talking film). Broadcast: May 31. 1981 VPRO. Editing: Ed van der Elsken. Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Super 8, colour. Sound: perfotape. 74' 31"
  • 1981: Welkom In Hetleven, Lieve Kleine Bis (Welcome to life, dear little one: the sequel). Broadcast: January 24. 1982 VPRQ. Sound recording: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Technical assistants: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. William Vogeler, Klaas Beunder, Anton van de Koppel, Henk Meinema. 16 mm, black-white and colour. Sound: perfotape. 38' 45"
  • 1981: World Press Photo. 16 mm, colour. Sound: perfotape. 4' 00"
  • 1982: Een Fotograaf Filmt Amsterdam (A photographer films Amsterdam!) Working title: Amsterdams Peil (Amsterdam sounding). Production company: MMC Film BV. (Thijs Chanowski). Commissioned by: Ministry of Culture, Recreation and Social Welfare and the City of Amsterdam. Broadcast: June 29, 19B3 VPRO. Technical assistants: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst, Klaas Beunder, Peter Hekma. Henk Meinema. 16 mm, ECN, colour. Sound: optical 57' 11"
  • 1990: Bye. Broadcast: January 27, 1991 VPRO. Camera: Ed van der Elsken, Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Editing: Ulrike Mischke. Sound recording: Ed van der Elsken, Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. Technical assistant: Anneke van der Elsken-Hilhorst. video, colour and black-white. 1 hour 48"

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