Early Life Edit
Ed van der Elsken was born on 10 March 1925 in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. In 1937, following a desire to become a sculptor, he learned stone cutting at Amsterdam's Van Tetterode Steenhouwerij, then in 1943 takes preliminary studies at Instituut voor Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs, the predecessor of the Rietveld Academy (dir. Mart Stam), then in 1944 enrolled in the professional sculpture program which he had to abandon to escape Nazi forced labor. In 1944 after the Battle of Arnhem he was stationed in a mine-disposal unit and was where he was first shown Picture Post by English soldiers, then, in 1947, he discovered American sensationalist photographer Weegee's Naked City. These encounters inspired his interest in photography and that year he worked in photo sales, and attempted a correspondence course with the Fotovakschool in Den Haag, failing the final examination. He becoame a member 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. Much of his work subjectively documented his own energetic and eccentric life experience, presaging the work of Larry Clark, Nan Goldin or Wolfgang Tillmans. His adopted family and their lives became the subjects of his photographs along with the people he met including, during this Paris period, 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), designed by Dutch graphic designer, sculptor, typographer Jurriaan (William) Schrofer (1926–1990). It was the first of some twenty van der Elsken publications, and quickly sold out, and its filmic qualities led to his experiments with, and parallel career in, cinema. Twenty years later Myers appeared in his film 'Death in the Port Jackson Hotel' (1972, 36 min. 16 mm colour).
Amsterdam and International Travel Edit
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 in 1957 (now in Democratic Republic of Congo), and to Tokyo and Hong Kong in 1959 to 1960, with Gerda van der Veen (1935–2006), his second wife (also a photographer) whom he married (25 September 1957). He filmed for Welkom In Het Leven, Lieve Kleine, the birth 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 is no longer invisible, but interacted with subject. This was influential on the television of Hans Keller Keller and Roelof Kiers.
From 1971 he lived in the country near Edam, with his wife, photographer Anneke Hilhorst (1949 - ), where their son, John, was born.
His imagery provides quotidian, intimate and autobiographic perspectives on the European zeitgeist[ between the Second World War and the seventies in the realms of art, music (particularly jazz), and cafe culture. His last film was Bye (1990, 1 hour 48 min, video, 16 mm film, colour and black & white) a characteristically courageous response to his terminal prostate cancer.
He died on 28 December 1990 in Edam in the Netherlands.
- 1956 - Love on the Left Bank (Een liefdesgeschiedenis in Saint Germain des Prés)
- 1958 - Bagara
- 1959 - Jazz
- 1960 - Dans Theater
- 1962 - de Jong & van Dam NV 1912-1962
- 1966 - Sweet life +
- 1968 - Wereldreis in foto's vier delen
- 1977 - Eye Love you
- 1977 - Zomaar een sloot ergens bij Edam
- 1978 - Hallo!
- 1979 - Amsterdam! Oude foto's 1947-1970
- 1980 - Avonturen op het land
- 1981 - Parijs! Foto's 1950-1954
- 1985 - Are you famous?+
- 1986 - San-jeruman-de-pure no kol
- 1987 - Jong Nederland 'Adorabele rotzakken'
- 1987 - Japan 1959-1960+
- 1988 - De ontdekking van Japan
- 1989 - Natlab
- 1991 - Once upon a time