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Rijksmuseum opens major exhibition of leading Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken
Ed van der Elsken 'Unspoiled primitives'; naive painter Call Black and his wife Ruby in front of their private museum in the Mojave Desert, Arizona, United States 1960 Gelatin silver print. Collection Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. ©Ed van der Elsken Spread from the design of the photo book Sweet Life, before 1966.

AMSTERDAM.- This autumn the Rijksmuseum presents Ed van der Elsken: Crazy World, an exhibition focusing on the personal archive that sheds new light on the most celebrated 20th century photographer in the Netherlands.

The recent acquisition of Ed van der Elsken’s artistic estate has provided the ideal opportunity to shed light on the working practice of the Dutch photographer. The display of more than a hundred objects – including photographs, photobook designs and contact sheets – invites the viewer to look over the shoulder of the artist at work.

Ed van der Elsken: Crazy World runs from 30 October 2020 to 10 January 2021. The exhibition is a collaboration between the Rijksmuseum and the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam.

Ed van der Elsken: Crazy World
Photographers generally take more pictures than they publish or exhibit, and that was certainly true in the case of Ed van der Elsken (1925-1990). A large quantity of his works, both famous and previously unknown, were archived at his home in the Dutch city of Edam. They include photographs, mock-up photobooks, annotated contact sheets, and designs for book covers. Many of these objects demonstrate that Van der Elsken’s photographs were often the outcome of choices and experimentation. And it was these images from the personal archive – demonstrating the doubts, thought process and reflections involved in the taking and printing of the photographs – that were selected for this exhibition. Examples include series of prints of the same shot, each with a unique combination of format, cropping and contrast, producing sometimes very different final results.

Ed van der Elsken’s passion for experimentation is apparent throughout the exhibition. While his approach to cropping and printing was ‘playful’, he was also a very good designer, and he was closely involved in the design of several of his own photobooks. He tried out a variety of titles, sequences, sizes and combinations of photos as he worked on his 1966 magnum opus Sweet Life in the period from about 1960 to 1966. The exhibition includes a selection from his design mock-up for Sweet Life, his 1966 masterpiece.

Ed van der Elsken: pioneer of the subjective viewpoint
Ed van der Elsken photographed in the Netherlands, Paris, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico, the United States and Indonesia – in short, all over the world. With his characteristically direct and disarming manner he was the epitome of the people’s photographer, and his oeuvre is extraordinarily rich and multifaceted. His directness opened the door to capturing the essence of his subjects’ humanity, and he used his uniquely raw and personal style to show that photography is about so much more than snapshots; his work is a manifestation of a personal vision. Van der Elsken is recognised internationally as one of the pioneers of the subjective viewpoint in perceiving and portraying people and the world through photography.

Artistic estate
In June 2020 the Rijksmuseum and the Nederlands Fotomuseum announced the agreement that the two museums would co-acquire the artistic estate of Ed van der Elsken.

The artistic estate of Ed van der Elsken was for a large part donated by Anneke Hilhorst, and partly purchased with the support of the Mondriaan Fund, the Rembrandt Association (thanks in part to its dedicated Photography and Video Fund and Dura Kunstfonds), BankGiro Lottery players, the Paul Huf Fund/Rijksmuseum Fund and the Marque Joosten & Eduard Planting Fund/Rijksmuseum Fund.

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