The street photography of Ed Van der Elsken…
Ed Van der Elsken was a highly regarded photographer, prolific film maker and author whose images of Paris, Amsterdam, sex, art and alternative culture in particular has endeared him to lovers of the avant-garde. Born in 1925 his work covered the period from the Second World War until the late seventies during which he worked for some of photography’s all-time greats as well as capturing photographs of serious cultural and historical importance.
By the early 1950s he had moved to Paris and began working for Magnum where he secured a position printing for Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ernst Haas and Robert Cappa. The job led him to meet his first wife and inspiration behind his first real foray into photojournalism. Ata Kando was an Hungarian-born photographer, older than he as well as the mother of three children. Despite the poverty of the area in Paris in which they lived it did provide Van der Elsken with a rich vein of photographic subjects, the area was home to a Bohemian culture and allowed Van der Elsken to begin work on his first book. His marriage did not last long and by 1957 he was divorced and travelling to Central America, Hong Kong and Tokyo with his new wife and fellow photographer, Geerda Van der Veen, the second of his three wives.
Van der Elsken was virtually self-taught and cared little for technicalities and composition, many of his images could be considered raw but he was firmly in the camp of capturing moments and the atmosphere surrounding the subject matter. This video montage of his collection of street photography in Amsterdam in the mid-seventies is reflective of that.
To what extent the subjects make the photographs more than the ability of the photographer is a matter of personal opinion. Amsterdam in any decade would provide a wonderfully diverse and cosmopolitan canvas but it does take someone to realise and then capture that moment. How many of us realise our own surroundings at any given point and set out to record it for prosperity? Not enough of us one might suggest.
So here is Van der Elsken’s work, the subjects are glorious in their characters and colours. Take a closer look at the youths and compare their style, bonhomie attitude and love of life to today’s rather grey, faceless Primark designed generation. There is little comparison.