These photos show ‘why not everyone is a photographer’

What are the 99 most iconic Dutch photos ever taken? The Nederlands Fotomuseum will open tomorrow, after a long wait for relaxation of the corona measures, the Hall of Fame of Dutch Photography. A special committee selected a canon of images that are artistically and socially distinctive, and together tell the story of 180 years of photography in the Netherlands.

99 photos, crisscrossing each other, surround the visitors of the Photo Museum in Rotterdam. Rineke Dijkstra’s world-famous beach teenagers immediately catch the eye, and Dana Lixenberg’s rapper Tupac, photographed 2.5 years before his death. Sometimes well-known photographers such as Ed van der Elsken, Viviane Sassen and Erwin Olaf catch the eye with their recognizable style, in addition, they are iconic images that you recognize, such as ‘the boy with the pan’ by Emmy Andriesse in the hunger winter or the passport photos. by Anne Frank from 1939.

“The Netherlands has an enormously rich photography,” says Birgit Donker, director of the Fotomuseum. “At first, photography was an invention that was looked at with a bit of pity. Only later was it discovered by artists as an independent medium. Now that photography has ’emancipated’ – everyone takes photos these days – we thought this was the moment to celebrate 180 years in 99 images to capture.”


As distinctive as those images are, many of the photos in the Hall of Fame will not immediately be recognized by the general public. A daguerreotype from circa 1846 of a black couple. Striking Turkish women in Almelo. A state portrait of a Javanese prince by his court photographer. These are also photos that stand out artistically, are historically important or have social relevance, the selection committee judged.

“We really want to surprise the public and make them think: which photos did not fit into the existing story so far,” says Guinevere Ras, who helped put together the list. “We really want to change the visitor’s perspective.”

“Multi-voices were the starting point of the exhibition. We wanted to see from the beginning what has already been shown very often and what deserves a new place. This way we can tell a richer and more complete story.”

A good example are the sisters Anna and Augusta Curiel, who worked in Suriname at the beginning of the last century. Around 1920 they established a sugar plantation in the interior of the Dutch colony. Ras: “You see a neat plantation, very nicely arranged, stately photographed in a high perspective. The misery that has reigned on such a plantation is of course not visible.”

Workers’ houses and pharmacy on the Geijersvlijt plantation, ca. 1920

Augusta Curiel/National Museum of World Cultures

“The colonial relationships, the blood, sweat and tears, you do not see in this photo,” says director Donker. “The question is always: who has the power, who has the camera. Today, photography has been democratized and that is why we want to use this exhibition to investigate which photos were not taken and who should have had a camera at the time.”

Where is the 100th photo?

The museum has therefore left the hundredth plinth empty, so that visitors can submit their own suggestions for additions, from the photographic history or their own work. According to Ras, it fits well with the new role that museums aspire to. “They were always temples in which ‘the truth’ was presented, but nowadays they increasingly want to be a forum in which we want to enter into a conversation with the public.”

Donker hopes that visitors will also take in the wealth of images that we have as a society. “The visual stories that matter, made by photographers who went on the road and who have always remained investigative. And I also hope that people see that nowadays everyone takes photos, but not everyone is a photographer. There you have a special view and a special need an eye for it.”

The Gallery of Dutch Photography will be on permanent display from tomorrow in the new wing of the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam. King Willem-Alexander will be one of the first to visit the Hall of Fame tomorrow.

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