Hermine Giefing-Elzas and her husband Abraham Elzas liked to travel. Little is known about their journeys, but the holiday photos they took in various places in Europe may reveal their unknown fascinations and sources of inspiration. In the context of Disclosing Architecture, Het Nieuwe Instituut is starting a public investigation into these private images in the hope of not only gaining new insights about Abraham Elzas and Hermine Giefing-Elzas, but also to establish new connections between the hundreds of archives which make up the Dutch national collection. We invite you to analyse the images and uncover unknown histories.
Abraham was the architect of the Lekstraat Synagogue in Amsterdam. He also worked on Marcel Breuer’s Bijenkorf in Rotterdam. During a recent inventory, an important part of the Elzas archive turned out to consist of holiday photos, which, thanks to meta-data analysis, may lead to new connections with other archives, such as that of Nelly and Theo van Doesburg. Abraham Elzas was Theo and Nelly’s right hand man for many years, contributing to the creation of the Van Doesburg House in Meudon, among other projects. Hermine Giefing-Elzas worked for many years in the same house for Nelly van Doesburg.
We are making available these photos from the Elzas archive so that they can be used for an online expedition for ‘self-isolating globetrotters’. Using Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), new information can hopefully be attached to these intriguing yet obscure holiday photos. The institute believes that the value of an archive such as Elzas's lies primarily in how it can be used for research. The individual images are not important; the real value lies in the possibility of making meaningful connections between the images and archives.
Of relevance to this is the investigative method of collectives such as Bellingcat and Forensic Architecture, which use OSINT to investigate international conflicts and reveal war crimes. Can these methods also be used to add a new perspective to photos from archives, which then provide the starting points for entirely new stories?
In an online tutorial, Toon Koehorst – of design duo Koehorst in 't Veld – explains how the method can be used, and how the research relates to the exhibition Atelier Nelly and Theo van Doesburg, which will open later this year.
The public and collective research method OSINT offers us the opportunity to democratise the heritage domain, because it enables everyone to be involved as a co-researcher and to develop new narratives that will enrich the Dutch national collection with new perspectives.
This project is part of Disclosing Architecture, a six-year programme which aims at improving the sustainability, usability and visibility of the National Collection for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning. Disclosing Architecture looks at the collection of archives from new perspectives, in order to reformulate the collection policy on this basis and to provide new ideas regarding the valuation of historical sources.