Architectural Photography in the Collection
At the end of the 1990s, an inventory was taken of all the photographic material hidden in the collection of what was then the Netherlands Architecture Institute, today Het Nieuwe Instituut. The photographs were used by architects for publications, education and lectures, and were sometimes the bearers of new trends and ideologies. Drawing together prints and negatives from the different photographic archives allowed new insights into their historical and documentary value to emerge.
The collection contains photographs by the likes of Bernard Eilers, Jaap d’Oliveira, Hans Spies, Cas Oorthuys and Hans Sibbelee, photographers whose work is held in the Nederlands Fotomuseum (formerly the Nederlands Fotoarchief, nfa). It was therefore an obvious step to inventory and research the archives jointly, especially since the Van den Broek and Bakema office archive was given to the NAi, while the office’s negative archive was in the care of the nfa and also contained work by Jan Kamman and Jan Vrijhof.
The results of the research were published by NAi Uitgevers (now nai010 Uitgevers) in the Architectuuragenda 2000. The introduction to the Architectuurgenda is reproduced below and describes the situation at the end of the 1990s. Yet it continues to be relevant to the development of Dutch architectural photography and the interaction between photographer and architect today. The archives of architects who worked with contemporary architecture photographers weren’t, and still aren’t, held in the depots. What has been added since is a large and interesting collection of glass negatives, alongside smaller collections, which came with the architects’ archives when they were acquired. Het Nieuwe Insituut is also working on an extensive conservation project to digitise the collection of around 300,000 photographs.
The text below with photographs from the Het Nieuwe Instituut Collection, a number of which were also printed in the Architectuuragenda 2000, are republished here for the event Through the Photographer’s Lens, the Archive Explorations evening of architectural photography on 5 October 2017.
Text Anouk de Wit and Loes Harrevelt
They can go ahead and pull the building down. l've got a photo of it by Versnel.' Words to this effect are attributed to Dutch architect Alexander Bodon. His statement points up one of the most important functions of architectural photography. Architectural photographs are the representatives of a building and they display it, both from within and from without, under the best possible conditions. Whatever may have been altered or added at a later date remains outside consideration. The photographer has usually chosen his viewpoint immediately upon the bullding's completion and has captured the essence of the as yet immaculate design. It is this image that persists and that becomes fixed in our memory. Published in magazines, these photographs make the building internationally famous; they are at least partly responsible for the public recognition and success of an architect or an architectural style.
The collections of the Netherlands Architecture lnstitute (NAi) and the Netherlands Photo Archive (nfa) contain a great many of such pictures in the form of prints, negatives or slides. There are photographs from the 1850s onwards varying trom travel photography to the documentation of historic monuments, from family and association albums to photographs taken by the architects themselves. The photographs were used by architects for publications, teaching and lectures and as such sometimes served to propagate new movements and ideologies. The majority are of buildings by Dutch architects, photographed by Dutch and foreign photographers, many of whom need no introduction. The nfa holds the negative archives of some of these photographers, one of whom is the architectural photographer B.F.A. Eilers.
Alliances between photographers and architects
In 1923 Eilers wrote of the collaboration between architect and photographer: 'Architect and photographer have to educate one another. In other words, the photographer, to the extent that he has the requisite mental disposition, learns much trom architects about the architectural way of seeing; the architect learns to appreciate the possibilities offered by photography.' Architectural photographs are a reflection of the photographer's views and the rapport existing between architect and photographer. lf the photographer and architect have understood one another properly, the photography reveals how the architect wishes to present his views and his work to the public. The history of Dutch architectural photography contains many examples of successful alliances between photographers and archltects: B.F.A. Eilers took photographs for the architects of the Amsterdam School, in particular for J. and H.A.J. Baanders, M. de Klerk and H. Th. Wijdeveld. The architectural photographer C.A. Deul had a long association with J. Crouwel and W.M. Dudok while J.A.H. Kamman worked for W. van Tijen, J.A. Brinkman and L.C. van der Vlugt. J.J.P. Oud awarded many photographlc commissions to E.M. van Ojen and later to J. Versnel. From 1947 J.A. Vrijhof and C. Geljon documented nearly all the work of the architectural partnership of Van den Broek & Bakema. These collaborative ventures were in part determined by geography. There were very few photographers who travelled the length and breadth of the country recording the work of a single architect. B.F.A. Eilers worked almost exclusively in Amsterdam, E.M. van Ojen in The Hague and surrounding area and J.A.H. Kamman and G. Burg were very much centred on the city of Rotterdam. One exception to this rule was P. Kramer of Groningen, who recorded nearly all the projects by government architect C.H. Peeters and who also worked wlth P.J.H. Cuypers.
Some architects were themselves architectural photographers, such as J.G. Wiebenga and C. de Graaff. Others collected photographs or granted photographic commissions. Some photographers had a natural affinity with architecture, such as the Amsterdam architectural draughtsman and photographer J. Olie who documented many historic monuments in the capital. He displayed a remarkable interest in the built environment and collected eighteenth-century architectural drawings. P. Zwart began as a draughtsman in the office of J. Wils and later went on to become a designer and photographer. The photographer C. Oorthuys had trained first as an architect, whiIe the architectural photographer J. Versnel, the son of a carpenter, began visiting building sites with his father when he was still a young lad.
The first architectural photograph
The link between architecture and photography goes back to 1826 when the Frenchman Nicéphore Nièpce (1765-1833) made the first photograph, directing his lens at the built environment around his house in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes. This photograph by Nièpce is not only the oldest surviving photograph, it is also the first known architectural photograph. Like Nièpce, many nineteenth-century photographers chose architecture as their subject because its static nature suited the long exposure times required by the primitive technology. The nineteenth-century interest in ancient architecture and the high esteem for Gothic architecture in particular, prompted the first initiatives aimed at documenting and preserving historic monuments. In 1851 the French Commission de Monuments Historiques commissioned architectural photographs from, among others, former painter H. Le Secq. In the Netherlands the Society for the Advancement of Architecture was a notable initiator in this field, awarding the first documented Dutch commission for an architectural photograph in 1859 to the Hague photographer M.E. HilIe. The photograph she took of the town hall in Middelburg appeared in the picture book Afbeeldingen van Oude Bestaande Gebouwen (Pictures of Historic Buildings). Although the society went on to build up an extensive photographic collection (unfortunately lost in a fire in 1914), this was its only commission to HilIe.
Documentation and restoration
Despite the invention of photography, architectural drawings continued to hold their own in illustrated books and magazines. One of the reasons for this was the lack of a suitable technique for reproducing photographs. HilIe had to make 800 original prints in order to be able to distribute her photo. Moreover, photography often revealed too many details, such as later additions to a building, that obscured the view of the original style. These early photos were characterized by a pursuit of objectivity and legibility. More often than not, the buildings were photographed front-on. Photography did, however, become an increasingly important documentary aid in the restoration of ancient buildings, as in the preliminary surveys of the ruin of De Haar Castle in Haarzuilens conducted by P.J.H. Cuypers and V.E.L. de Stuers. Cuypers's photographic collection was not restricted to photos designed to help him with restoration projects. He also owned prints of prominent French buildings, such as the photographs of the cathedral in Rheims taken by Le Secq for the Commission des Monuments Historiques. These pictures gave him an opportunity to study his beloved high Gothic style. After the reinstatement of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in 1853, many neo-Gothic churches were built to designs by Cuypers. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, they were followed by other major works like the Rijksmuseum and Central Station in Amsterdam. As such, Cuypers became a major client for photographers; all these works were extensively photographed for Cuypers himself or for his contractors, as were the plaster models for the rich decorations produced by the art and craft studio established by Cuypers and Stoltzenberg in Roermond.
In the early twentieth century, the previously mentioned B.F.A. Eilers emerged as one of the most important photographers specializing in architecture. He became the photographer of Amsterdam School architecture and even today his photographs influence our perception of the elegant architecture that sprang up in Amsterdam in the first decade of the twentieth century. Eilers moved in the Architectura et Amicitia circles and it was here that he built up enduring working partnerships. In Architectura, the society's weekly news magazine, Eilers wrote in 1923 about a possible conflict between objective reproduction and visually attractive architectural photography: 'First of all the issue of imaginative or documentary interpretation is liable to suffer since the architect usually wants to see both aspects united in a photograph of his work. It is onty natural that the architect should set greater store by sharpness and realism in a photo and even regard this as a photographic virtue, than a photographer might always consider desirable.'
In 1926 the Hague architectural photographer E.M. van Ojen produced a photograph in which the sharpness and realism described by Eilers as a photographic virtue were entirely lacking. His manner of photographing A.J. Kropholler's Pascalis church in The Hague could scarcely be called 'legible'. The atmosphere and experience of the space - the 'imaginative interpretation' in other words - weigh more heavily here than the objective documentation of construction and materials. After Van Ojen had worked for some time in this art-inspired style, he evolved into a modern photographer who worked with architects of the likes of Oud, J.W.E. Buys and J.B. Lürsen, becoming at least as productive as Eilers. Van Ojen played a crucial role in the international perception of Oud's oeuvre. His photographs of social housing in Hoek van Holland, the Kiefhoek in Rotterdam and the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart are renowned. They were highly regarded by the architectural critic H.R. Hitchcock and the architect Philip Johnson who put together a collection of architectural photographs for the famous 'Modern Architecture' exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1932) and the accompanying book The International Style. Johnson wrote to Oud: 'The pictures you have provided are quite excellent and represent the best material we have received so far from any European architect'. These photographs also helped to spread the ideology of Nieuwe Bouwen (the New Movement) in the United States.
Based on a belief in rational and at the same time socially minded solutions to the building task, Nieuwe Bouwen held sway in Europe during the 1920s and resulted in architecture with a functionalist aesthetic. The 1920s also saw the rise of a new movement in photography, which became known as New Photography. Adherents of this movement exhibited a marked partiallity for Nieuwe Bouwen architecture. The spiritual affinity between Nieuwe Bouwen and New Photography is evident from the importance attached to photography in journals like de 8 en Opbouw. In 1936 the journal published the objectives of New Photography, though oddly enough unaccompanied by a single architectural photograph. The work of New Photography adherents made full use of the possibillities of photographic techniques, resulting in realistic and razorsharp images in which the photographer experimented with unusual viewpoints and cut-offs. One such innovative photographer was J. Kamman who worked with architects like W. van Tijen and Brinkman and Van der Vlugt. The archives of architects who spent some time at the Bauhaus also contain photographs made under the influence of the photographic training given there. L. Stam-Beese was photographed by M. Kallin and she herself took many photographs, including a portrait of M. Stam. The archive of J. Niegeman contains photographs by a famous Bauhaus photographer E. Consemüller.
In 1935, P. Zwart and G. Kiljan, two pioneers of New Photography, collaborated on a series of photographs for Rotterdam's Groenplan (green space plan). Their photographs of the limited possibilities for recreation in the city demonstrate the use of photography as an investigative tool and went on to play a constructive role in the urban planning debate. This piece of reportage reflects the social commitment underlylng New Photography. The post-war reconstruction of the Netherlands lent fresh impetus to architectural photography In the 1940s and 1950s. G. Burg, who like J. Kamman had lost his entire archive during the bombing of Rotterdam, documented both the ravages of war and the later reconstructlon of the city. There was so much construction work going on right after the war that despite the loss of his prewar archive Burg still left behind a substantial picture archive. Nor was he the only photographer to record the resurrection of a devastated nation. J. d'Oliveira and H. Spies, who had met in Germany during the interwar years at the studio of the photographer H. Schmölz, photographed countless buildings and complexes after the war. The photographers C. Oorthuys and A. Klein documented architecture in their books about cities or companies. Their architectural photographs were usually part of a piece of reportage rather than being directly commissioned by architects. Another photographer who rarely worked for architects was H. Sibbelee who did a lot of work for art historians, in particular for the architectural critic J.J. Vriend. Together they produced Architectuur van deze eeuw (Twentieth-century architecture) which was part of a series of photo books entitled De Schoonheld van ons land (The beauty of our country), and which was published by Uitgeverij Contact In 1959.
Around 1950 a new generation of photographers made its appearance. One of these was the architectural photographer J. Versnel. During the war years Versnel had trained at the Graphic Design School in Amsterdam where he had been taught by Eilers, and at the Arts and Crafts lnstitute where d'Oliviera had instructed him in photography. Thereafter he worked for a whiIe as assistant to the doctor/photographer N. Jesse who brought him into contact with architects like G. and J. Rietveld. Once admitted into this circle Versnel soon became a highly successful architectural photographer. Beginning in 1950, he worked with innumerable architects and interior designers who included Oud, the two Rietvelds, H. Salomonson and C. de Vries. He felt a natural empathy with the work of these modern architects and in his photographs he tried to capture the essence of the spaces they created. From 1952 onwards he received regular photographic commissions from the Stichting Goed Wonen which he carried out with the help of his sometime assistant, A. Plas.
During the 1960s and 1970s Dutch society underwent a process of democratization. In architecture this led to greater attention to human needs in the design of buildings. Architects like J. Bakema, A. van Eyck, H. Haan and H. Hertzberger believed in a humane architecture full of emotional expression. From 1959 to 1963 these architects formed the editorial board of the journal Forum in which the image, including the photographic image, played a crucial role. Photos by V. Cornelius, who was Haan's photographer on his travels through Africa, were interspersed with photographs of public squares in Rome, streetscapes and snapshots of a given situation. Most of these photos contained people. The new architectural ideas were also reflected in photography, gradually giving rise to a more documentary style of architectural photography in which sharpness and clarity were replaced by coarse-grained shots. Apart from Cornelius, W. Diepraam and C. Wessing excelled in this type of photography. Forum became a new podium tor trendsetting architectural photography.
In the 1980s and 1990s, formalism returned to both architecture and photography. Techniques were unashamedly borrowed from advertising photography and high-quality colour photography and printing techniques gradually displaced the black-and-white image. In these years the new architecture was displayed in a fantastic kaleidoscope of colours. The experience of the architectural photograph changed along with developments in photographic technology. However, the final years of the twentieth century have ushered in yet another change of course. Human beings and their 'clutter' are no langer taboo in photographs. Compared with the 1980s and early 1990s, architecture is now less isolated from human existence.
Through the Photographer’s Lens
A kaleidoscopic evening of architectural photography taking the State Archive of Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning as its starting point. Contributions by photographer Frank van der Salm, architect Jan Benthem, author Sanneke van Hassel, conservator Ellen Smit, and restorer Erica Jonkman.