The raw Amsterdam of Ed van der Elsken

If you happen to be in Amsterdam do yourself the favour of not missing Amsterdam!, the exhibition on the work of Ed van der Elsken at the City Archives (hurry up, you only have three more days left).

[You can still see this 2014 exhibition from the comfort of your home. Take a look at the City Archive’s image bank here. ]


Every time I rode my bike along the Vijzelstraat, I’d find myself hooked to this poster of Amsterdam! by Ed van der Elsken. There it was, a new edition of the photographer’s book on Amsterdam’s street life between 1947 and 1970; five cinematic characters luring me to visit the exhibition under the same name at the Municipal Archive. Time slips through the fingers of working people and, before I knew, summer holiday was around the corner, and I hadn’t been to the museum. What’s more, I had a flight to catch. This was about to become another of those good exhibitions I’d end up missing (relatable?).

Van der Elsken captured a raw Amsterdam I wish I could have seen. A city of disheveled bikers & classic cars, fancy gatherings & dirty streets, older folks in suits and hair-does & youth culture. His pictures are an intimate portrait of the city’s life. They show us popular events and iconic venues, from the funfair at the Nieuwmarkt to the bebop evenings at Hotel Krasnapolski in the 50’s. But his gaze seemed to be the most fascinated by odd characters and dramatic situations. The punks, the poor, the bohemians, the street fights. The photographer, born and raised in Amsterdam, knew the city like no other (a journey through his life and work can be found here). Through his work we too can witness the city changing, from a society of traditional values to the rebellious capital of the hippie movement. It’s impossible not to think of the contrast with the polished version of Amsterdam we live in.


The exhibition’s audio-tour was a great addition to the book, with testimonies of people depicted in the photos, and the photographer himself. He narrated the particularly emotional moment of photographing the wall above, the most still of his images but yet one of the most impactful. “I live”: two simple words that gained a whole different meaning after World War II.

When I came back from my holiday at the beach I went straight to the Stadsarchief as you may have guessed. Just in time. Sitting at their cafe after the visit, feeling like a Van der Elsken character, I renewed my vows. I shall not miss out on my beloved city anymore. And I shall document all my Amsterdam adventures, best I can.

4 thoughts on “The raw Amsterdam of Ed van der Elsken

  1. Pingback: Explore Amsterdam’s museums with these five online tours – A M S T E R D I V E

  2. Pingback: History, Art Nouveau & other hidden treasures to discover at the City Archives – A M S T E R D I V E

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