PhotoLexicon, Volume 1, nr. 1 (September 1984) (en)

Israël Kiek & Sons

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf


Israël Kiek became known primarily as a photographer of student life at Leiden University. His name has become immortal thanks to his group portraits of revelling students, photos that were composed in a manner very unlike that which was taught at the academies. These group portraits were called ‘kiekjes’, a Dutch term that has since been used to describe simple amateur snapshots intended primarily for viewing in private circles.




Israël David Kiek is born in Groningen, probably on 22 April. According to the Jewish register, he is circumcised on 29 April. He is one of the sons of David Lazarus Kiek, watchmaker, and Lea Levie Pinto.


According to the census of 1830, I.D. Kiek lives with the family of David Kiek at Groote Krom Elboog 300 (presently Grote Kromme Elleboog). Then eighteen years of age, Israël is listed as a coffin maker.

Ca. 1838-45

By this time, I.D. Kiek is married to Henderika de Leeuw (born 19 August 1812 in Nieuwkoop). The couple has settled in Gouda, where from 1838 on, the family expands by one child almost on a yearly basis: their first child, Louis Israël, born on 6 June 1838, and a second son, David Israël, born on 5 July 1840. Three girls follow. In Gouda, Kiek works as a cabinetmaker, but is also mentioned as a butcher (‘vleeschhouwer’) and as a collector (‘debetant’) for the Koninklijke Nederlandsche Loterij (‘Royal Dutch Lottery’). The Kiek family lives on the Kleiwegsteeg, ‘Wijk H’, at Nos. 45, 44, and 24 respectively.

Ca. 1844-46

In this period, Kiek moves to Groningen together with his family. They reside on the Folkeringestraat (presently Folkingestraat), No. 241, ‘Wijk H’, where he is registered as a merchant. Five additional children are born in Groningen, including Kiek’s son, Lion, on 11 October 1847.


On 25 August, the Kiek family departs for Amsterdam, initially moving to St. Anthonie Breestraat 14. In October, the family moves to Rapenburgerstraat 500. Here as well, Kiek states his profession as ‘merchant’. In September 1853, another daughter is born in Amsterdam.


In May of this year, Kiek settles in Leiden at Levendaal 496.


On 19 July, the Kiek family moves to Levendaal 513. In the city register, Kiek is listed as a ‘merchant’, but according to Annie Versprille, retired archivist at the Leiden City Archive, he opens a cigar shop on the Levendaal.


In the Leiden address book for this year, I.D. Kiek & Zoons (‘I.D. Kiek & Sons’) are mentioned for the first time as ‘portraiteurs’ (‘portraitists’). Kiek’s sons—Louis, Abraham, David, and Lion—are trained by their father in the profession of photography and work together with him for a period of time. I.D. Kiek is also registered as a ‘merchant’; this description is also kept in the years to follow, in addition to his profession as photographer. According to various unverifiable sources, Kiek purchases a piece of property in this period, just outside the Rijnsburgerpoort (at this time falling under the city limits of Oegstgeest), where he establishes a photography studio.


In the Leiden city address book for this year, listed under the heading ‘Photographers’ are the names: I.D. Kiek and L.J. Kiek.


At some point in the period 1860-70, I.D. Kiek registers at Levendaal 373. His profession is stated as ‘merchant’, but this is later crossed out and changed to ‘Photographer’.


In this year, I.D. Kiek visits the city of Utrecht as a traveling photographer and offers miniature portraits with frame for fifty cents per piece.


Abraham Kiek, the second son, establishes himself as a photographer in Leeuwarden. From there he travels around Friesland taking photos of houses and portraits. He also takes school photos. In 1878, Abraham gives up the photography profession and departs for Rotterdam, where he becomes a ‘father’ at the Jewish orphanage.


On 27 June, I.D. Kiek and his wife and their five unwedded children move to Haarlemmerstraat 380 in Leiden. He continues to run his studio from a small wooden building just outside the Rijnsburgerpoort, nearby Café Zomerzorg on the Stationsweg. An advertisement in the Leidsch Dagblad of 20 August 1866 provides the following information: ‘On Mondays and Thursdays 3 album-portraits for fl. 1.– [guilder] outside the Rijnsburgerpoort by I.D. Kiek.’


On 18 May, Louis Kiek, the eldest son, departs for Amsterdam.


On 8 April, the I.D. Kiek family moves to Turfmarkt 7.


In this year, a (handwritten) notation is made in the Leiden city address book, that D. J. Kiek, ‘Photographer’, lives at Nieuwstraat 7. This has to be Kiek’s third son, David, who possibly worked as a photographer for a short period of time in Leiden, but who subsequently moved elsewhere.


In this year, the Leiden city address book lists the address of the ‘Firma Kiek’ at Rijnsburgersingel 5. This address is likely in reference to the aforementioned photo studio outside the Rijnsburgerpoort or a building adjacent to it.


The street number of the ‘Firma Kiek & Zoon’ is changed to Rijnsburgersingel 1. This remains the studio’s address through the year 1896. From 1 January 1890, this is also the private residence of I.D. Kiek. On the same date, Kiek’s son, Lion, moves into the building at Rijnsburgersingel 2.


In August of this year, H.J. Jesse, an architect in Leiden, draws up plans for a new studio for I.D. Kiek and charges a fee of fl. 5. – (according to a paper copy in his diary, drawn up by J. Jesse at Leiden). Kiek’s wife, Henderika de Leeuw, dies on 9 December.


On 25 March, Louis Israël returns from Amsterdam and establishes himself as a photographer at Rijnsburgersingel 18. On 24 May, he moves to Janvossensteeg 21. His stay in Leiden is brief, however, as he moves back to Amsterdam on 25 October.


On 31 December, Israël David Kiek travels from Leiden to Arnhem, probably to stay at the home of one of his daughters, Lize or Jeanetta, who both reside in Arnhem. It is probably in the same year that Lion Kiek and his family move to Haarlemmerstraat 61. The ‘Leids Adresboekje’ of 1897 lists him as being a ‘Photographer’ and ‘Cigar Trader’.


On 2 January, Lion Kiek registers once again on the Rijnsburgersingel, this time at No. 40. Four years later, he moves to the Hugo de Grootstraat 15 (presently Middenstraat). When registering at this address, his profession is stated as photographer rather than ‘tailor’, as Annie Versprille has observed. At the start of September, his father Israël Kiek returns from Arnhem and moves in with Lion at Rijnsburgersingel 40.


On 14 May, the elderly Israël David Kiek dies in Leiden.


Israël Kiek’s contribution to the history of Dutch photography is highly exceptional. His surname ‘Kiek’ is linked to a genre of photography produced chiefly with cameras used by amateur photographers, the ‘kiekje’: an amateur snapshot taken for the purpose of a personal memento. It was Kiek’s best customers, the students of Leiden University, who first devised this term. Whenever a fraternity party, graduation celebration or any other kind of social gathering was held and the students wished to eternalise the event once it was over, they headed over to Kiek’s to have their group portrait taken. The cluttered, sometimes blurred photos of drunken groups of friends, all huddled together, were soon referred to by the students as ‘kiekjes’. The popularity of this genre of group portraits was not so much based on the quality of the photos, but rather on the fact that, for the students, these images served as proof that one was part of the ‘in-crowd’. At some point during your student years in Leiden, you just had to have your picture taken at Kiek’s!

Israël Kiek arrived in Leiden as a merchant. Before taking his chances with photography, he had worked at all kinds of professions. During his early years in Groningen, he built coffins. In Gouda, Kiek was a cabinetmaker, but he was also known as a butcher and even a lottery collector. It is not known how he came into contact with photography, but his activities in this area started at some point in the 1850s. In 1858, he is listed as a ‘portraiteur’ (‘portraitist’); from 1860 onward, a ‘photograaph’ (‘photographer’). For someone of Kiek’s age, it must have been a big step to start a new career. He had a large family of nine children to support (three of his twelve children had died at an early age), but this failed to stop him from taking on a new challenge.

Notwithstanding, Kiek established himself as a photographer and quickly managed to find a highly strategic location for his atelier, just outside the Rijnsburgerpoort and between a fraternity, Sociëteit Amicitia, and a café, Zomerzorg, both highly popular with the students and on the way to the train station. At this location, the later Rijnsburgersingel, Kiek set up his photography studio: a small wooden building— according to unverifiable sources a kind of dilapidated carnival stand—with a small drawbridge to fend off difficult customers. Next to this wooden studio there was also a small courtyard, which served as the background for most of the students’ snapshots. Profiting from the first light of day, it was here that Kiek was able to make group portraits of the young partygoers, who preferred to arrive in the very early hours of the morning. Kiek was willing to accept every commission: even when the yearbook editorial board of the Leidsch Studenten Corps (‘Leiden Student Corps’) showed up on the Sabbath! This extraordinary customer service is certain to have contributed to Kiek’s fame in student circles.

Four of Kiek’s sons—Louis, Abraham, David, and Lion—were initiated into the photographic profession by their father. All of them worked for some time in their father’s studio. It was especially Lion who stayed on to assist his father, with the others eventually establishing themselves elsewhere.

Kiek belonged to the first generation of photographers working in Leiden, together with Leendert Springer, Joseph Klok, Abraham Regensburg, and Johan Hoffmeister. It has been said that Kiek initially started working with daguerreotype, but there is no surviving tangible evidence to prove this. The earliest known photographs taken by Kiek date from around 1860 and are printed on albumen paper. Rarely does one encounter photographs in a large format. Whenever a member of the general public dropped by his studio, the carte-de-visite portrait (ca. 9 x 6 cm) was the most suitable format for taking portrait photos. For the students’ group portraits, Kiek used a somewhat larger format (ca. 11.5 x 8.5 cm). He taped these to cardboard mounts that—in contrast to the mounts for his carte-de-visite portraits—were not marked with his personal stamp or signature. As suggested in a previous article over Kiek in the Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek (‘Leiden Art Historical Yearbook’) of 1983, this probably had something to do with his attitude towards these student portraits. Although the students were perhaps indeed his best customers, one must question whether this kind of photography was where Kiek’s heart truly lay. From past accounts we also know that when making group portraits of the ‘gentleman students’, Kiek simply let events take their course, with his back turned submissively to the group, while the students themselves determined the composition. Only when it seemed to be taking too long did he press the students with the words: ‘Gentleman, gentleman, art has to keep moving.’ With Kiek, the design was never deliberate. For this reason, the group photos differ from each other only in those cases where the students themselves had taken some initiative.

Yet even in the portraits of local townspeople with which he did dare to associate his name, Kiek proved to be no master in the art of portrait photography. The poses of his subjects are stiff and expressionless. They are photographed frontally, without much variation or personal characterisation. They are usually depicted full-length, either standing or sitting, and looking directly into the lens. A chair, a balustrade and a draped curtain serve as entourage. There are virtually no additional attributes—unlike his student portraits, where signs, canes, beer mugs, and even ladders all play an important role as attributes. Cluttered, but spontaneous compositions are the result, usually taken in the back courtyard of Kiek’s studio, but sometimes out in the street or even on the roof of his studio or another house.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Kiek’s limited artistic talent in the field of photography, his photographic oeuvre possesses a quality that is entirely unique. The group portraits of students became a genre typical of Kiek, thereby establishing his name. It is somewhat remarkable that a genre of this nature evolved precisely in a photographer who possessed little or no knowledge of artistic composition. While a photo’s worth frequently derives its legitimacy through its ability to transcend everyday life, the great strength of Kiek’s student portraits lies in their portrayal of the humdrum and even mundane nature of ordinary people. With their spontaneous character, unusual composition, the minimal importance placed on technical quality, and the purpose for which they were made (e.g. for the personal photo album, the fireplace mantle, or propped in a mirror frame), Kiek’s group photos mark the beginning of a new development in photography: the amateur snapshot. To an important degree, this development has influenced the visual idiom of photography. In no way limited by a knowledge of compositional rules, technical photographic means, possibilities and impossibilities, the snapshot photographer—most often unintentionally—has given new meaning to visual tools such as framing, cropping, blurring, and camera positioning.

In his own time, Kiek’s genre influenced others, including the Delft photographer F. Chr. Gräfe, who as well photographed students. The so-called ‘grote koppen’ (‘big heads’) introduced by Kiek, as an ex-student at Leiden University describes these full-frame close-up portraits in his recorded stories, can also be found in Gräfe’s student portraits. Professional photographers working in the portrait studios did not adopt this form of portraiture. It was not until the end of the 1920s that the close-up portrait gained in importance, thus becoming part of a new visual idiom. Prior to this, only painters who themselves practiced amateur photography, such as Willem Witsen and George Breitner, recognised the significance of this stylistic medium. But even these artists’ photographic oeuvres—more so than snapshots—were intended for a private viewing audience. As such, their photos had no influence on visual form in Dutch photography.

The element of chance in the compositions of Kiek’s photography is the most significant characteristic of his work. The correspondence with snapshot photography that arose later on in the twentieth century is therefore chiefly based on this characteristic.


Secondary bibliography

Auteur onbekend, Kiek, Een herinnering van een oud-Leidenaar, in Op de Hoogte 1910, p. 29-32.

G. A. Evers, De invoering der fotografie in Utrecht, in Lux 29 (1918), p. 151.

H. Burger, I. D. Kiek. De onsterfelijke, Leids Fotograaf, in Die Huisgenoot 19 december 1947, p. 41.

Mr. Annie Versprille, Leidse Fotografen in de 19de eeuw, in Jaarboekje voor Geschiedenis en Oudheidkunde van Leiden en Omstreken dl. 56 (1964), p. 93-96.

Ingrid Moerman en Rudi Ekkart, Fotografen uit Leiden en hun oude platen, in Leidsch Dagblad 6 augustus 1977, p. 19.

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1839-1920, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p. 24, 99.

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf, De studentikoze poses in de fotografische oeuvres van Israël David Kiek en Willem Witsen, in Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 1983.

Hans Toonen, J.D. Kiek, in De Gelderlander/De Nieuwe Krant 17 februari 1984.


Amsterdam, Gemeentearchief.

Gouda, Gemeentearchief.

Groningen, Gemeentearchief.

Leiden, Gemeentearchief.

Leiden, documentatiebestand Prentenkabinet.


Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit (o.a. bruiklenen van F.H. Bool), Den Haag en van de Stichting Archief Leids Studentenleven.