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

Dolf Kruger

Louis Zweers


Dolf Kruger may be considered one of the first socially engaged photojournalists of the 1940s and ’50s in the Netherlands. His photography betrays an academy-trained eye, oriented towards people. Kruger’s choice of subject matter is usually related to sociopolitical affairs. It is especially his sociocritical view that gives his work substantive value. Kruger captures this vision of society through a combination of humanitarian involvement and a thorough knowledge of the photographic medium’s metaphorical qualities.




Adolf Michel Gosewin (Dolf) Kruger was born on 20 September 1923 in Chêxbres, Switzerland.


Kruger completes his final exams at the HBS (Hogere Burgerschool, an upper-level secondary school).


Kruger attends nautical college until February 1943, at which time he goes into hiding.


Kruger begins studying Indology in Leiden, which he does not complete.


Kruger learns to photograph as an autodidact. At the Particam Pictures press photo agency, he gains practical experience with Maria Austria and Aart Klein.


Kruger works as an apprentice for Carel Blazer.


Kruger weds Suze Henriët (born in Amsterdam, 3 December 1927).


Kruger works independently as a freelance photojournalist.


Kruger works as a staff photographer at the newspaper De Waarheid.


Together with his wife, Suze Henriët, Kruger establishes himself as a freelance photographer. He specialises in corporate and industrial photography, receiving commissions from both the government and the business world. Two commissions are particularly noteworthy: in 1965, Kruger is commissioned by Willem Sandberg, director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, to organise a photo exhibition for the Vondelpark Pavilion on the subject of ‘the automobile’; in 1975, Kruger is commissioned by the Ministry of CRM (Cultuur, Recreatie en Maatschappelijk Werk, ‘Ministry of Culture, Recreation and Social Work’) to make a video in collaboration with the graphic designer Wim Crouwel, for the occasion of ‘Monumentenjaar’ (‘Monuments Year’) in 1975.


Kruger retires. He and his wife leave the Netherlands and settle in Sweden.


In 1946, Dolf Kruger began working for Maria Austria and Aart Klein at the Particam Pictures press photo agency (short for ‘Partisans Camera’) as a volunteer. Particam was the official extension of an illegal organisation set up during the war, whose activities focused on visually chronicling the frequently dehumanizing behaviour of the German occupier. Although Particam was primarily specialised in theatrical photography after the war, the atmosphere of ‘human interest’ to be encountered there was a factor in Kruger’s formation as a photographer. From September 1947 to July 1948, Kruger studied under Carel Blazer, a photographer who contributed significantly to the development of reportage photography in the Netherlands, and who as well possessed an unsurpassed knowledge of photographic technique. Blazer’s reportage photography betrays a tremendous social engagement. When viewed in this light, it comes as no surprise that this same aspect as well plays an important role in Dolf Kruger’s photographic work.

Having obtained a practical training in photography, in 1948 Kruger went to work as a freelance photographer for two newspapers, De Waarheid and De Tijd. From the start, he showed a personal commitment to social issues, photographing subjects such as women’s protests against the deployment of new troops to Dutch East Indies and the repatriation of injured soldiers from the colony, demonstrations organised by the Communist Party, and the Dutch election campaigns. Kruger’s decision to work for De Waarheid, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, was in itself a political statement. Initially, he was the newspaper’s only photographer; from the middle of the 1950s, Kors van Bennekom assisted him. The two men’s position at De Waarheid was quite unique: they not only supplied the photos, but also did the photo editing for the newspaper. Kruger and Bennekom made the printing blocks themselves, determined the framing, the enlargement, etc. Yet the amount of newspaper space allotted photos was limited: this efficient use of space was in fact the only constraint they faced in their work. Kruger’s social documentary photographic work was able to flourish in this journalistic environment. Through photos, he showed the other side of the post-war reconstruction in the Netherlands, i.e. the housing shortage, work relief, home evictions, as well as strikes in the construction and public transportation sectors.

In 1956, Dolf Kruger was assigned the task of procuring a weekly photo page in the Saturday edition of De Waarheid. In these photo reportages, the principal characters were ordinary people, primarily in Amsterdam, involved in their daily activities: housewives doing the wash in large zinc tubs, children playing in the street, recreation at the Sloterplas (a lake in Amsterdam) on a beautiful summer day, and hardworking day labourers in the city’s harbour.

The photos that Kruger took in the 1950s of the Netherlands, and especially of Amsterdam, are of documentary historical interest. It was for this very reason that in 1983 the Amsterdam City Archive purchased a collection of his photographs dating from this period. Characteristic of Kruger’s work from the 1950s is his photo of the mineworkers’ strike in the Borinage (Belgium), for which he received the Zilveren Camera (‘Silver Camera’) in 1961, the award for the best Dutch press photo of the year. The photo itself was actually taken back on 15 February 1959 in the small town of Quaregnon in the Borinage. It shows a mineworker, with his back to the viewer, who stands facing a group of national police blocking the road to Mons. The menace conveyed in this photo arises not simply from the nature of the event, but also from the manner in which it is presented. Most important is the relationship between the two elements of the image: on one hand the police, on the other the mineworker. Tram tracks unite these two elements in creating a connected whole: they form the central axis of the image and give direction to the event at hand. The contrast between the two political stances is represented not only figuratively, but also literally. This image is part a large photo series on the Borinage strike. Kruger has visualised the approaching confrontation in this labour conflict between the mineworkers and the police by utilising the opposition of both groups and a clashing of lines: the mineworker between the tram tracks stands in a vertical line, the police in a horizontal line.

The play of lines, the compositional arrangement, symmetry, and dynamic all play an important role in Kruger’s photo oeuvre. The essence of his photos is indeed essentially determined by the content, but very strongly supported by the design. The rhythm and the diagonal line encountered in the photo of toiling dockworkers, the balanced composition of the photo with people recreating at the Amsterdam Sloterplas, the symmetry of the image depicting Europoint building, the dynamic arising from the diagonal lines and motion blur in the photo of the train station at Dordrecht: all are compositional elements that greatly enhance the metaphorical nature of the photographic message. The strength of these photos is derived from a well-chosen camera angle and timing. In Kruger’s photos of demonstrations—typically chaotic events—the composition of the image functions as a supporting factor, regardless of whether it concerns a Communist Party demonstration at the end of the 1940s or a major peace demonstration in 1981. Kruger’s photo of this latter event presents the demonstration very compactly, viewed from within the boundaries of an imaginary triangle formed by three signs and a woman whose face is turned towards the photographer.

It was Kruger’s own decision to end his ‘Waarheid days’ in 1960, in order to establish himself as a freelance photographer in Amsterdam. This was a new challenge for him. His teacher, Carel Blazer, supported him in this endeavour. Especially in the 1960s and ’70s, Kruger’s independence implied a change in his working domain: instead of photojournalism, his attention shifted more towards corporate and industrial photography. His most important commissions came from the government and the business world, e.g. anniversary publications, annual reports, photobooks and calendars.

From this time forward, Kruger also had an opportunity to further cultivate his own autonomous photography. This work reflects his interest in the external appearance of forms found both in nature and technology, e.g. images of frost flowers, tree knobs, shells, train tracks, computer punch tapes, and bike wheels. Comparable forms found in both nature and technology were captured on film and organised into categories. With these images, Kruger demonstrated that in basic forms there were no contradictions. Noteworthy is the use of the 35mm camera in his personal work, as opposed to the Rolleiflex previously used in his photojournalistic work.

Kruger’s commissioned work brought him into frequent contact with graphic designers. In 1959, he became a member of the GKf (Gebonden Kunsten Federatie, vakgroep fotografie, ‘United Arts Federation, Department of Photography’). In conducting daily business, the bond shared between the photographers of the GKf photographers and the graphic designers affiliated with the same federation was quite intensive. It was common for a (commercial) publication to involve both a graphic designer and a photographer. The various photobooks produced for the city of Zaandam in the early 1960s arose through the collaboration of the designer H.P. Doebele and Dolf Kruger.

The 1981 exhibition Foto in vorm (‘Photo in Form’), held at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, visualised the interaction between the graphic designer and the photographer, as well as the manner in which they complemented or thwarted, and inspired or suppressed one another. The exhibition presented the common ground shared by photography and graphic design: photography provides the visual material, while photographic technique functions as the graphic designer’s tool. The various phases involved in the design process, such as for the 1970 annual report of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (‘Dutch Railways’) produced by Kruger and the designer H. Sierman, were shown at this exposition. Commissioned by Rijkswaterstaat (‘National Bureau of Water Management’), Kruger documented the progress of the building of the Coen Tunnel in Amsterdam from 1960 to 1966, focusing especially on the technical aspects of the tunnel’s construction. Kruger’s camera also recorded the construction of the natural gas network by the Nederlandse Gasunie (‘Dutch Natural Gas Union’). In the late 1960s, Kruger and his wife Suze travelled to Greece, Spain and Yugoslavia on behalf of the publisher Roelofs van Goor. From the pictures taken in these countries, they compiled travel books. Key to this assignment was the photos’ informative nature. In the 1970s, Kruger also took photos for the covers of telephone books of the PTT, the Dutch postal, telegraph and telephone company.

Despite the documentary nature of his reportage work for government and industry, Kruger never betrayed his commitment to social issues. His shot of the Hoogovens complex in 1968 gave a boost to the environmental movement and serves as an excellent example of a photo with verifiable ramifications. In the environmental conflict stemming from the building of a new Hoogovens factory on the Maasvlakte—a clash between the protest group Schone Randstad Zuid (‘Clean Randstad South’), and Wim Thomassen, the mayor of Rotterdam—Kruger’s photograph of the existing Hoogovens complex, a massive environmental polluter, was decidedly influential. The protest group submitted Kruger’s photo as evidence, bringing a definitive end to plans for the factory’s construction.

This social engagement is also characteristic of Kruger’s more recent work. His entry to the 1982 GKf exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam featured photos from a major peace demonstration in November 1981, as well as images taken at a memorial ceremony for four Dutch journalists murdered in El Salvador, held in Amsterdam in March 1982. For the GKf Bulletin of April 1982, known as the ‘El Salvador issue’, Kruger wrote the introduction and supplied photographs. The editorial staff of the GKf, of which Kruger was a member, put out a press release describing the El Salvador issue as a ‘visuele aanklacht’ (‘visual indictment’)—a reference to a the words of Koos Koster, one of the murdered journalists: ‘Het feit van overleven verplicht’ (roughly translated: ‘The fact of survival compels’). It is precisely in this manner that Kruger himself has always interpreted his activities as a photographer.


Primary bibliography

images in:

De Tijd, 1948-1951.

De Waarheid, 1948-1960; vanaf 1956 een wekelijkse fotopagina.

De bladen Vrede, Jeugd, Die Tat en Zeit im Bild juni 1961 (foto’s van de fietsdemonstratie tegen atoomopslag).

H. Hoekstra, Dag Amsterdam, Amsterdam (Het Parool) 1961.

i.s.m. H.P. Doebele: 150 Jaar Zaandam, 1961; Zaandam-Houtstad, 1962; Zaandams lyceum, 1962; Zaandam uw stad, 1963.

H. Werner, Reisboekje Griekenland, uitgever Roelofs van Goor, 1967.

H. Werner, Reisboekjes Spanje en Joegoslavië, uitgever Roelofs van Goor, 1968.

Milieu-organisatie Stichting 2000 te Amersfoort, deel 3, Op weg naar de bermbeschaving, 1972.

Milieuconferentie Stockholm, Er was eens, 1972.

Covers telefoongidsen PTT, 1972-1977.

GKf-bulletin nr 1, 1980, p. 5.

Vrij Nederland, 26 april 1980, p. 13.

GKf-fotografen nr. 5, 1981, p. 13.

GKf-fotografen nr. 6, 1982, p. 9.

Diverse jaarverslagen, jubileumuitgaven, kalenders, fotoboeken voor onder andere: accountantskantoor Moret en Limperg, Groenpol, Nederlandse Gasunie, Nederlandse Spoorwegen, PTT, Bijenkorf, Furness, De Nederlandse Credietbank, De Nationale Investeringsbank, Stichting Rijnmond-Noordzeekanaal, VNU, NVV, De Nederlanden van 1870, IJzerhandel Hollandia n.v., Hoogheemraadschap, Kon. Drukkerij G.J. Thieme bv, Associatie voor Total Design nv, Gemeenten Amsterdam en Zaandam.

Secondary bibliography

Els Barents (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1940-1975, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p. 26, 62, 63 en supplement biografieën.

Roland Günter, Fotografie als Waffe, Hamburg (Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH) 1982, p. 114.

H. Hoeneveld, Fotografen kijken in de tijd, in Kunstbeeld maart 1983, p. 16, 17.


GKf, van 1959 – heden.

NVF, van 1949 – 1982.


1961 Zilveren Camera.


1961 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Dag Amsterdam.

1961 (g) Den Haag, Gemeente Museum, Zilveren Camera.

1965 (g) Amsterdam, Paviljoen Vondelpark, Autografie.

1977 (e) Aalsmeer, Het oude raadhuis.

1978/79 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Fotografie in Nederland 1940-1975.

1981 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Foto in vorm.

1982 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, GKf tentoonstelling.

1983 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Wonen en werken.

1983 (e) Eindhoven, galerie Pennings.


Dolf Kruger, documentatie en mondelinge informatie.

Leiden, documentatiebestand Prentenkabinet.


Amsterdam, Gemeente-archief (foto’s).

Amsterdam, Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis (foto’s uit het archief van De Waarheid).