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

Pim van Os

Carla van der Stap


The majority of Van Os’s photographic oeuvre is comprised of portraits and photo reportage. Still, the smaller part of his oeuvre that is devoted to creative, autonomous photography, in his case experimental abstract photography, is essential for a clear insight into his thinking about the potential and limits of the medium he had chosen. His work is characterized by a continual search for the possibilities of opening up new artistic territory, in the course of which conventional views of art were pushed aside. The means for arriving at the desired results was perfect technical control.




Pim van Os is born on 9 February in Arnhem, and christened as Simon van Os.


His family moves to The Hague, the city where he remains the rest of his life.


Around this time he begins courses at the Handelsdagschool, which he never completes.


He signs on as an apprentice photographer at Streefkerk Photography in The Hague.


He works first as a pupil of, and later as an assistant to the portrait photographer Ton Blom and his cameraman Wim van Hespen; during this same period Willy Schurman is also an assistant to Blom for several months.


Van Os opens his own photo studio on the Apeldoornselaan in The Hague.


His Jewish descent forces him to go into hiding until the end of the war.


Van Os opens his own portrait studio again.


Probably Van Os also works outside The Netherlands now and then during this period, in France and other countries. He becomes a member of the NFK, and is chosen as a member of the jury for a year. It is from this date that abstract photography begins to become an increasingly large part of his work.


He acquires the status of a core member of the NFK, and as an advertising photographer becomes a member of the staff at the Organon Company in Oss.


He works as a freelance photo reporter for the paper Het Vaderland until his death.


Pim van Os dies on 9 June from the consequences of a traffic accident.


„I try to give shape to a feeling of beauty”

(from: Revue der Reclame, 1952, nr. 5, p. 130).

Although from his childhood Pim van Os demonstrated a fondness for creative activities – he drew, painted and and modelled in clay – his parents preferred to see him train for a commercial career. He was sent to a secondary school for business courses, but did not complete the programme, and at the age of 16, in 1926, signed on as an apprentice photographer at a local photo shop. There he began to experiment with photography in his free time: he collaged new photos from discarded pictures, and tried out all sorts of techniques in the darkroom.

When he started working for Ton Blom in 1928 he entered circles where photography was practised at a higher technical and artistic level. The cameraman Wim van Hespen was not only a photographer, but also a draughtsman and painter. He had much to teach Pim van Os, and also Willy Schurman, who came from the Academy for the Visual Arts. Van Hespen was a master at opaquing and then providing painted in backgrounds on glass negatives. One could hardly have hoped for better professional training than was available in Blom’s ateliers, which – after that of Godfried de Groot – was counted among the finest portrait studios.

Pim van Os was not however the sort of person to slowly but surely build up a career in a large and famous portrait studio. As soon as the opportunity presented itself – and that happened in 1931 – he opened his own photo studio for portrait photography. He needed this independence in order to be able to work experimentally, alongside the portrait photography by which he earned his living, because, as he himself said, experimenting was in his blood.

During the German occupation he encountered many difficulties because of his Jewish descent, and in 1942 it reached the point where he had to go into hiding. He did not photograph again until the end of the war, but did take an active part in the resistance as the commander of an assault group.

After the war years, which had proved difficult for him, we see a development in his work which ultimately leads to abstract photography. The war had brought him to a state where he turned away from reality; he began to create his own world of the imagination.

Through constant experimentation, which included solarization, double printing, grid effects, enlargement of details and investigation of lighting, he advanced his technical skills. Table top photography enabled him to create romantic dream worlds, realizing a surreal atmosphere through compositions of objects and playing with the light. This work can be regarded as a transition to abstract photography.

In 1949 he turned his attention to absolute abstraction. This was in a time when in general abstract art was still overwhelmingly received with negative criticism in newspapers and magazines in The Netherlands.

Soon after the Second World War a number of artists, united in the artist’s group Vrij Beelden, disassociated themselves from the still dominant conventional art. Their thirst for freedom was expressed in experimental and abstract art. Following Kandinsky, Creatie, a split-off from the Vrij Beelden group, wanted to connect visual art with music. Van Os also expressed that thought in one of his articles on abstract photography, citing Kandinsky in doing so. Around 1910 Kandinsky defined abstract art as follows: abstract art is not concerned with reality as it reveals itself to the viewer but, by means of lines, colours and relationships, seeks to express the tensions that exist in the artist, in a way similar to what music does by means of tones and tonal relationships.

Although Van Os insisted that he was not influenced by the work of his colleagues, the innovations in painting could not have escaped his notice. Most members of the NFK had little affinity with this modern current in art, but Van Os’s photographs were apparently immune to this critique, and even rather generally appreciated.

His Luminograms, abstract photos in which the ambience, play and movement of light were the chief motifs, brought him recognition both in The Netherlands and beyond its borders. He received a Gold Medal at the International Professional Photography Exhibition held in Milan in 1951, at the same time being inducted as an honorary member of the Unione Fotografica Milanese. The process by which he created these Luminograms remained his secret. The graphic artist and director of the Vrije Academie in The Hague, Livinus van de Bundt, was so impressed with these photographic expressions of light that he too began to practice abstract photography after seeing them.

Van Os could also largely do his own thing in his advertising photography, because most of his clients gave him considerable freedom in realizing their assignments. His technical mastery, talent for improvisation, inquiring mind and and imagination found a full scope for expression there. His views on advertising photography became clear in the photographs he did for Van Leer’s Barrel Factory in Amsterdam. He did detailed shots of the barrels, then worked these up into evocative photographic enlargements, creating abstract forms with light and shadow patterns and gradations in grey in a carefully thought-out composition. Many elements of the New Photography, such as close-ups, unusual camera angles, strong diagonals in the composition, and vivid expression of the texture of materials, are to be found in these photos. He was also able to give free rein to his imagination in his advertising photography for Organon, at Oss, intended for use on the covers of brochures. His assignment was to photographically depict the purposes and effects of a medicinal preparation or drug. Here he proved his ability to strikingly represent a state or mind or feeling with the aid of available objects and various techniques. Sometimes he would be busy in his darkroom for days on end, seeking the best solution.

In his advertising photos Van Os sought to provide a model for advertising photography in The Netherlands, which to his mind was frozen into rigid stereotypes. His views were certainly favourably received within the circle of NFK photographers.

Another side of his personality emerges in his work as a photo reporter for the daily newspaper Het Vaderland. This work necessarily brought him back in touch with the world of people. Here his creative capacities appear to be directed toward the humour in life, albeit sometimes with a melancholy undertone.

His participation in the Subjektive Fotografie exhibition held in Saarbrücken in 1952, brought Van Os still more international fame. Contact with the exhibition’s organizer, Otto Steinert, who was also the organizer of the Fotoforum group, had been established through the NFK. Fotoforum, a German group whose work was also represented in the exhibition, was comprised of seven photographers who chiefly did abstract photographs. Van Os’s ideas and autonomous work fit well with this group, and with the views Steinert formulated in the exhibition catalogue with regard to subjective photography. Steinert’s definition of subjective photography involved reinvigorating appreciation for the personal input from the photographer, in which experimentation and the search for new solutions played a large role. Outwardly, images which were created in response to such views could be very different in appearance, and as a result it is not possible to speak of a new style in photography, but the term Subjective Photography is still used today exclusively in connection with the efforts of Otto Steinert and the photographers who participated in the three exhibitions that Steinert organized under this title. Pim van Os may be regarded as a definite supporter of this concept of subjective photography. That his contemporaries thought likewise can be seen from the posthumous presence of his work in the second of these exhibitions, in 1955 in Saarbrücken.


Primary bibliography

Nieuwe Wegen, in Foto 3 (1949), p. 93.

Fotografie als scheppend ambacht, in Fotorama 18 (1950), p. 7.

Abstracte fotografie is creatief, in Gevaert Fotodienst 23 (1951) p. 7 t/m 9.

Cela présente?, in Gevaert Photoservice 27 (1951), p. 23.

Abstracte fotografie, in Revue der reclame 5 (1952), p. 130 en 131.

Secundary bibliography

Daan Helfferich, Pim van Os, N.F.K., een portretfotograaf wordt surrealist, in Foto 5 (1950), p. 90 t/m 96.

W. Jos de Gruyter, Rust en beweging in de fotografie, in Fotorama mei/juni 1952, p. 60.

Otto Steinert (red.), cat. tent. Subjektive Fotografie, Saarbrücken 1952, p. 9.

Auteur onbekend, Tentoonstelling Pim van Os, in Focus 38 (1953) nr. 15, p. 306.

F.L. Vink, Pim van Os, in Fotografie 4 (1954), p. 84.

W. Jos de Gruyter, Inleiding bij een tentoonstelling van Pim van Os in het Prentenkabinet te Leiden, in Fotografie 4 (1954), p. 104 t/m 109.

M. Woldringh, Pim van Os, in Focus 39 (1954) nr. 14, p. 352.

F.L. Vink, Werk dat nog niet beëindigd had moeten worden, in Foto 8 (1954), p. 132, 196 en 237 t/m 240.

F.L. Vink, De reclame-ontwerpen van Pim van Os, in Fotografie 5 (1955), p. 121 t/m 124.

W. Jos de Gruyter, Nagedachtenis Pim van Os, in Fotorama mei/juni 1956, p. 90 t/m 92.

Els Barents (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1940-1975, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1979, p. 91 (foto), supplement biografieën.


1950 (g) Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Internationale fototentoonstelling Vakfotografie. In 1951 ook in Milaan gehouden.

1950 (g) Breda, Culturele Werkgemeenschap, Foto- en filmweek.

1951 (e) Den Haag, Vrije Academie, Pim van Os.

1951 (g) Amsterdam, Arti et Amicitiae, Nationale kerstsalon

1951 (g) Rotterdam, Museum voor Landen Volkenkunde, AFV-Rotterdam.

1952 (g) Den Haag, Gemeentemuseum, Fotoschouw ’52.

1952 (g) Saarbrücken, Staatliche Schule für Kunst und Handwerk, Subjektive Fotografie I.

1952 (g) Milaan, V-e Salone Internazionale dl Cinematografica.

1953 (g) Luzern, Weltausstellung der Fotografie.

1953 (g) Maastricht, Zalen de Jong-Bergers, Nederlandse Fotografie.

1953 (e) Den Haag, Het Vaderland, Pim van Os.

1954 (g) Zwolle, ZAFVJubileumtentoonstelling 60-jarig bestaan.

1954 (g) Hoensbroek, Kasteel Hoensbroek, Nationale Fototentoonstelling.

1954 (g) Koog aan de Zaan, AFV Zaanland.

1954 (g) Zaandijk, Ons Huis, NFK tentoonstelling.

1954 (g) Milaan, Palazzo di Brera, Unione Fotografica Milanese.

1955 (g) Saarbrücken, Staatliche Schule für Kunst und Handwerk, Subjektive Fotografie II.

1955 (g) Amsterdam, Arti et Amicitiae, AAFV.

1955 (e) Leiden, Prentenkabinet, Pim van Os.

1955 (g) Brussel, Festival International de photographie artistique.

1956 (g) Groningen, Pictura, NFK tentoonstelling.

1956 (g) Den Haag, Pulchri Studio, NFK tentoonstelling.

1957 (g) Brussel, Paleis voor Schone Kunsten, Images Inventées.

1957 (g) Eindhoven, Arnhem, Groningen, Den Haag en Holland Festival, Fotografie als uitdrukkingsmiddel.

1960 (g) Basel, Gewerbemuseum, Ungegenstiindliche Photographie.


1951 Gouden medaille Unione Fotografica Milanese.


NFK, van 1949 tot zijn overlijden. Unione Fotografica Milanese (ere-lid).


Leiden, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand Prentenkabinet

W. Schuurman, mondelinge informatie.


Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit (foto’s en documenten).