PhotoLexicon, Volume 2, nr. 2 (March 1985) (en)

Emmy Andriesse

Hirpsimé Visser


Emmy Andriesse thanks her international renown especially to the photos that she took in Amsterdam during the Hunger Winter. In the 1930s and ’40s, Andriesse was part of the Dutch avant-garde in photography. Trained by the first generation of ‘New Photographers’, she developed a style that found its most convincing form in portraiture in the broadest sense of the word. Her work displays a tremendous personal social involvement and a sharp eye for characteristic human behaviour and emotions.




Emmy Eugenie Andriesse is born on 14 January in The Hague.


Andriesse studies advertising design at the KABK (Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, ‘Royal Academy of Art’) in The Hague. Her instructors are Paul Schuitema, Gerrit Kiljan, and Piet Zwart.


Andriesse resides in a ‘gemeenschapshuis’ (‘community house’) in Voorburg, where many of the academy’s students are also living. The group has close ties to the anti-fascist organisations of the 1930s.

In 1937, Andriesse becomes a member of the photo and film group of the BKVK (Bond van Kunstenaars ter Verdediging van de Kulturele rechten, ‘Federation of Artists in Defense of Cultural Rights’).


Andriesse submits two entries to the exhibition Foto ’37 in Amsterdam: a poster design and a reportage. Both products are well received in the press. In this same year, Andriesse completes her study and moves to Amsterdam.


Andriesse works as a freelance photographer for various newspapers and magazines, such as Wij. Ons werk, ons leven (‘We. Our Work, Our Life) and De Katholieke Illustratie (‘The Catholic Illustration’). She does so until 1941, at which time the ‘journalistenbesluit’ (‘journalists ordinance’) under the Germans prevents her from doing her work. In 1940 and ’41, Andriesse instructs Ad Windig.


Andriesse marries Dick Elffers.


As a Jew, Andriesse is forced to go into hiding in Amsterdam. At the end of 1944, she is ‘de-starred’: during the Hunger Winter, she photographs the repercussions of the German occupation as well as the famine in Amsterdam.


Willem Sandberg, the director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, commissions Andriesse on various occasions to make portraits of artists for the museum’s exhibition catalogues. During the same period, she works on photobooks for the Amsterdam publishing company Uitgeverij Contact in collaboration with others, including the photographer, Cas Oorthuys. In addition, Andriesse shoots fashion photos and produces portraits of the people she meets during her travels in Europe. In 1951, the publishing house Uitgeverij Bert Bakker commissions Andriesse to take photographs inspired by the work of the painter Vincent Van Gogh. Andriesse is unable to complete this commission due to illness.


After a lengthy sickbed, Emmy Andriesse dies on 20 February at the age of thirty-nine.


The artistic and political climate of the school where Emmy Andriesse studied during the years 1932 to 1937 was of great importance for her development as a photographer. She took classes at the KABK (Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, ‘Royal Academy of Art’) in The Hague, in the department of advertising design referred to as ‘A 6’, established at the academy in 1929. In this department, photography and film formed the study programme’s main core. The classes given by Paul Schuitema and Gerrit Kiljan were based on the ideas of ‘New Photography’. The emphasis of the study lay on the expression of surface texture, the use of varying camera angles, and the creation of dynamic compositions through the introduction of a forced diagonal.

It was primarily this last stylistic tool that the New Photographers drew from Russian film of the 1920s, a source from which ideas were taken for both formal and ideological reasons. In the department ‘A 6’, a group made up of political-minded students formed around Paul Schuitema, who was as well a very socially engaged designer and photographer. Emmy Andriesse also belonged to this group. Fighting the rising fascism was an important part of the group’s activities, with a significant number of its members living in a ‘gemeenschapshuis’ (‘community house’). This commitment to social issues played an important role in Andriesse’s work from the very start.

From the outset of her studies, she did virtually nothing besides taking photos. The passion with which Andriesse operated her speedy 35mm camera was what led to her being called ‘Emma Leica’, a nickname that stuck with her even when she began using a Rolleiflex. She had virtually no ambition in the area of typography, certainly after her days at the academy.

The first work that Andriesse presented to the public was the social photo reportage ‘In de Jordaan’ (‘In the Jordaan’, an Amsterdam working-class neighbourhood.) It was shown at Foto ’37, an exhibition held in Amsterdam that was crucial for Dutch photography. Evident in these photos are the formal and political components of Andriesse’s schooling.

Completely in line with this photography, after her study Andriesse became affiliated with a group of Amsterdam photographers, who, in part based on the same commitment to social issues, were also working as reportage photographers: Eva Besnyö, Carel Blazer, and Cas Oorthuys. Like them, Andriesse furnished photos on a freelance basis to various newspapers and magazines, including Wij. Ons werk, ons leven (‘We. Our Work, Our Life’), the magazine of the SDAP (Sociaal Democratische Arbeiders Partij, ‘Social Democratic Workers’ Party’), right up until World War II. Her contributions to this magazine are excellent examples of the ‘New Photography’ as it was described by the magazine’s editors: attention to the expression of surface texture, the use of unexpected camera angles, and a preference for diagonal compositions—consistently applied in the magazine’s layout—are traits that characterise her work.

The topics that Andriesse photographed for various publications are generally documentary in nature. What is special about her work in the years shortly before the Second World War—and in that of the photographers around her—is a marked interest in folklore and landscape, photographed with a strong emphasis on aesthetics, e.g. the picturesque attire of traditional attire, the linear play of clothing on a wash line, and the vast polder landscapes of the Netherlands. This preference found its apotheosis in the series of photobooks—by today’s standards rather chauvinistic—entitled ‘De Schoonheid van ons land’ (‘The Beauty of our Country’) produced in the 1930s and ’40s, to which Andriesse also contributed. The increasing emphasis that was placed Dutch national identity in the second half of the 1930s can generally be understood in light of the ever-increasing threat of fascism and the disintegration of the international avant-garde that came with it, which literally and figuratively cast artists back to their own home territory.

Although Andriesse married Dick Elffers in 1942, as such entering a ‘mixed’ marriage, as a Jew she was by no means allowed to publish her work during the German occupation. After being ‘de-starred’ in late 1944, she joined the group that would later be referred to as ‘The Illegal Camera’ after the war and began photographing certain aspects of the Hunger Winter in Amsterdam. As a visual account depicting the horrors of this final winter of the war, this documentation is of enduring historical significance. In technical terms, Andriesse’s photos and those of the other members of the ‘Illegal Camera’ are extremely poor: to blame are the difficult conditions under which these photographers were forced work and the inferior quality of the photographic material. In terms of content and form, these photos mark an extremely important phase in Andriesse’s development as a photographer.

It is during this period that people begin to figure central in her work—not only as the photo’s subject, but also as part of the composition. ‘Jongen met pannetje’ (‘Boy with a Pan’) and ‘De doodgraver op zijn bakfiets’ (‘The Grave-Digger on his Carrier Bike’) are clear examples of this new approach. Emmy usually photographed her subjects frontally, often in highly symmetrical compositions. As such, her images possess a balanced, static quality that bestows these photos with a timeless quality, in spite of their historical specificity.

It is likely these aesthetic aspects that explain why Andriesse’s work during the war has received greater notoriety than, for instance, the documentary photos of Menno Huizinga, a photographer from The Hague who worked in the same period. His photos form a terrifying account of the war that one is prone to quickly lay aside. Andriesse’s images, through their formal-aesthetic properties, have become symbols of hunger, poverty, and misery during WWII.

Following the war, Andriesse collaborated on a number of photobooks in which one finds numerous shots of cities and landscapes. While not her most convincing work, her background at the academy is most evidently displayed in a number of these photos, particularly in terms of surface texture and composition. With the contributions she made to these photobooks, there is no real distinction between herself and other photographers, e.g. Cas Oorthuys, with whom she collaborated on a regular basis. The most noticeable difference is Oorthuys’ technical superiority versus Andriesse’s specific approach to people. Andriesse found her most personal form in portraiture, in the biggest sense of the word. Among her best works are her artists’ portraits taken for the Stedelijk Museum, the portraits that belong to her travel photos, and a number of ‘fashion portraits’.

For the artists’ portraits commissioned by Willem Sandberg, Andriesse visited French, Belgian, and Swiss sculptors and painters in their studios. These photos were made for catalogues to accompany exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. It was the first time the museum had ever commissioned a photographer to fulfil such a task. In addition to these artists, Andriesse also photographed several Dutch writers, including Gerard den Brabander and Gerrit Achterberg, in about 1950. ‘Posed still lifes’ is the best way to describe her portraits of these artists and writers.

In contrast to photographers such as Eva Besnyö in her later years, Andriesse rarely photographed sculptors and painters at work. Instead, the artists she portrayed are generally looking directly into the lens, sitting or standing while surrounded by their work. Their emphatic poses and the strict, often symmetrical compositions give these portraits a monumental character. Technically, these photos represent some of her best work: the textural expression of the sculpture’s surface is perfectly in focus and the prints possess a beautifully nuanced tonal range.

Dating from the same period as her artists’ portraits are Andriesse’s fashion photos: commissioned photographs of clothing and accessories, as well as portraits of mannequins and pretty women, shot primarily in Paris and Italy. Particularly in this last category, Andriesse produced a number of stunning fashion portraits that generally lack the commercial qualities found in true fashion photography. Most typical is a shot taken during the Balmain fashion show of 1951 in Amsterdam. It becomes immediately clear that this photo can in no way be seen as an example of true fashion photography. In the mirror one sees a mannequin, which at first seems to be in no way related to the woman actually standing in front of the mirror, who turns around to see herself. The duplicity of the image is strengthened by the fact that the figure appears to be standing next to the mirror: only then does one realise that the mannequin and the woman have come together as one.

In many of her fashion photos, such a tension is present: a contrast between the woman and the mannequin. In a number of these images, the vague presence of a male designer serves, as it were, as a kind of ironic commentary or heightens the effect of an overly mannered posed. Andriesse captured the sensuality of the material and the fashion line with great feeling. Despite the fact that a number of shots demonstrate she was familiar with the work of leading fashion photographers abroad, her own fashion photos are far more simpler than the refined theatrical images produced by, for instance, photographers working for Vogue magazine.

During her trips abroad—Belgium, London, Paris, Italy and Southern France—Andriesse photographed primarily people. Among these travel photos, the images made in Provence based on the work of the painter Vincent van Gogh fall into a separate category. Besides landscapes, Andriesse was also able to find individuals who, in terms of type and persona, possessed a surprising number of similarities to the people portrayed in Van Gogh’s paintings. The people that she photographed often filled the entire image, or because of her extremely selective focus, drew all of the attention in vaguely blending surroundings. Her interest was aimed at what was typical, characteristic, i.e. what was personal and touching about the ordinary individual.

In this way, she was connected to the humanistic vision shared by many photographers shortly after WWII: a vision that found its most convincing form in the 1952 New York exhibition Family of Man, in which Andriesse also took part. In contrast to documentary photography of the 1960s and ’70s, the emphasis of the socially engaged photographer during this period lies more on the representation of a characteristic image of humanity, rather than the injustice rendered in these photos. More than anything, Andriesse’s images convey strong, recognisable emotions: compassion, pride, loneliness, love, pleasure, humour. Acknowledging this and the fact that the people she portrayed were virtually always aware of her presence, these photos also demonstrate her tremendous respect for these people.

Her vision is diametrically opposed to that of the candid photographer: rarely did she photograph people unbeknownst to them. When this was indeed the case, the emphasis was either on humour, as in the case of the ‘Londense dames’ (‘Ladies of London’), or on a beautiful composition in which people were a component. This form of personal engagement is typical of photography shortly after the Second World War. Besides her striving for the highest quality in technical and compositional terms, the most important aspect of Emmy Andriesse’s photographic work is her humanistic approach to people.


Primary bibliography

images in:

Catalogus tent. foto ’37, Prisma der Kunsten 2 (1937), p- 114, 115.

Rinke Tolman, Zes maanden op speurtocht, Rotterdam 1938 (omslag).

Van 1938-1941 bijdragen aan : Wij, Ons Werk, Ons Leven, Doe Mee, Katholieke Illustratie, Libelle, Het Volk, Algemeen Handelsblad, De Prins, De Vakbeweging, A.N.V.V., Femmes, Messidor, Vrouwen, Daily Worker, Rijk der Vrouw.

Paul Schuitema, Waar Nederland trotsch op is, Leiden 1940.

E. Straat, Amsterdam as a center of culture, Amsterdam 1940.

Kleinbeeldjoto 5 (1941) 2, p. 47 en 49.

Fotokalender 1942, N.V. Boekhandel en Uitgeverij De Moderne Boekhandel Amsterdam.

A. de Froe, Er moet veel strijd gestreden zijn, Amsterdam (speciale uitgave van De Vrije Katheder) 1945.

N. Philips en J. Nikerk, Holland and the Canadians, Amsterdam (Contact) 1945.

Nederland 1940-1945, 12 foto’s van Emmy Andriesse en Cas Oorthuys, overdruk uit het Schweizerische Monatschrift Du, maart 1946.

M. Nord, Amsterdam tijdens de hongerwinter, Amsterdam (Contact) 1947.

De Vlaamse Steden, De Schoonheid van ons land, deel VI, Amsterdam/Antwerpen (Contact) 1947.

Th.P. Tromp, Verwoesting en Wederopbouw, Amsterdam (Contact) 1948.

Catalogus tent. Foto ’48, Amsterdam (Contact) 1948.

Catalogus tent. 13 beeldhouwers uit Parijs, Amsterdam (Stedelijk Museum) 1948.

Commentaar op Achterberg, opstellen van jonge schrijvers verzameld door Fokke Sierksma, Den Haag (Bert Bakker/Daamen NV) 1948.

P.J. Mijksenaar, Amsterdam, its beauty and character, Amsterdam (Contact) 1949.

Amsterdam in de vier jaargetijden, Amsterdam (z.j.).

H. Voordewind, De commissaris vertelt, Den Haag (Bert Bakker/Daamen NV) 1949 (omslag).

U.S. Camera 1950, p. 53.

Catalogus tent. 6 Zwitserse kunstenaars, Amsterdam (Stedelijk Museum) 1950.

H. Voordewind, De commissaris vertelt verder, Den Haag (Bert Bakker/Daamen NV). 1951 (omslag); De commissaris vertelt door, Den Haag (Bert Bakker/Daamen NV) 1951 (omslag); De commissaris kan me nog meer vertellen, Den Haag (Bert Bakker/Daamen NV) 1951 (omslag); De commissaris vertelt en vertelt verder, Den Haag (Bert Bakker/Daamen NV) 1951 (omslag);

Een schipperszoon vertelt, (Bert Bakker/ Daamen NV) Den Haag 1951.

Amsterdam gezien door Amsterdamse kunstenaars, samengesteld door Redactie Rayon Revue 1951.

Catalogus tent. 10 Belgische beeldhouwers, Amsterdam (Stedelijk Museum) 1952.

Catalogus tent. Nederlandse beeldhouwers, Amsterdam (Stedelijk Museum) 1952.

Verve, Den Haag (Bert Bakker/Daamen NV) 1952.

Emmy Andriesse en W. Jos de Gruyter, De Wereld van Van Gogh, Den Haag (Bert Bakker/Daamen NV) 1953.

J.J. Buskes, Zuid-Afrika’s apartheidsbeleid onaanvaardbaar, Den Haag (Bert Bakker/ Daamen NV) 1955 (omslag).

Catalogus tent. The Family of Man, New York 1955.

Emmy Andriesse en J.B. Charles, Beeldroman, Den Haag (Bert Bakker/Daamen NV) 1956.

Achterberg in kaart, Den Haag 1971.

Joke Hofkamp en Evert van Uitert, De Nieuwe Kunstschool (1933-1943), in Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 1979, p. 262, afb. 45, 46.

Serpentine 1 (1981) 10, p. 33.

Gerrit Achterberg, Schrijversprentenboek 21, Amsterdam (De Bezige Bij) 1981.

Catalogus tent. Het Kind in de Fotografie, Gent (Proka) 1981.

Secondary bibliography

Auteur onbekend, De tentoonstelling ‘Foto ’37’ in het Stedelijk Museum te Amsterdam, in Het Vaderland 31 juli 1937.

W. van Ophuysen, Photography is a language, in Foto 3 (1948) 11, p. 327-332 (met foto’s).

Jan van Keulen, Photografie, Nieuwe Tak van Beeldende Kunst?, in De Groene Amsterdammer 19 april 1952.

Th. Ramaker, Bij het werk van een Nederlandse fotograaf, in Fotorama 5 (1952), p. 122-125 (met foto’s).

Piet Zwart, De strijd op het matglas, in De Groene Amsterdammer 7 maart 1953.

Th. Ramaker, Op bezoek bij een Italiaanse collega, in Fotorama 9 (1953), p. 252-254 (met foto’s).

Auteur onbekend, De Wereld van Van Gogh, in Algemeen Handelsblad 7 november 1953.

W. Jos de Gruyter, The World of Emmy Andriesse, in Delta 4 (winter 1961-’62) 4, p. 48 (met foto’s).

C. Magelhaes, Nederlandse Fotografie de eerste 100 jaar, Utrecht/Antwerpen 1969.

H.J. Mühl, Emmy Andriesse, Germaine Richier, Jongen met pannetje, in Openbaar Kunstbezit 1972, nr.3 (met foto’s).

Piet Piryns, Het werk van Emmy Andriesse, in Vrij Nederland 22 december 1973 (met foto’s).

Willem K. Coumans, Emmy Andriesse en haar oorlog, in Foto 30 (1975) 8, p. 167.

Bas Roodnat, Het moreel van de geëngageerde fotograaf, in NRC-Handelsblad 29 maart 1975 (met foto’s).

Bas Roodnat, Avantgardiste uit de jaren ’40, in NRC-Handelsblad 9 juni 1975.

Louise van Santen, Emmy Andriesse – een profiel, inleiding catalogus tent. Emmy Andriesse foto’s 1944-’52, Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh) 1975 (met foto’s).

Ursula den Tex e.a. (red.), De bevrijde camera, in Vrij Nederland-bijvoegsel nr. 20, 15 mei 1976.

Flip Bool en Kees Broos (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1920-1940, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1979.

Els Barents (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1940-1975, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, o.m. p 44 en 45 (foto’s) en supplement biografieën.


BKVK, Foto- en Filmgroep, vanaf 1937.

VANK, 1939-1945.

GKf, I945-I953-


1937 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, foto ’37.

1945 (g) Amsterdam, Atelier Marius Meyboom, De Ondergedoken Camera.

1948 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Foto ’48.

1950 (g) Eindhoven, Van Abbemuseum, Vakfotografie.

1952 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Photographie.

1952 (g) Luzern, Kunsthaus, Weltausstellung der Photographie.

1952 (g) New York, Museum of Modern Art, Family of Man.

1957 (g) Eindhoven, Van Abbemuseum, Fotografie als uitdrukkingsmiddel.

1960 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Collectie eigen foto’s.

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

1962 (g) Leiden, de Lakenhal, Samen op de kiek.

1967 (e) Leiden, Prentenkabinet.

1970 (g) Den Haag, Gemeentemuseum, Fotoportret.

1975 (e) Amsterdam, Galerie Fiolet, Vincent in Frankrijk.

1975 (e) Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Emmy Andriesse, foto’s 1944-’52.

1977 (e) Zwolle, Librije, Emmy Andriesse, fotografe.

1978 (e) Laren, Singer Museum, Emmy Andriesse, fotografe.

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

1979 (g) Den Haag, Gemeentemuseum, Foto 20-40.

1980 (g) Amsterdam, Paleis op de Dam, De Ondergedoken Camera.

1981 (g) Gent, Museum A. Van der Haeghen, Het Kind in de Fotografie.


Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.

Hripsimé Visser, Emmy Andriesse, ongepubliceerde doctoraalscriptie, Leiden 1982.


Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum .

Amsterdam, Gemeentearchief.

Amsterdam, Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie (RIOD).

Den Haag, Gemeentemuseum.

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