PhotoLexicon, Volume 4, nr. 7 (September 1987) (en)

Nico Zomer

Irene Constandse


Nico Zomer has devoted a major part of his life to experimenting with, improving, and working with colour photography, in combination with graphic reproduction. He was a pioneer in this field in the Netherlands. Professionally, Zomer was chiefly involved in advertising photography, corporate reportages, and technical photography on assignment. Through publications and talks, he shared his multi-faceted technical knowledge with others. Zomer likewise possessed excellent managing skills, which he applied when reorganising the NFK (Nederlandse Fotografen Kunstkring, ‘Netherlands Photographers Art Society’) and helping to set up educational institutions in photography in the Netherlands.




Nicolaas Cornelis Arnoldus Jan Zomer is born on 25 February in Arnhem. His father owns a printing company.


Nico Zomer begins taking photographs with a Zeiss Ikon Piccolette camera. His new hobby also includes developing and printing his own photos.


Zomer passes his final exam at the HBS-b (Hogere Burgerschool, ‘Higher Civic School’) in Wageningen, where he now lives. Because he plans to work at his father’s company (later known as ‘Drukkerij en Uitgevers Mij. Gebr. Zomer & Keuning’ [‘Printing House and Publishing Company’] in Wageningen), Zomer next enrols at the School voor Grafische Vakken (‘School of Graphics Courses’) in Utrecht. During this study, Zomer builds his skills in reproduction techniques and other areas.


Having obtained his diploma at the Grafische School, Zomer is hired as a volunteer at the paper wholesale company G.H. Bührmann in Amsterdam. He works in the paper technology laboratory and in the department of ‘Verkoopontwikkeling’ (‘Sales Development’). Zomer’s employer is aware of his interest in amateur photography and asks him to do several photo assignments.


From December 1931 until October 1934, Zomer takes classes at the Photo Academy of the Reimann Schule (‘Reimann School’) in Berlin. His instructors are Dr. Otto Croy, Heinrich Freytag, and Waker Kross. At the end of his training, Zomer receives a diploma as a ‘Creative Photographer’.


Nico Zomer establishes himself as a corporate and advertising photographer on the Noorder Amstellaan in Amsterdam. During this year, he travels for the first time to the United States, on a ship of the HAL (Holland America Line). In exchange for a free crossing, Zomer photographs life on board the ship, as well as the harbours along the way. These photos are used for HAL’s company brochures.


Zomer takes a second trip to the United States, this time on assignment for HAL. He again photographs on board for HAL, but also in New York City.


Zomer moves to a larger studio in a building on the Constantijn Huygensstraat in Amsterdam.


Nico Zomer is involved in a serious automobile accident. As a result, he is unable to work up until the outbreak of World War II.


In The Hague, Carel Tirion, Jan Stokvis, Willy Schurman, Nico Zomer and others found the NFVS (Nederlandse Fotovakschool, ‘Netherlands Vocational School of Photography’), under the auspices of the NFPV (Nederlandse Fotografen Patroonsvereeniging, ‘Netherlands Photographers Guild) and the ABNF (Algemene Bond van Nederlandse Fotografen, ‘General Federation of Netherlands Photographers’). Zomer sits on the management board.


Under the orders of the German occupying forces, the NFPV is shut down and replaced by the ‘Vakgroep Fotografie’ (‘Photography Department’). Willy Schurman, Nico Zomer, Leen van Oudgaarden, and Daan Helfferich together make up the management board of the Vakgroep Fotografie. They manage to keep this organisation in Dutch hands and even use it to conduct illegal activities.


Zomer becomes a member of the exam committee at the NFVS.


In cooperation with the company ‘Enschedé’ in Haarlem, Zomer investigates the possibilities of colour photography and graphic colour reproduction. Enschedé’ was interested in Zomer, resulting from his previous efforts working with colour photography from his own studio in Amsterdam starting in 1934. During the war, Enschedé provides Zomer with the funds to continue his work in this area.


Zomer takes his first post-war trip to the United States on assignment for the Centraal Bloembollencomité (‘Central Flower Bulb Committee’), with the aim of gaining insight into the latest developments in the area of colour photography and the reproduction thereof. In the US, new types of large-format colour slide film have just been brought out on the market, including Kodak Ektachrome and Anscochrome. With an introduction from the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce, Zomer is granted access to numerous workshops and studios, including that of Donnelly & Sons in Chicago. He also visits the Kodak factories in Rochester.


Nico Zomer takes a seat on the ‘editorial council’ of Foto magazine, as a representative of the ‘Cultural Committee’ of the Vakgroep Fotografie.


De ‘lacklustre’ NFK (Nederlandse Fotografen Kunstkring, ‘Netherlands Photographers Art Society’) is reorganised by Willy Schurman, who calls in the help of his friends Nico Zomer and Meinard Woldringh. Together the three men make up a working committee.


Zomer photographs virtually the entire art collection of the collector Van Beuningen. Van Beuningen has a book published on his collection.


The Vakgroep Fotografie becomes the new NFPV.


Nico Zomer serves as treasurer on the management board of the NFK and is also a jury member.


Zomer obtains his Agfacolor diploma at the Lehrinstitut für Farbenphotographie (‘Educational Institute for Colour Photography’) in Hoechst, near Frankfurt, Germany.


Zomer becomes a ‘principal member’ of the NFK.


Zomer is given his own studio at Enschedé’s business complex in Haarlem.


With the founding of the ‘School voor Fotografie en Fototechniek’ (‘School of Photography and Photographic Technique’) in The Hague, Carel Tirion, Jan Stokvis, Nico Zomer, and Willy Schurman see their efforts to create an educational institution based on practical experience come to fruition. Nico Zomer holds a seat on the board of this night school, which also receives a full-time day programme in 1957.


Enschedé arranges a bigger, modern studio for Zomer, located on the Korte Begijnestraat, immediately adjacent to the company’s factory site.


Enschedé hires Zomer on a permanent basis, making him the head of the photography department. Zomer works for various clients on Enschedé’s behalf: the Bijenkorf department store, KLM Airlines, Philips, Unilever, and numerous other companies.


The editorial council of Foto magazine is abolished, with Zomer’s involvement consequently ended.


Zomer quits his job at Enschedé. He begins working as a photography advisor at the ‘Famous Artists School’ in Amsterdam.


Zomer ceases all activity at the Famous Artists School, marking the end of his career in photography.


Zomer resigns from the board of the MTS (Middelbare Technische School, ‘Intermediate Technical School’) voor Fotografie en Fototechniek in The Hague, enabling younger photographers to take part.


Zomer resigns from his post at the NFVS, after having been a board member for thirty-eight years, for the same reason cited above.

Zomer is made a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau.


Nico Zomer was a professional photographer in heart and soul, possessing clear ideas about his work and a down-to-earth look at life. He saw photography as a creative profession, with the techniques specific to photography determining artistic form and content. Zomer distrusted every form of art photography based on anything other than photographic norms. He also detested quasi-artistic endeavours. The field of graphics was also an area of special interest. Zomer became a skilled professional in the area of reprography, preceded only by Bernard Eilers.

From a young age, Nico Zomer was destined to work at his father’s printing company. There was no doubt he would attend the School voor Grafische Vakken (‘School of Graphics Courses’) in Utrecht once he had completed secondary school. After obtaining his ‘Master Printer’ diploma, Zomer held an internship position in the advertising department of the paper wholesaler Bührmann in Amsterdam. He eventually received several photography assignments while working at Bührmann, as it was known that he was an avid amateur photographer, and correspondingly, that his knowledge of the field was greater than anyone else’s. These assignments were ultimately what inspired him to continue with photography. Zomer wanted to take classes, but there were still no institutions teaching photography in the Netherlands at this point in time. It was for this reason that he decided to attend the Reimann Schule (‘Reimann School’) in Berlin, a private school more similar to an art academy than a technical college. At Reimann, the creative classes, taught by Dr. Otto Croy, were a very important part of the programme. Technical classes were also offered, but they were seen as ancillary rather than part of the institution’s primary aim.

Nico Zomer always believed that the mastery of technique was the basis of professional craftsmanship. His first desire was to get a good camera, and in 1928, he purchased a Rolleiflex, a revolutionary camera for its day. During his study at the Reimann Schule, Zomer never concealed his interest in technique. Together with one of his teachers, Gert Pfankuch, he experimented with the ‘pinatype’, a technique later completely forgotten. This process for making colour prints had been developed in 1905 by the Frenchman Léon Didier. It was a process based on the fact that certain acidic colour dyes are absorbed by unhardened gelatin, but not by gelatin hardened by light infiltration.

At the Reimann Schule, Zomer learned to work with different cameras, including a Stegemann, a Leica, and a Plaubel Makina. He expanded his knowledge greatly during two successive trips to the United States—first in the 1930s and a second time immediately after the war—during which he visited various photography studios, where the latest developments in colour photography were being applied. It was there that Zomer saw technical cameras for the first time. On his post-war trip, he returned with a Grover, which at the time was still unknown in Europe. Through his contacts in the States, Zomer had continuous access to the latest technical equipment and film types, sometimes years before these products were being imported into Europe.

Even during his studies, Zomer was already excited about colour photography. To perfect his skills in this area, he took a brief class at the Deutsches Lehrinstitut für Farbenphotographie (‘German Educational Institute for Colour Photography’) in the town of Hoechst, near Frankfurt am Main. Zomer continued his investigations in the area of colour upon establishing himself independently as an advertising and corporate photographer in 1934. Several years prior to the war, he had begun to experiment with ‘successive colour extractions’ on panchromatic black-and-white film: shots were taken of a non-moving subject with a red, green, blue, and an orange-like filter. These shots were then printed on top of each other in the colours greenish-blue, purple-red (magenta), yellow, and grey. The same working method is still used today in graphic reproduction. This technique with partial negatives could only be used with colour shots of non-moving objects, such as reproductions of paintings, interior shots, still lifes, advertising products etc.

Zomer’s results in the area of colour photography attracted the interest of the graphics company Joh. Enschedé in Haarlem. Because of his extensive knowledge of photographic and graphic techniques, Zomer and the company Enschedé ‘understood’ each other extremely well. This resulted in a collaborative contract that was greatly to Zomer’s personal benefit, helping him to financially weather the difficult years of the war. One or more days a week, Zomer would travel to Haarlem to work on the realisation of a graphic reproduction method for colour shots.

Enschedé was willing to invest in Zomer’s craftsmanship. In 1952, he was given his own studio on Enschedé’s grounds, which he was free to access at will, even when doing work for other clients. Obliged to give up his studio space three years later due to a necessary company expansion, he was subsequently offered a new space in a building on the Korte Begijnestraat, directly outside the Enschedé factory site. The new studio was not only exceptionally big, but it also had a vibration-free floor and a glass roof that could be shaded. In other words, it met all of the conditions necessary to do professional work.

Zomer’s photography—only a limited number of originals have been preserved—is characterised by its sharpness and perfection, encountered in both his shots and prints. He despised the ‘soft effect’: in Zomer’s view, an atmospheric photo could also be acquired by more honest means, as he showed in various shots of a misty landscape, taken with extreme sharpness. Zomer saw the expression of surface texture as photography’s strength. His compositions are concise: the eye can immediately discern the subject at hand. Zomer’s concentration on the main motif is achieved through camera positioning and lighting. He composed his photographs relying on these ingredients in combination with good taste.

Zomer’s commissioned photos shot on location—for instance, depicting a company’s production process—often feature close-ups, with raw materials or working hands depicted in the sharpest detail. Although it was not always possible for him to actualise his ideas to the highest degree when doing this kind of work, at no point did he betray his principles concerning photography. Zomer’s preference for uncanny sharpness and simple, serene entourages is also expressed in his portrait photography—a genre he practiced very infrequently—and his autonomous work, which consisted primarily of nature shots.

Zomer was specialised in an area of photography that was closely linked to the graphics industry: advertising and corporate photography. His choice to take this path was not only related to his background and education, but also his views concerning photography. Such views can clearly be seen in the techniques and designs he applied. Zomer formulated these concisely in a letter to his friend Meinard Woldringh dated 18 September 1951, today preserved in the Leiden University Print Room: ‘Art? Never. If anything, a small artistic trick, paltry and without any real life. Creative Photography? Absolutely! Meaning to say, and I can say it, as I am, in the end, more or less the spiritual father of this designation: not a random projection of what can be seen onto a flat surface, but penetrating to the very essence. The photographer has to come to a synthesis, elevating what is photographed beyond the realm of what is—unquestionably—observable. To do this, he has sufficient means at his disposal, of which the chief ones are: the boundaries of the image, the lighting thereof, his vision of the subject (camera angle/composition) and the ‘tonality’ in which he presents his product. The connection to the material, which is specific to photography and which results in a faithfulness to reality, nevertheless forces him to lay more restrictions on his choice of topics than artists, who are able to wield a more pliable medium than the camera lens. If he ignores this condition, than he surpasses his goal, violates the essence of Photography, loses himself in meaningless and useless experiments, with, at best, purported manifestations of art as the result.’ With these words, Zomer was rebelling against the post-war photography movements leaning towards abstraction and experimentation, which could easily have thrust photography into painting’s wake once again—whereas New Photography had finally managed to free itself from these restrictive ties in the 1930s. In 1951, Dr. Otto Steinert brought these post-war movements together for the first time in the exhibition ‘Subjektive Fotografie’ (‘Subjective Photography’). Photographers at the NFK (Nederlandse Fotografen Kunstkring, ‘Netherlands Photographers Art Society’) were divided in their views concerning photography. Pim van Os, for example, had proved himself to be a follower of the abstract, experimental movement. Nico Zomer, by contrast, adhered to the accomplishments of New Objectivity, making no concessions.

Immediately following the completion of his studies in Berlin, Zomer established himself as an independent entrepreneur in Amsterdam. In spite of the economic crisis, he managed to build a reputation in a relatively short time based on his ample knowledge of the field. Businesses were finding their way to his studio. Zomer’s commissions varied from making corporate reportages on location to photographing products in the studio. Zomer’s clients during this period included large companies such as Hazemeyer and Stork, both in Hengelo, the PGEM in Arnhem, the Utrechtse Electriciteits Mij. (‘Utrecht Electricity Company’), the Glasfabriek Leerdam (‘Leerdam Glass’), and a variety of shipping companies. Within three years, his studio on the Noorder Amstellaan in Amsterdam was too small and he was obliged to move to a larger building on the 1e Constantijn Huygensstraat.

Shortly after the war, Zomer received a large commission from the collector Van Beuningen to photograph his entire art collection. Later, this commission also led to similar assignments from collectors outside the Netherlands. For a period of ten years, Zomer also did the annual colour calendars for the weaving company Van Heek & Co. This work entailed traveling across the country to photograph landscapes, cities, and buildings.

In his ten years as a permanent employee at Enschedé, Zomer’s primary task was flower photography (chiefly bulb flowers), an extremely important area for the export market. He likewise accepted commissions for third parties on Enschedé’s behalf, such as calendars for KLM Airlines and reportages for large companies.

Zomer was closely involved in setting up the first educational programmes in photography in the Netherlands. In 1940, legislation for establishing business in the field of photography had gone into effect—a training programme in photography therefore became a legal obligation. It was in this same year that the Nederlandse Fotovakschool (‘NFVS’, ‘Netherlands Photography Vocational School’) was founded, chiefly through the efforts of Carel Tirion, Jan Stokvis, Nico Zomer, and Willy Schurman.

While the NFVS provided a written correspondence course that met the minimum legal requirements with respect to a knowledge of the field, there was still the need for a solid, clear-cut educational programme. It was for this reason that the same group of professional photographers—Tirion, Stokvis, Zomer, and Schurman—set out to establish a second learning institution. In 1953, this resulted in the founding of the ‘School voor Fotografie en Fototechniek’ (‘School of Photography and Photographic Technique’), which started out as an evening school but later also included a full-time day study programme starting in 1957. Zomer continued to be involved with both programmes through his membership in the school’s supervisory boards and examination committees. He did not do any teaching.

The final phase of Zomer’s photographic career was also in the area of photography education. After leaving the company Enschedé in 1966, he was hired as a photographic advisor at the ‘Famous Artists School’ in Amsterdam, an institution set up according to a model originating in the US. Here one could receive lessons in a variety of art disciplines via written correspondence courses. Zomer was hired to answer students’ questions and provide advice. He was nevertheless disappointed in the school’s working approach. It was at this time that he decided to end his career as a photographer. After this point, he photographed only for his own pleasure.

Nico Zomer’s photography can best be characterised as the work of a professional who strives for perfection, while possessing good taste. By nature more of a technician than an artist, he never felt tempted to pursue artistic aspirations in his photography, as this would most certainly have been a betrayal of his own principles.

Nico Zomer made his photographic mark through his pioneering activities in the area of colour photography in the Netherlands, particularly for use in the graphics industry. The company Enschedé has built a solid reputation in the Dutch printing and publishing world based on Zomer’s vast knowledge of technique in the field of photographic and graphic reproduction. For decades, Zomer devoted his time and energy to the organisation of photography education in the Netherlands. It is thanks to the selfless commitment of professionals like Zomer, Tirion, Stokvis, and Schurman that legally certified professional educational programmes in photography came into existence in the Netherlands.


Primary bibliography

Het getemde statief, in Kleinbeeld-foto 4 (juli 1940) 4, p. 113.

Een spaarbrander voor uw fotolampen, in Kleinbeeld-foto 4 (januari 1941) 100, p. 292-295.

Filmgevoeligheid en fijnkorrelontwikkeling (I), in Kleinbeeld-foto 5 (juni 194.1) 3, p. 73-75.

Filmgevoeligheid en fijnkorrelontwikkeling (II), in Kleinbeeld-foto 5 (juli 1941) 4, p. 99-100.

Wat doen we nu eigenlijk met filters?, in Nederlandsch Jaarboek voor Fotokunst 1944/46, p. 11-15.

Het negatief… middel tot het doel, in Gedenkboek 25 jaar Bond van Nederlandsche Amateur Fotografen Vereenigingen 1922-1947, p. 64-69.

De sluiter gaat open en dicht I, in Foto 4 (mei 1949) 5, p. 172-175.

De sluiter gaat open en dicht II (Slot), in Foto 5 (juni 1949) 6, p. 197-202.

Negatieve en positieve kanttekeningen, in Fotorama 9 (november/december 1952) 6, p. 148-152.

P. Heyse en A.S.H. Craeybeckx (hoofdredactie), Encylopedie voor fotografie en cinematografie, Amsterdam, Brussel (Elsevier) 1958.


images in:

Photography Year Book 1935, p. 200.

Kleinbeeld-foto 3 (februari 1940) 11, p. 373, 375.

Kleinbeeld-foto 4 (augustus 1940) 5, p. 133.

Kleinbeeld-foto 4 (november 1940) 8, p. 235.

Kleinbeeld-foto 4 (december 1940) 9, omslag.

D. Hans, Ons vaderland, Wageningen (Zomer & Keuning) z.j. (ca. 1941), p. 5, 37, 59, 65, 93, 94, 110, 184, 227, 228.

Nederlandsch Jaarboek voor Fotokunst 1941, plaat XXVI.

Kleinbeeld-foto 4 (januari 1941) 10, p. 289.

Bedrijfsfotografie 23 (3 oktober 1941) 20, p. 318.

Focus 28 (6 december 1941) 25, p. 570.

Kalender VANK, 1942.

J.A.M, van Liempt, Kunstlicht in de fotografie, Amsterdam (Meulenhoff & co) 1942.

Focus 29 (7 februari 1942) 3, p. 53.

Nederlandsch Jaarboek voor Fotokunst 1944/46, plaat XLIV, L.

Foto 1 (februari 1946) 2, omslag, p. 19.

H.P. Baard (inl.), Frans Hals Schutterstukken, Amsterdam/Brussel (Elsevier) 1948 (kunstreproducties).

Kalenders voor Spinnerij en Weverij Van Heek & Co, Enschedé, 1949-1959.

D. Hannema, Catalogue of the D.G. van Beuningen collection, Rotterdam (uitg. Ad Donker) 1949 (kunstreproducties).

Foto 4 (maart 1949) 3, omslag.

Focus 34 (16 april 1949) 8, p. 171.

Catalogus Internationale tentoonstelling Vakfotografie 1950, Eindhoven (Stedelijk van Abbe Museum) 1950.

D. Hannema (inl.), Chefs d’oeuvre de la collection D.G. van Beuningen, Rotterdam (uitg. Ad Donker) 1952 (kunstreproducties).

Foto 7 (februari 1952) 2, p. 41.

Foto 7 (mei 1952) 5, p. 129.

Catalogus tent. Fotoschouw ’52, Den Haag (Gemeentemuseum) 1952.

Kalenders KLM, o.a. 1965.

Secondary bibliography

Catalogus tent. Kleinbeeld ’39, Amsterdam 1939.

Auteur onbekend, Uit de B.F. donkere kamer. Bij de platen in dit nummer, in Bedrijfsfotogrqfo 23 (3 oktober 1941) 20, p. 309-310.

Auteur onbekend, Beknopte analyse der platen in dit nummer, in Focus 28 (6 december 1941) 25, p. 562.

Auteur onbekend, Analyse der platen, in Focus 34 (16 april 1949) 8, p. 175.

D. Helfferich, 22 Fotografen en 1 meisje, in Foto 5 (april 1950) 4, p. 129-132.

Auteur onbekend, Nico Zomer kleurenfotograaf, in Revue der Reclame 12 (mei 1952) 5, p. 129.

Paul Haesaerts, Verscheidenheid en eenheid van de fotografische poëzie, in Fotorama 9 (mei/juni 1952) 3, p. 61-67.

J. Giebelhausen, Zauberei auf dem Tisch: Tabletopografie, in Grossbild-technik (1955) 4, p. 28-29.

H.F. van Loon en Jan Punt, Ook Nederland heeft foto-graven. Wij presenteren u: Onze camera adel, in De Telegraaf 19 maart 1960, p. 17.

Flip Bool en Kees Broos (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1920-1940, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p. 8, 20, 21, 94, 125, 142, 160.

Els Barents (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1940-1975, Den Haag (staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p. 91, 97 (met foto’s).

Hedi Hegeman en Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf, Willy Schurman, in Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Fotografie, Alphen aan den Rijn (Samsom) 1984 e.v.


NFPV, vanaf 1936 tot de opname van de NFPV in de BFN in 1972.

Nederlandse Fotovakschool, Den Haag (medeoprichter), bestuurslid vanaf 1940 tot 1978.

AAFV, vanaf ca. 1940 tot 1952.

Vakgroep Fotografie, vanaf 1942 tot 1948.

Foto, lid van de redaktieraad vanaf 1946 tot 1958.

NFK, vanaf 1947 tot opname van de NFK in de NFPV in 1970 (kernlid vanaf 1951).

MTS voor Fotografie en Fototechniek, Den Haag (medeoprichter), bestuurslid vanaf 1953 tot 1974.

BFN, vanaf 1972 (later erelid).


1939 Penning Kleinbeeldfoto, N.K.B.V., Kleinbeeld ’39.

1950 Diploma Agfacolor in Hoechst bij Frankfurt.

1950 Eerste prijs NFK-competitie (Tweeëntwintig fotografen en één meisje).

1963 NFPV: Gouden insigne, Lid van Verdienste, later Erelid.

1978 Ridder in de Orde van Oranje Nassau.


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

1939 (g) Amsterdam, Arti et Amicitiae, Kleinbeeld ’39.

ca. 1940 (g) Amsterdam, Nationale Kerstsalon AAFV.

1947 (g) Amsterdam, Arti et Amicitiae, Zevende Nationale Salon van Fotografische Kunst.

1950 (g) Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbe Museum, Vakfotografie 1950.

1951 (g) Amsterdam, Arti et Amicitiae, Dertiende Nationale Kerstsalon van Fotografische Kunst (AAFV).

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

1953 (g) Maastricht, Kunstzalen De Jong-Bergers, Nederlandse Fotografie 1953.

1956 (g) Keulen, Photokina.


Den Haag, Nico Zomer, mondelinge en schriftelijke informatie.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.


Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit.