Frits Geveke was an important portrait photographer in Amsterdam during the first half of the twentieth century. His skill assured him a steady flow of clients, which included not only ‘anonymous’ inhabitants of the city, but in particular many well-known Dutch actors and actresses. From 1905 to 1925, Geveke built his reputation on actors’ portraits as well as photos of theatrical scenes re-enacted in his studio. For years, he was on the management board of the NFPV (Nederlandse Fotografen Patroonsvereeniging, ‘Netherlands Photographers Guild’).
Frederik (Frits) Geveke is born on 25 February at Prinsenstraat 22 in Amsterdam as the son of Janneke de Jongh and Jan Hartwig Geveke, a confectioner by profession.
The Geveke family moves to Nieuwendijk 137 in Amsterdam. The Nieuwendijk is traditionally an area with a high concentration of photography studios. It is perhaps their presence that awakens Frits’ interest in photography.
On 13 November, Geveke departs for Arnhem at the age of thirteen, where he begins his career in photography as an apprentice to Ephraïm, a ‘court photographer’. After this period of apprenticeship with Ephraïm, Geveke works as a photographic assistant for various studios, all located in Amsterdam: Max Cosman, H.C. de Graaff, C.J.L.Vermeulen (in 1893), and Joh. L. van der Heijden. Geveke subsequently works for C.E. Mögle in Rotterdam, for Uchtman in The Hague, and finally, Niestadt in Vlaardingen.
Geveke establishes himself as an independent photographer in Amsterdam. For the time being, he moves into his parent’s home at Schinkelkade 17 (ground floor).
As of 31 January, Geveke has his own address: Maarten Jansz. Kosterstraat 10 in Amsterdam. He resides here until June, but then moves to The Hague, where he remains only for a short time. On 5 December, Geveke weds Johanna Maria Lagerweij in Amsterdam. The couple moves to Eerste Sweelinckstraat 5, in the direct vicinity of the Sarphatipark.
Geveke and his wife move to Sarphatipark 10. He sets up a portrait studio in the store space on the ground floor and uses the first floor above it as his home.
The Gevekes have two daughters: Johanna Maria Jacoba (born 17 March 1904) and Susanna Frederika (born 15 February 1905).
Geveke is the district chairman of the Amsterdam chapter of the NFPV (Nederlandse Fotografen Patroonsvereeniging, ‘Netherlands Photographers Guild’).
In December, Geveke becomes the general interim chairman of the NFPV. By this time, the association has reached an organisational low-point due to poor policy implemented by various managing directors.
Cornelis Leenheer assumes the position of chairman in the NFPV. Geveke becomes the organisation’s vice-chairman.
Geveke’s daughter, Johanna, marries Johannes Adrianus Brandsma, the son of Pieter Brandsma, a neighbouring portrait photographer and the board secretary of the NFPV. On 1 June, Geveke celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of his studio on the Sarphatipark.
The magazine Bedrijfsfotografie (‘Corporate Photography’) observes the occasion that on 25 August, forty years earlier, Frits Geveke entered employment with Ephraïm, a renowned photographer in Arnhem at the time.
Geveke introduces his ‘Eerste Zwarte Spiegelinrichting’ (‘First Black Mirror Device’) at his studio on the Sarphatipark.
In March, Geveke resigns from his position as vice-chairman of the NFPV. He remains a member of the association. The function of vice-chairman is abolished.
Studio Geveke becomes a studio that works exclusively with artificial light.
Suffering from an extreme form of rheumatism, Frits Geveke is limited in his movement. Although confined to a wheelchair, he continues to work in his studio. A passenger lift is installed between the studio and his home just one floor above.
Geveke’s wife dies on 18 May. Geveke remarries following her death, to his personal nurse, Magdalena Lescrauwaet.
Frits Geveke dies on 31 March. With the help of assistants, Geveke’s second wife keeps the business running until 1965, at which time the studio is sold.
Frits Geveke belonged to a generation of photographers who acquired their training at the large-scale portrait studios operating in the Netherlands around the turn of the century, where mass production had led to uniformity. The repeated critique of this mass production voiced in magazines by as early as 1905, together with the founding of organisations such as the NFK (Nederlandse Fotografen Kunstkring, ‘Netherlands Photographers Art Society’) in 1902 and the Nederlandsche Club voor Fotokunst (‘Netherlands Club for Photographic Art’) in 1906, brought about a change in attitude towards portrait photography. Eventually, a group of artistic portrait photographers began to emerge, made up of young photographers previously working for the larger studios. Frits Geveke, a photographer born and raised in Amsterdam, was one of them. After a period of study as an apprentice for various major portrait studios, Geveke worked briefly as a press photographer for publications such as the magazine De Prins (‘The Prince’). In the end, however, his desire lay more in the direction of setting himself him as an independent portrait photographer.
Geveke and others in the field of portrait photography were well aware that the way to draw in business was not just to provide skilfully made photos that were pleasing to the eye. One also had to attract a clientele that caught people’s attention. Once he established his studio on the Sarphatipark in Amsterdam in 1903, Geveke garnered success with this approach. He built his reputation on producing portraits of Dutch actors and actresses, opera singers, and cabaret entertainers. Some were well known in Amsterdam, others famous throughout the country. Dozens of Dutch celebrities sat for Geveke’s camera, including names such as Louisette, Jean Louis Pisuisse, Jenny Gilliams, Henriëtte Davids, Fien de la Mar, Louis Chrispijn Jr., Magda Janssens, Lola Cornero, Emmy Arbous, and Theo Mann-Bouwmeester. The renowned Dutch actor Louis Bouwmeester remained a faithful client up until a year prior to his death in 1925.
Amstelquelle, an Amsterdam café highly frequented by numerous actors, was located at the edge of the Sarphatipark on the corner of the Ceintuurbaan. Geveke’s studio was just a short distance away, and therefore strategically located. It was also the area where the portrait photographers F. Lukera and J. Huybers also had their studios, whose clientele likewise included numerous actors and actresses in the period prior to 1910. Although competition was stiff, Geveke managed to hold on to his theatre clientele for twenty years—from 1905 to 1925. After 1925, he began to rely on the general public, which by no means implies his studio was going downhill at this point. Geveke’s wife, daughter, and various studio assistants were all employed by his company, which flourished up until World War II.
During the first decades of the twentieth century, a number of Amsterdam portrait studios were specialised in theatrical photography. Prior to 1910, Geveke had to share his clientele, not just with Lukera and Huybers, but also with the photographers W. Zimmerman, W.J.P. Muns, Bernhard Jacobs, and H.D. Fraenkel. His fiercest competition came from the modern and luxuriously furnished studio Atelier J. Merkelbach, which opened its doors in 1913. Merkelbach’s studio was located on the Leidseplein, directly across from city’s main theatre (the ‘Stadsschouwburg’). When one compares the portrait and theatrical photography of these two studios in the 1910s and the 1920s, it becomes clear that Studio Merkelbach surpassed Geveke in finding elegant and creative solutions when it came to camera work, image cropping, and portrait poses.
In the early 1920s, Geveke’s former studio assistant Godfried de Groot also emerged as a new competitor in the field of portrait photography. De Groot successfully fought for the favour of a fashion-conscious theatre clientele. There is no doubt that De Groot had appropriated a number of Geveke’s existing clients for himself, precisely as he had done with his other mentor, the photographer Bernhard Jacobs. As the 1920s progressed, Merkelbach and De Groot solidified their predominance in the area of theatrical photography, with their photos appearing in magazines such as Het Toneel (‘The Stage’) and Cinema & Theater with ever-increasing frequency. Geveke’s images, by contrast, were being published less and less. Unlike his colleagues in the field, he refrained from advertising in photography magazines and theatre programmes.
Typically, a photographer’s clients were not the actors themselves, but the director of the company to which they belonged. Geveke’s commissions were derived chiefly from theatrical companies (though by no means exclusively) such as the Nederlandsch Opera- en Operettegezelschap (‘Netherlands Opera and Operette Company’), the Nieuwe Nederlandsche Opera (‘New Netherlands Opera) established in Amsterdam in 1916, the Toneelvereeniging (‘The Theatre Association’), the Louis de Vries theatrical company, the De La Mar theatrical company, the Cabaret Pisuisse, the Henri Ter Hall Revue (‘Henri Ter Hall Review’), and the distinguished Koninklijke Vereeniging Het Nederlandsch Tooneel (‘Royal Association of the Netherlands Theatre’), a company whose domicile was the Stadsschouwburg of Amsterdam.
From the outset, Geveke presented himself as an artistic photographer. One way he expressed this was by framing his photos in a cardboard mount embossed with a gold wax stamp bearing his initials and an image of the goddess Athena. Like his colleague H.D. Fraenkel, in his free time he was an amateur painter. Almost immediately after establishing himself as an independent photographer, Geveke joined the NFK. Yet he was never a frequent participant at exhibitions. Besides the annual exhibitions organised by the NFPV for its members starting in 1926, Geveke submitted entries to only two exhibitions organised outside NFPV (Nederlandse Fotografen Patroonsvereeniging, ‘Netherlands Photographers Guild’) circles: the Jubileumstentoonstelling NFK (‘Jubilee Exhibition NFK’) in 1927; and the exhibition Klank en Beeld (‘Sound and Image’), held at the Amsterdam RAI exhibition and convention centre in 1932.
For the NFK exhibition in 1927, Geveke submitted a collection of fine prints (‘edeldrukken’) produced with the bromoil technique. Weyert van Zanen, who was then chairman of the NFK, remarked that it: ‘(…) was highly regrettable that several were done in a purple-reddish colour, which in itself was a very poor choice’. The old-school photographers of the NFPV still viewed the bromoil technique as the most authentic form of artistic photography well into the 1930s. In their view, this ‘paint-on-print’ method was more similar to painting than other ordinary printing techniques. As the reasoning went, it was therefore more artistic. One may conclude Geveke supported this view, judging by his entry.
In the day-to-day operation of a portrait studio such as Geveke’s, however, the fine printing technique was more the exception than the rule. For this reason, his attention was focused more in the direction of technical innovation, such as the introduction of sheet film in 1920, at the expense of the long-trusted glass plate. Geveke realised the advantages of this new material immediately, as well as working with artificial light.
Portrait studios had begun to experiment with using artificial lighting shortly after the turn of the century. Arc lamps were initially used, which, with their carbon rods, radiated an uneven and therefore unreliable light. Around 1920, Philips came out with lighting for photo shoots. In order to promote their general acceptance, the manufacturer organised a contest in 1925 for shots taken with studio lighting using incandescent light bulbs. Bromoil prints were specifically excluded, because ‘with this process the technical quality of the original shot can be obscured’. Apparently, modern technology and fine printing processes were intolerant of each other! In the end, Geveke won third prize at this Philips competition.
Geveke’s photos never display the effect of standard artificial lighting. They possess a soft, even distribution of light with a minimum of shadow and are therefore scarcely indistinguishable from daylight portraits with a uniformly dispersed light. This is probably the reason why Geveke’s theatre clientele shifted their loyalty to a younger photographer such as Godfried de Groot, whose ‘modern’ photos, produced with dramatic studio lighting effects, resembled glamour photography coming out of the film studios.
Geveke’s oeuvre encompasses chiefly studio portraits, with children’s portraits, wedding couples, actor’s portraits, and theatrical scenes forming the core. These theatre photos—with actors in many cases portrayed full-length in their theatrical costumes—are role-oriented in nature, i.e. the actors assumed a pose as if they were performing on stage. Geveke gave significant attention to the lighting of the costumes, but also the drama of the facial expressions and gestures in these scenes. These photos were taken without exception at his studio on the Sarphatipark, where the actors came to re-enact the scenes to be photographed. To achieve this, Geveke used his own studio decors, which were in no way connected with the play concerned. As well for his regular full-length portrait shots, he asked his clients to pose in front of painted backdrop canvases. While the use of painted backdrops by portrait studios was already considered out-dated by the early 1920s—for example, in the magazine Bedrijfsfotografie (‘Corporate Photography’)—they remained an ‘intransigent’ element of Geveke’s studio through the late 1940s. These varied from a picturesque country road or a romantic park-like setting with a monumental stairway in the foreground, to the interior of a luxurious sitting room.
Adriaan Boer described Geveke the portraitist as a qualified professional, ‘who made robust men’s portraits and did refined portrait work when involving women’. Such a description indicates that Geveke was well respected as a photographer. At the same time, however, one may only conclude that, as a portraitist, he was also rigid and rather dull. His photos indeed display the skill of someone who was greatly talented when it came to technique and composition, yet whose work was anything but innovative or individualistic when compared to that of his fellow contemporaries.
In 1930, Geveke began to advertise his ‘black mirror device’ with a large sign hanging above his storefront window. In his studio, he set up a large sheet of one-way glass to create a dark space, behind which he placed his camera. Sitting in the lighted portion of the studio, the client could see neither the camera nor the photographer—he saw only his own image. ‘And for many people this works favourably for the pose and the facial expression’, as Adriaan Boer wrote in an elucidation of Geveke’s mirror device published in Bedrijfsfotografie in 1931. It is surprising that a photographer such as Geveke, who was accustomed to dealing with the facial expressions and poses of actors and actresses, could find no other way to inspire a casual pose with his ordinary clients than to hide behind a one-way glass.
Geveke was always highly active in the world of photographic trade associations. Shortly after the NFK was founded in 1902, he became a member of the Amsterdam chapter. He remained a member until 1919, when the division in the organisation led to the founding of the NFPV, a new association into which he subsequently put all of his energy. Geveke was initially a district representative of the Amsterdam chapter, and starting in 1921, a member of the national management board. In December 1921, the Amsterdam chapter took over the overall general management to bring an end to the persistent organisational impotence of one board quickly succeeding another, which resulted in an exodus of the association’s members. Geveke was initially made general chairman, but handed this task over to his colleague C.G. Leenheer in 1922. He was satisfied with fulfilling the function of vice-chairman, a position he held until March 1931. Geveke was probably too modest and meek to hold a supervisory position and apparently preferred to play a role in the background. At the time, the chairmanship was handed over, Leenheer spoke of Geveke with praise, because he ‘presided over the Chapter for almost two years as an extremely forthright and neutral man. The Amsterdam Chapter had to deal with major issues during those years, and had our colleague Geveke not accepted the Chairmanship at that time, then there would most certainly be no NFPV still in existence today.’
For many years, Frits Geveke was one of the best-known portrait photographers in Amsterdam, in part due to the large number of Dutch celebrities from the theatre world who posed for his camera. Even when overshadowed by the popularity of Merkelbach and De Groot, Geveke’s studio remained a favourite address for many who were still able to appreciate his professional skill. Geveke was a representative of a generation of ‘artistic’ portrait photographers, but a photographer who was unable to maintain his business for several reasons: the economic crisis of the 1930s, the changing needs of consumers, and holding on to out-dated ideas about photography for too long.
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7 (18 juli 1925) 15, p. 329-330, 343-344.
9 (17 augustus 1927) 18, p. 447.
10 (2 juni 1928) 11, p. 288-289.
12 (25 juli 1930) 15, p. 281.
13 (26 juni 1931) 13, p. 242.
14 (26 augustus 1932) 17, p. 320.
15 (22 september 1933) 19, p.366.
18 (30 oktober 1936) 22, p. 416.
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(1922) 54, p. 11.
(1922) 69, p. omslag.
(1922) 84, p. 7.
(1923) 122, p. 12.
(1923) 155, P. 105.
(1924) 5, p. 23.
(1924) 25, omslag.
in Het Leven:
6 (4Juli 1911) 27, p.851.
8 (13 mei 1913) 20, p. 631.
10 (2 februari 1915) 5, p. 139
10 (10 augustus 1915) 32, p. 1000, 1001, 1002.
10 (24 augustus 1915) 34, p. 1065.
10 (31 augustus 1915) 35, p. 1097.
10 (7 december 1915) 49, p. 1545.
11 (24 oktober 1916) 43, p. 1402.
11 (31 oktober 1916) 44, p. 1438.
12 (13 februari 1917) 7, p. 225.
13 (1 april 1918) 14, p. 460.
13 (30 juli 1918) 31, p. 1003.
17 (4 september 1922) 36, p. 1151.
20(14 maart 1925) 11, p. 346.
20 (9 mei 1925) 19, p. 589.
(31 maart 1915) 26, p. 206.
(9 augustus 1915) 64, p. 15.
(9 december 1915) 99, p. 8.
(20 september 1916) 12, p. 4.
(6 maart 1918) 36, p. 14.
(26 juni 1918) 52, p. 13.
(17 september 1919) 12, p. 7.
(26 november 1919) 22, p. 7.
(10 november 1920) 19, p. 11.
(14 februari 1923) 33, omslag.
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oktober 1915, fotobijlage,
september 1916, p. 55-57.
november 1916, omslag,
maart 1917, p. 157.
juni 1917, fotobijlage,
november 1917, fotobijlage,
april 1918, omslag,
november 1919, fotobijlage,
mei 1925, p. 187, 189.
Flip Bool en Kees Broos (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1920-1940, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1979, p. 15, 94, 95, 149.
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NFK, tot 1919.
NFPV, vanaf 1919.
1925 Derde prijs, Philips fotowedstrijd voor atelierverlichting met gloeilampen.
1926 Eervolle vermelding, NFPV Fotografendag.
1926 (g) Amsterdam, Gebouw Heystee, Fotografendag NFPV.
1927 (g) Utrecht, Jaarbeurs, Jubileumstentoonstelling NFK.
1927 (g) Amsterdam, Koopmansbeurs, Fotografendag NFPV.
1928 (g) Amsterdam, Gebouw Heystee, Fotografendag NFPV.
1929 (g) Amsterdam, Odd Fellow House, Fotografendag NFPV.
1930 (g) Amsterdam, Odd Fellow House, Fotografendag NFPV.
1931 (g) Amsterdam, Odd Fellow House, Fotografendag NFPV.
1932 (g) Rotterdam, De Kunstkring, Fotografendag NFPV.
1932 (g) Amsterdam, RAI, Klank en Beeld.
1933 (g) Amsterdam, Gebouw Heystee, Fotografendag NFPV.
1934 (g) Amsterdam, Leesmuseum, Bekende Landgenooten (NFPV).
1938 (g) Amsterdam, Gebouw Heystee, Fotografendag NFPV.
Amsterdam, Adriaan Elligens (ongepubliceerde doctoraalscriptie: Frits Geveke, de Nederlandsche Fotografen Patroons Vereeniging en de portretfotografie in Nederland tussen beide wereldoorlogen, Amsterdam, januari 1988).
Amsterdam, Nederlands Theater Instituut.
Amsterdam, Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, Utrecht, families Brandsma-Geveke en Leeuw-Geveke.
Haarlem, Stichting Nederlands Foto- & Grafisch Centrum.
Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.
Amsterdam, Nederlands Theater Instituut (negatieven, afdrukken en apparatuur).
Den Haag, Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst.
Haarlem, Stichting Nederlands Foto- & Grafisch Centrum (Spaarnestad Fotoarchief).
Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit (afdrukken).