PhotoLexicon, Volume 7, nr. 13 (March 1990) (en)

Johann Georg Hameter

Robbert van Venetië

Annet Zondervan


Johann Georg Hameter’s oeuvre comprises portraits and cityscapes, as well as architectural and industrial shots. Particularly the latter two genres can be considered his specialisations. From both a technical and artistic perspective, Hameter’s shots of railway architecture in the vicinity of Dordrecht, the city where he lived, and in Rotterdam are among the best of what was produced in the Netherlands in the nineteenth century. As well in the area of technique—he improved the technique of carbon printing and manufactured high-quality negative material—Hameter played a role in the history of Dutch photography.




Johann Georg Hameter is born in Kölnberg, Germany (Bavaria), on 29 September.


Arriving from Ansbach (Bavaria), Hameter settles in Dordrecht on 5 January at the age of twenty-eight. He moves in with Herbert van Houwelingen (1 January 1817 Dordrecht– ?), a brass founder, magnetiser, and photographer. The Dordrecht city address books of 1865 and 1868 cite the following addresses, respectively: Lange Breestraat D673 and Bagijnhof 884.


On 28 June, one month prior to marrying Constance Adelia Schrieder (1841 Tholen–Dordrecht 1872), Hameter officially registers himself in the Dordrecht population register. Starting on 28 July, his address is Vriesestraat D947.


Hameter photographs the railway bridge over the ‘Hollands Diep’ River near Moerdijk and the bridge over the Old Meuse River near Dordrecht. These are Hameter’s first shots of engineering architecture, the genre in which he specialises hereafter. Hameter’s wife dies in 1872. The two children from this marriage, Eva Margaretha and Johann Georg, both die within their first year.


At Vest D30 in Dordrecht, Hameter opens his own studio. He remarries, this time to Jenneke Koopman (1846 Dordrecht– ?). Once again, the Hameter family is unfortunate when it comes to children. Of the eight children from this marriage, five die before reaching the age of five: Berredina Maria Beatrix, Johann Georg [II], Johannes Hendrik, Eva Margaretha [II], and Eva Margaretha [III].


Most of Hameter’s oeuvre originates from this ten-year period. Hameter is primarily active in Rotterdam. Bridges are his most prominent subject, but he also photographs railway and harbour architecture.


Hameter becomes a member of the APV (Amsterdamsche Photographen Vereeniging, ‘Amsterdam Photographers Association’).

Hameter probably starts using the title ‘Hofphotograaf te Dordrecht’ (‘Court Photographer in Dordrecht’) in this year.


In the Tijdschrift voor Photographie (‘Magazine of Photography’), Hameter publishes an article in which he describes the pigment process he applies.


Hameter opens a branch studio in Leiden. Willem Pieter Holtheijer (19 July 1857 Dordrecht – Leiden 18 March 1881) is in charge of this studio, first located at Hogewoerd 75, and later at Apothekersdijk 7. Following Holtheijer’s death, Carl Emil Mögle takes over the running of the studio in 1882-’83. Upon Mögle’s departure for Rotterdam, Hendrik Jonker takes over the business.


Hameter’s studio in Dordrecht moves to Voorstraat 289.


Johann Georg Hameter dies on 2 January 1885.


In 1887, Hameter’s widow moves to Lemmer, along with her children Berredina Maria Beatrix [II], Johann Georg [III] en Johannes Hendrik [II]. The business in Dordrecht is continued under her own name, widow J.G. Hameter. On 14 February 1890, Hendrik J. Tollens takes over the running of the business, which is still located at the address Voorstraat 289. Besides his own name, Tollens continues to use the company name J.G. Hameter.


The photography business ‘J.G. Hameter’ remains a household name in Dordrecht up until the 1970s.


On 13 April 1910, Hameter’s son, Johann Georg (born 13 April 1881 in Dordrecht), establishes himself as a photographer in Meppel. On 26 April 1924, he departs for Arnhem.


Johann Georg Hameter experienced an albeit brief, but successful career as a photographer. Considering the average life expectancy in the nineteenth century, the events in Hameter’s life were likely far from unique. Nevertheless, his private life can best be described as a tragedy. During the period in which photos of his are known, Hameter lost seven children and his first wife. His own life ended at the age of forty-six, resulting from a serious lung ailment.

Hameter took his best photos in the ten years preceding his death. While he was known as a skilled portrait photographer in the city where he lived, Dordrecht, his significance for the history of Dutch photography lies primarily in his industrial and architectural photos.

Johann Georg Hameter was one of the many photographers emigrating from Germany, who had come to the Netherlands in search of success. Little is known regarding his training as a photographer. It is likely to have been completed in Germany, prior to his settling in Dordrecht in 1866 at the age of twenty-seven. The first mention of his name in the city’s population register lists his profession as ‘photograaf’ (‘photographer’). Hameter initially moved in with Herbert van Houwelingen, a photographer in Dordrecht of whom only several photos are known and who combined his photographic activities with work as a magnetiser and brass founder. In 1873, Hameter established himself independently. Within several years, his studio had grown into a successful photography business with a branch in Leiden. Other photographers also employed in Hameter’s business included Willem Pieter Holtheyer, Carl Emil Mögle, and Hendrik J. Tollens. Following Hameter’s death in 1885, Tollens kept the studio running under its original name for several years. As such, photos exist up until 1892 that still bear the signature ‘J.G. Hameter’. In combination with the new owners, Hameter’s name was connected to Dordrecht’s best known photography business well into the twentieth century.

Hameter lived in Dordrecht from the time of his arrival in the Netherlands to his death. He produced many portraits in the carte-de-visite and cabinet card formats, as well as several group portraits in a larger format. Belonging to this second category is a particularly special portrait photo taken in 1879, which depicts the members of the Christelijk Gereformeerde Synode (‘Christian Reformed Synod’) in an early example of a group portrait photographed indoors.

Surprisingly enough, only a relatively small number of Hameter’s topographical shots of Dordrecht have been preserved. An album dating from circa 1875 consists of eighteen large-format (32.8 x 28.1 cm) albumen prints depicting chiefly cityscapes, with the exception of three shots of the bridge near Moerdijk and a group portrait of officers in the Dordrecht citizen’s guard. The visual and technical quality of these albumen prints do not possess the level of quality that Hameter achieved with the genre of photos in which he was specialised, i.e. architectural and industrial shots.

Within several years, Hameter had acquired a solid reputation as a photographer of large building projects, such as the construction of bridges, viaducts, train stations, and port facilities. In this particular field, there was more work available in nearby Rotterdam than in Hameter’s own city. By 1870, the full-scale expansion of the Dutch railway system, initiated in about 1860, had begun to have an effect on the level of building activity in the city. In this part of the Netherlands, Hameter was the successor to Julius Perger—who, for reasons unknown, cut his activity short for an extended period of time after 1876—and competition for Pieter Oosterhuis.

While there are similarities between Hameter’s oeuvre and the work of these last two photographers, there are also significant differences. Oosterhuis and Perger generally documented the entire building process of, e.g., a bridge in its successive construction phases. Hameter, by contrast, was typically on the scene no earlier than around the time of a project’s completion. He photographed the impressive new examples of engineering architecture in their full glory. The annotations that accompany the cardboard mounts of Hameter’s photos do not provide summaries of technical data, but in most cases state the location and year only.

When Hameter did in fact take photographs during the construction phase, such as his photo of bridge abutments taken around 1875, he generally chose not to depict the actual construction work. Instead, he presented the uncompleted fragments in a serene and monumental fashion, as if they were the final product. Just as in his shots of objects that were relatively small, e.g. the doors of the railway dam at Feijenoord, Hameter favoured severely monumental compositions, achieved in part by the carefully conceived positioning of the figures present in the image.

Another characteristic trait for much of Hameter’s oeuvre are the skies with floating clouds incorporated into the image, thereby adding a certain dramatic effect to these shots. When compared to the photos of Oosterhuis and Perger, Hameter’s photos consequently appear less objective and more artistic. Due to the long exposure time, and especially the blue-sensitive negative material, the skies in Hameter’s original shots generally bleached out. A separate shot of a sky filled with clouds was, however, possible. This shot—or otherwise, a patch of sky painted onto a negative, which was very likely to be the case with Hameter—could always be edited into the image. With this technique, the retouching occurred prior to printing, i.e. directly on the negative, which had the advantage that the print’s surface remained intact. Hameter edited in his clouded skies only with those shots that were printed using the collotype process. Herein lies the final difference between Hameter’s shots of railways under construction and those taken by most of his contemporaries. He finished these kinds of photos not as albumen prints, but by applying a photomechanical process: the collotype. Upon closer examination, this technique—which facilitates a higher contrast and, as such, gives one the impression of a heightened sharpness of contours—is recognisable by a natural reticulation grid. Hameter referred to this technique alternatively as an ‘onveranderlijke lichtdruk’ (‘non-changing collotype’), ‘onveranderlijke photographie’ (”non-changing photography’), or ‘photolithographie’ (‘photolithography’).

Hameter preferred the collotype technique based on considerations of an aesthetic and technical nature. Why he applied this process almost exclusively with his Rotterdam shots is unknown. Perhaps he thought it would enable him to reach a bigger market; perhaps the wishes of his clients—the railway company, or even more probable, the city of Rotterdam—also played a roll.

Hameter’s beautiful shots of the Nieuwe Zeevismarkt—both its interior and exterior—as well as the water tower in Kralingen, confirm that he photographed more than just railway architecture in the city of Rotterdam. In both cases, he printed his photos on albumen paper, in contrast to his railway shots.

Hameter was not only a photographer. He was also responsible for bringing out high-quality negative material on the market. In the Tijdschrift voor Photographie (‘Magazine of Photography’) of September 1883, the quality of Hameter’s silver bromide plates are praised in an article that calls on the public to purchase photographic materials from Dutch manufacturers.

Hameter himself wrote about the carbon print, a technique he applied mainly with carte-de-visite portraits. In an article in the Tijdschrift voor Photographie, he described the manner in which carbon prints could be produced, providing extremely detailed information with respect to the chemical data. He ended his piece with the sentence: ‘According to the method described here and with good preparations, one will be able to produce images, much more beautiful than on albumen, and as well imperishable.’

As a consequence of Hameter’s typically brief captions, relatively little is known about his clients. With Oosterhuis, the extensive technical captions regularly contain some reference to the probable clients, such as the ‘Koninklijke Fabriek van Stoom en andere Werktuigen’ (‘Royal Factory of Steam and other Implements’). Although Hameter also photographed several projects for this company, references of this kind are nowhere to be found on the cardboard mounts of his photos. The cardboard mounts for several of his collotypes produced in 1875, depicting construction activities on Feijenoord, bear the following text: ‘Werken der Rotterdamsche Handelsvereeniging’ (‘Works of the Rotterdam Trading Association’). It is probable that this work was indeed commissioned by this trading association.

The shots of the ‘ IJzeren drijvend droogdok’ (‘Iron Floating Dry-Dock’) of 1883 state the name of both the project’s patron as well as the company that carried it out: respectively, the city of Rotterdam and the contractors Kloos & Zonen of Albasserdam. In this case, however, it remains unclear who commissioned the photos. As the patron of the project, the former seems most likely.

It should be observed that the collotype technique, with cloud-filled skies edited into the photos, are no longer encountered in works of the firm J.G. Hameter that were taken after Johann Georg’s death in 1885. Up until 1893, the approach was far more objective, most likely under the direction of Hendrik J. Tollens. By this time, the firm was also photographing the successive phases of building construction, such as in the case of a series of bridges built in the years 1889­–1891 along the railway lines Utrecht–Amsterdam and Utrecht–Rotterdam. As such, the last traces of what had distinguished Hameter’s work from that of his competitors as well disappeared.

Hameter’s oeuvre is smaller than that of his counterpart Pieter Oosterhuis, the best-known architectural photographer of the nineteenth century in the Netherlands. In terms of quality, however, his work is by no means inferior. In part because of the collotype printing technique that was used, Hameter’s photos have been protected from discolouration. As a result, his work still looks modern even today. It offers an impressive picture of the spectacular technical innovations occurring in the urban environment more than 100 years ago. Furthermore, Hameter was never satisfied with just a strictly documentary or registrational function for his photos. He was striving for an artistic product, accomplished by adding elements such as painted skies filled with clouds and a stylish retouching.

Through his views and his working approach, as well as his probable role as Carl Emil Mögle’s and Hendrik J. Tollens’ teacher—two photographers who eventually achieved renown as representatives of Dutch art photography—Hameter played a critical part in the development of an artistic awareness in Dutch photography.


Primary bibliography

Het pigment procédé, in Tijdschrift voor Photographie 6 (mei 1878) 5, p. 57-63.


images in:

Album (met 18 albuminedrukken) Dordrecht en omstreken. Photographien van J.J. Hameter te Dordrecht, z.p. en z.j. (ca. 1875).

Kees Nieuwenhuijzen (samenstelling), Rotterdam gefotografeerd in de 19de eeuw, Amsterdam (Van Gennep) 1974, p. 12-13, 62-63, 81, 83, 130-131.

P.J. Horsman en J. Alleblas, Dordrecht verleden tijd, Rijswijk (Elmar) 1980, p. 32.

Secondary bibliography

Auteur onbekend, Kort verslag der vergaderingen der Amsterdamsche Photographen Vereeniging, in Tijdschrift voor Photographie 5 (december 1877) 12, p. 18.

H., De lichtdrukillustratie, in Tijdschrift voor Photographie 11 (september 1883) 9, p. 104-106 (met foto).

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1839-1920, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p.54, 62-63, 96 (met foto’s).

Mattie Boom, 150 Jaar fotografie. Een keuze uit de collectie van de Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst, Den Haag (SDU) 1989, p.38.

Robbert van Venetië en Annet Zondervan, Johann Georg Hameter, in Mattie Boom (red.), Fotokunst 19de eeuw. Hoogtepunten van de internationale fotografie, Den Haag (SDU) 1989, p. 191, afb. 62-63.

Robbert van Venetië en Annet Zondervan, Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse architectuurfotografie, Rotterdam (Uitgeverij 010) 1989, p.6, 10, 12, 46, 49, 52, 54, 56 (met foto’s).


Amsterdamsche Photographen Vereeniging, vanaf 30 augustus 1877.


1876 Bekroning, Utrecht.

1877 Bronzen medaille (voor de beste photographiën in vette inkt) en Bronzen medaille (voor de beste photographiën in kooldruk), Internationale tentoonstelling van photographiën, Amsterdam.

1878 Bekroning, Amsterdam.

1879 Bekroning, Arnhem.

1881 Zilveren medaille Ver. Nijverheid, Leeuwarden.

1883 Bekroning, Amsterdam.


1876 (g) Utrecht.

1877 (g) Amsterdam, Arti et Amicitiae, Internationale Tentoonstelling van Photographiën.

1878 (g) Amsterdam.

1879 (g) Arnhem.

1881 (g) Leeuwarden.

1883 (g) Amsterdam.

1972/1973 (g) Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, Mensen kijken. Portretten uit vier eeuwen.

1989 (g) Utrecht, Jaarbeurs Beatrixhal, De Tweede Dimensie, 150 jaar spoorwegen 150 jaar fotografie.

1989 (g) Rotterdam, Historisch Museum Het Schielandshuis, Het Luchtspoor, foto’s van haven- en spooraanleg 1870-1877.

1989 (g) Rotterdam, Archiefwinkel, Bedrijvige fotografie, industriële bedrijfsfotografie.

1989 (g) Rotterdam, Tentoonstellingsruimte Oude Binnenweg 113, Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse architectuurfotografie.


Dordrecht, Gemeentearchief.

Leiden, Gemeentearchief.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.

Rotterdam, Gemeentearchief.

Sassenheim/Leiden, Robbert van Venetië en Annet Zondervan (ongepubliceerde doctoraalscriptie: Architectuurfotografie in Nederland: 1839-1900. Een bronnenonderzoek naar functie en vorm binnen de negentiende-eeuwse documentaire fotografie, april 1989).


Amsterdam, Gemeentearchief.

Den Haag, Gemeentearchief.

Den Haag, Koninklijk Huisarchief.

Den Haag, Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst.

Dordrecht, Gemeentearchief.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit.

Rotterdam, Gemeentearchief.

Utrecht, Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum.