PhotoLexicon, Volume 8, nr. 16 (September 1991) (en)

Friedrich Julius von Kolkow

Robbert van Venetië

Annet Zondervan


Friedrich Julius von Kolkow, a photographer in the city of Groningen, left behind an oeuvre that includes portraits, cityscapes, and architectural shots. Von Kolkow was also a pioneer in the areas of colour photography and scientific applied photography. In addition, he was one of the first to organise an exhibition on the history of photography. Von Kolkow also gave a lecture on this topic.




On 31 July, Friedrich Julius von Kolkow is born in the Prussian city of Danzig, as the son of Friedrich Reinhard von Kolkow, a merchant, and Julia Charlotte Moldenhauer.


Arriving from Hamburg, Von Kolkow settles in Groningen on 9 September.


Von Kolkow registers officially with the Groningen civil registry on 23 January. He is listed as unmarried, with no profession, and resides at at Oude Boteringestraat A226, the same address as the photographer Carl Georg Hunerjäger (born 23 December 1805 Oosterwode, Hannover, Germany – year of death unknown). Hunerjäger had moved to Groningen one year before Von Kolkow, after having initially visited the city as a travelling daguerreotypist in 1849. During this year, Hunerjäger was associated with the lithographer Ernestus Daniel Hendrikus Schutter (4 September 1830 Groningen – year of death unknown). Following Hunerjäger’s apparent withdrawal, a joint partnership is set up as of 1 November by Von Kolkow, Schutter, and Schutter’s brother-in-law, Hendrikus Petrus Braaksma, under the company name of ‘Von Kolkow & Co.’ Hunerjäger’s role after this time remains unclear, but on 3 July 1869, he departs with his family to Leiden, where he is known to have worked as a photographer for several years.


On 11 January, the first advertisement for ‘Von Kolkow en Comp.’ (‘Von Kolkow and Partners’) appears in the Provinciale Groninger Courant. On 18 January, the company’s studio opens at Oude Boteringestraat A250. Schutter, who by this time also refers to himself a photographer, owns the building at this address, which had previously served as the location of Hunerjäger’s company. Von Kolkow, who now lives at the address Oude Boteringestraat K62, becomes a member of the Groninger Natuurkundig Genootschap (‘Groningen Physics Society’).


Von Kolkow receives a silver medal for his entry to a photo exhibition organised by the Vereeniging voor Volksvlijt (‘Association of Industry’) in Amsterdam.


On 10 May, the merchants I.C. en P.J. Cramwinckel advertise ‘stereoscopic views of Groningen’, produced by Von Kolkow.


Von Kolkow has the partnership’s contact be dissolved, resulting in a dispute with Schutter concerning the use of the company’s name. In the end, Schutter continues running the studio on the Oude Boteringestraat exclusively under his own name, until moving to Rochester, New York, in 1872. In 1869, Von Kolkow announces plans to open up a studio of his own. At the international photo exhibition organised by the ‘Groningse departement’ van de Nederlandse Maatschappij tot bevordering der Nijverheid’ (‘Groningen Chapter’ of the ‘Netherlands Society for the Promotion of Industry’)—held at the ‘academy building’ in Groningen—Von Kolkow is awarded a bronze medal.


As previously announced, Von Kolkow opens his new studio at Oosterstraat E 204. He resides at Turftorenstraat 271. His sister, Clara Anna Elizabeth, moves in with him. On 7 October 1874, she returns to her birthplace, Danzig.


In May of this year, Von Kolkow photographs the Tsar Peter House in Zaandam. His photos are sold at this location as souvenirs. He begins taking photos of the Groningen city gates, which are threatened with demolition.


On the reverse side of his cardboard photo mountings, Von Kolkow refers to himself as ‘hoffotograaf van Z.K.H. Prins Hendrik der Nederlanden’ (‘court photographer to H.R.H. Prince Hendrik of the Netherlands’).


Von Kolkow approaches the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to acquire a commission for taking photographs of the Groningen city gates. His request is granted. He subsequently tries to expand the scope of this commission to the three northern provinces of the Netherlands. This time, however, without success. Von Kolkow’s correspondence with the ‘Commissie voor de Monumenten van Geschiedenis en Kunst’ (‘Commission for the Monuments of History and Art’)—which falls under the ‘afdeling Kunsten en Wetenschappen’ (‘Department of Arts and Sciences’) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—continues until 1878, in part via the commission’s correspondent in Assen.


Von Kolkow is awarded a ‘large prize medallion’ for his shots of microscopic preparations at the world exhibition in Philadelphia. The camera with which these images were taken is exhibited in Groningen in honour of the 75th anniversary of the Groninger Natuurkundig Genootschap. Von Kolkow—a member of the committee that organises the exhibition—also shows these microscopic shots on glass lantern plates (‘lichtbeelden’).


By the Royal Decree of 30 May 1877, Von Kolkow is naturalised as a citizen of the Netherlands.


Von Kolkow receives permission to use the title of ‘hoffotograaf van koning Willem III’ (‘court photographer to King William III’)


Von Kolkow resides at Oosterstraat 204a, entrance Donkersgang E 204.


In November, Von Kolkow presents a lecture on luminous materials at the Groninger Natuurkundig Genootschap.


On 15 October in St. Andreasberg (Prussia), Von Kolkow weds Hermine Sophie Philippine Robbelen (born in Hildesheim on 29 August 1847), who was formerly married to Wilhelm Brandes. She arrives in Groningen with her four-year-old daughter from this previous marriage.


On 3 January, E. Sanders takes over Von Kolkow’s photography studio at Oosterstraat E 204. Von Kolkow has apparently opened a new studio on the Groote Markt (the main market square) in Groningen. On 12 July of this year, Von Kolkow writes a letter to the Groningen city council regarding a substance that can be used to purify water at a bathing and swimming facility.


Von Kolkow resides at Kreupelstraatje B 6c. He states his company’s address as: ‘Groote Markt bij den Martinitoren, ingang Kreupelstraat’ (‘Groote Markt near the Martini Tower, entrance Kreupelstraat’).


Von Kolkow presents a lecture on Daguerre’s invention and the history of photography ‘from 1839 to the present day’ at the Groninger Natuurkundig Genootschap. For this occasion, he has also organised an international photo exhibition. Von Kolkow is made an honorary member of the Groninger Natuurkundig Genootschap.


Von Kolkow is a jury member for an international exhibition to promote photography organised by the ‘Groningse Amateur Photographen Vereeniging ‘Daguerre’ (‘Groningen Amateur Photographers Association ‘Daguerre’), which is held at De Harmonie (‘The Harmony’) in Groningen. As a non-competing participant, Von Kolkow receives an honourary diploma for his work, including colour photos produced with the method of (Gabriel) Lippman. During an exhibition organised by the ‘Geldersche Amateur-Fotografen Vereening’ (‘Gelderland Amateur Photographers Association’), held from 14 to 29 July at the association’s building ‘Musis Sacrum’, Von Kolkow receives a diploma of merit for his submission of scientific photographs.


Von Kolkow home address is listed as: Groote Markt B 6a. This is the same building as Kreupelstraatje B 6c.


Von Kolkow’s wife, Hermine, dies on 3 April. Von Kolkow is granted permission to return her bodily remains to Germany. According to the Groningen city address book, Von Kolkow’s address has been renumbered as Kreupelstraatje 2/2a.


Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Von Kolkow receives a tiepin decorated with initials from ‘His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Heir to the Throne of Russia’ as a token of gratitude for the photos presented by the photographer.


Von Kolkow’s entry to the world exhibition in Liège wins an award. The Dutch trade magazine Lux states that this award coincides with Von Kolkow’s fiftieth year as a photographer.


Von Kolkow becomes a member of the NFK (Nederlandse Fotografen Kunstkring, ‘Netherlands Photographers Art Society’). Von Kolkow is a jury member at the International Exposition in Milan, Italy, in the area of decorative art.


Von Kolkow submits ‘prospectuses for the supplying of fire-fighting materials’ to the city council of Groningen.


Von Kolkow takes part in the fifth ‘Congres International de Photographie’ (‘International Conference of Photography’) in Brussels.


Von Kolkow approaches the city council of Groningen, requesting permission to show cinematic films.


The building on the Groote Markt—where Von Kolkow has lived and worked for years—is sold. The new owner desires no more commercial enterprises at this location. Von Kolkow is obliged to vacate the premises by 1 January 1913. Because he has not yet found an alternative for his studio, he requests permission from the city council to temporarily store his inventory in the building ‘Toevluchtsoord’ (‘Place of Refuge’), on the St. Jansstraat. Von Kolkow’s request is turned down. A new business—which he had hoped to under a general partnership—never comes to fruition.


On 2, 3, and 5 May, the public sale of ‘the equipment of a renowned photography studio in Groningen’ is held at the auction house ‘Plantyn’, in Groningen. This photographic inventory is likely to have been that of Friedrich Julius von Kolkow von Kolkow, who was unable to find a successor.


Friedrich Julius von Kolkow dies on 4 August in Groningen.


Friedrich Julius von Kolkow was an extremely versatile photographer and a man with a wide range of interests. He preferred to abbreviate his name to Fr. Julius von Kolkow—the German abbreviation for ‘Freiherr’ (a noble title). Consequently, he was sometimes referred to as ‘Baron’ Von Kolkow. Both in the scientific application of photography as well as the development of colour photography in the Netherlands, Von Kolkow was a pioneer. He often photographed monuments of history and art, based on his personal interest and at his own instigation. On more than one occasion, he offered his unsolicited opinion regarding the preservation of historic monuments.

Besides his profession, he was also interested in the technology of fire fighting, swimming pools, and the new medium of film. When considering all of his activities and interventions, Von Kolkow was undoubtedly a well-known citizen of the city where he lived, Groningen. His zeal for doing business is evident in the sale of the colour-sensitive orthochromatic plates and printing frames, which he not only manufactured himself, but as stated in a notice in the Tijdschrift voor Photographie (‘Magazine of Photography’) of 1865, which he also designed.

At the time that Friedrich Julius von Kolkow settled in Groningen in 1863, there were already professional photographers present in the city. As opposed to the itinerant photographers in the earliest years of the medium, from 1855 on, various foreign photographers established their own permanent studios. In addition, there were also a number of people originating from Groningen who worked in this new field, with H. Janssen most renowned. A majority of the immigrant photographers originated from Germany: Maria Hille, Claus Prüter, Julius Sisting, H.H. Fraenkel, Carl George Hunerjäger, and Joseph Cohen all preceded Von Kolkow. While this ‘second wave’ of foreigners indeed actually settled in Groningen, this does not necessarily mean they stayed there for good. Within several years, many of these photographers moved to other locations in the Netherlands. In this respect, the city of Groningen may therefore be seen as a ‘port of entry’ for photographers emigrating to the Netherlands.

It remains unclear whether Von Kolkow had already been schooled in photography by the time he arrived in Groningen. According to the notice in the magazine Lux in 1905: ‘this year Mr. Von Kolkow commemorates his golden anniversary as a photographer’, which implies that Von Kolkow began working with the medium at the age of sixteen. The civil registry that cites Von Kolkow’s arrival in the city, however, makes no mention of a profession. Von Kolkow initially moved in with the photographer Hunerjäger, who was already working in Groningen. It is therefore also possible that Von Kolkow acquired his knowledge of the basic principles of photography from his compatriot.

In the year that Von Kolkow, who was then twenty-four, arrived in Groningen, Hunerjäger was still associating with Ernestus Schutter, the owner of the building in which his studio was located. Once Schutter began to associate with Von Kolkow, Hunerjäger’s name disappeared from the partnership. There is no data to substantiate the possible role of Hunerjäger in the company during the years 1864 to 1869. Within a year, Von Kolkow succeeded in setting up a company under his own name—Von Kolkow & Comp. (‘Von Kokow & Partner’)—at the very same address where Hunerjäger had previously resided. Von Kolkow’s collaboration with his business partner Schutter failed to go as planned. Von Kolkow subsequently ended the partnership in 1869. An advertisement in the Provinciale Groninger Courant of 27 November 1869 clearly states that Schutter’s initial intention had been to continue running the company on his own under the same name. He likely wished to profit from the public’s familiarity with the company name, which had already been established. Von Kolkow protested against this, however, as affirmed by a letter sent in to the same newspaper and appearing on its pages on 29 November. Schutter, who had previously managed the company’s portrait studio, subsequently set up his own photography studio.

Within a short time, Friedrich Julius von Kolkow became one of Groningen’s most prominent photographers. Prior to the arrival of Johannes Kramer, Von Kolkow’s most important competitor was Johannes Egenberger—a painter, and from 1857 on, the director of the Groningse Academie van Beeldende Kunsten en Zeevaartkunde ‘Minerva’ (‘Groningen Academy of Fine Arts and Nautical Science ‘Minerva’)—who had begun photographing around the time that Von Kolkow arrived in Groningen. An unconfirmed source of 1932 even states that Von Kolkow had obtained his knowledge of photography from Egenberger. Comparing the activities of these two photographers is interesting. Both Von Kolkow and Egenberger drew their clientele from among members of the academic circles of the University of Groningen and those of the various societies that Groningen boasted. Egenberger was chiefly known for his portrait photos, which were admired especially for their artistic quality. Considering his background as a painter, this comes as no surprise. Von Kolkow, by contrast, sought a connection with those involved in the exact sciences at the university, in accordance with his own ideas concerning photography. It was not necessarily the artistic quality of photography as an independent medium that stood first and foremost in his mind, but rather its functional nature in the interest of science and society in general.

Von Kolkow’s photos had already drawn interest even in his first years working as a photographer, as a review in the Groninger Courant of 27 July 1869 reveals. Regarding Von Kolkow’s entry to a photography exhibition organised by the ‘Gronings Departement der Nederlandse Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Nijverheid’ (‘Groningen Department of the Netherlands Society for the Promotion of Industry’), one journalist wrote: ‘Our fellow citizen Von Kolkow has demonstrated both his diligence as well as his comprehensive labour in the area of photography. (…) We welcome in this artist someone who apparently possesses ample talent and an ample will, who will only have to concentrate more, and who will have to thoroughly familiarise himself with the results of the literature in his field, in order to raise it to a beautiful level. Even though the required finishing touch is as yet lacking in his work, it is nevertheless very worthy of praise and it deserves recognition in more ways than one when considering domestic art production.’ Von Kolkow’s natural-born talent was apparently recognised at an early stage.

One of Von Kolkow’s specialties was architectural photography. For the souvenir industry, he produced countless cityscapes of Groningen, which he offered to his clients in various formats, e.g. cartes-de-visite, cabinet card, and stereo photos. Architectural photos that were used for business purposes, e.g. photographs of the construction of water locks and railways, were printed in a larger format. Von Kolkow’s photographic series featuring Groningen’s city gates, shot in the period 1874 to 1878, also falls under this category.

When the demolition of these sometimes very old structures—in the interest of the city’s expansion—became an important issue, Von Kolkow’s name was mentioned in the Groninger Courant: ‘Mr. Von Kolkow wishes to rescue the Heerepoort from oblivion—which with the demolition of the fortification works has lost every reason for being, but is remarkable as a monumental building and will therefore for the time being continue to exist in part—and to produce a photographic image of it.’ Von Kolkow’s ambition to use photography as a means to document this vanishing cultural legacy was by no means limited to his own city. As early as the autumn of 1874, he took the initiative of contacting the recently established ‘Commissie van Rijksadviseurs van de afdeling Kunsten & Wetenschappen’ (‘National Advisory Commission of the Department of Arts & Sciences’), an important advisory board of the Ministry of Domestic Affairs. In a letter, he asked ‘to be charged with the production of photographs of the monuments in the three northern provinces.’ To demonstrate his ability, the Rijksadviseurs (‘National Advisors’) had access to several of Von Kolkow’s shots, among which was likely a photo of the ‘A-poort’ (‘Gate A’) in Groningen. In the end, Von Kolkow was commissioned to carry out a systematic documentation, but only of the fortification works to be demolished in Groningen. As a result, his large-scale plan to document all of the monuments in the provinces Friesland, Drenthe, and Groningen never came to fruition. W.L. Schiffer, a representative of the Rijksadviseurs living in Assen, corresponded with Von Kolkow regarding the commission’s conclusion of the project—today preserved in the archive of the Ministry of Domestic Affairs and Water Management, found at the National Archives. The letters clearly reveal that the Rijksadviseurs had very set ideas regarding the formal characteristics of the photographs that Von Kolkow was expected to deliver. The photographer was obliged to work according to stipulations made by Schiffer.

In response to two of Kolkow’s shots that were apparently finished in a way that failed to meet the commission’s specifications, Schiffer declares: ‘There is continual traffic going through the Oosterpoort, so that showing the port without extraneous elements was not possible. (…) The photographing of the Steentilpoort (…) has not been carried out according to my stipulations. I have expressed the wish, namely, that this gateway, which is of little significance from an architectural standpoint, would be photographed along with a couple of the stepped gables that in Groningen are disappearing more and more (…) It appears I have given the photographer the idea that I was asking for a so-called cityscape. In the meantime, the gate is visible and, as far as that goes, the goal has been achieved.’ What the Rijksadviseurs desired was an objective registration of the architecture to be demolished. It was in fact the documentary quality of photography that was valuable to them. Especially the new medium’s speed provided an advantage, outweighing the traditional means of a drawing. By the time Von Kolkow had come into contact with the Rijksadviseurs, the demolition of the Groningen fortification works was already well under way. Accordingly, there was not always enough time to measure and draw up all of the city gates. In practice, however, it turned out that photography was not always as expedient as one hoped. Even though Von Kolkow—who had demanded exclusive rights for this commission—had taken a number of his shots several years before, it still took him almost three years to deliver the complete series of eleven photos to his clients. His excuse was a busy working schedule and the fact that the photos were made in carbon print.

Von Kolkow was interested in experimenting with a variety of photographic techniques. Remarkably, all of these techniques are in relation to scientific research. Through his involvement in photolithography, the development of colour photography, and microphotography, Von Kolkow contributed to the expansion of the scientific application of photography.

The process of photolithography—introduced by the Frenchman Alphonse Poitevin around 1855, followed by a variant developed by the Dutchman Eduard Asser in 1859—made it possible to print images in large quantities, while maintaining a consistent quality. Photolithographs submitted to various exhibitions confirm that Von Kolkow was also a practitioner of this technique. One shot taken at a photo exhibition in 1894—perhaps by Von Kolkow himself—shows the manner in which the photographer had set up his stand. Because of his involvement as a jury member at this exhibition organised by the ‘Groningse Amateur-Photographen-Vereeniging ‘Daguerre’ (‘Groningen Amateur Photographers Association ‘Daguerre’), Von Kolkow was a non-competing participant. Notwithstanding, his colour photographs earned him an honorary diploma of merit.

The development of colour photography was important because it contributed to photography’s ability to convey reality—a property most certainly desired by those working in the field of science. Von Kolkow managed to achieve progress by experimenting with interference photography according to the method admonished by Gabriel Lippmann. Concerning Von Kolkow’s entry to the Internationale Fotografie- Tentoonstelling (‘International Photography Exhibition’) in Arnhem, the Tijdschrift voor Photographie printed the following in 1894: ‘The biggest attraction of this exhibition was most certainly the entry of Mr. Von Kolkow from Groningen. It was here that we saw direct shots of spectrums and objects, in their natural form and in natural colours, according to the interference method of Professor G. Lippmann of Paris. It was more than surprising to view these spectra with diagonally falling light. And the blossoming rose branches or colourful birds in their natural colours as photos for the eyes to see—we would almost say—is even more amazing than the invention of photography itself.’ With microphotography, the connection to science is obvious. From the moment that photography was invented, various scientists in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Belgium had experimented with taking photographs of microscopic images, including Samuel Highley, Adolphe Bertsch, and Adolphe Neyt. Such research was regularly mentioned in magazines such as Volksvlijt (‘Industry’) and Algemeene Konst- en Letterbode (‘General Art and Literature Courier’). In 1841, this latter publication reported on the first exhibition of microscopic images in the Netherlands. The pharmacist C.T. Marius and the mechanics scientist C. Bekker had produced images in the form of small daguerreotypes and subsequently shown them to members of an association in Arnhem called ‘Prodesse Conamur’. The precision of the photographic registration and the speed with which such images could be made were the major advantages of a microphoto—as opposed to a drawing—of the preparation. It remains unclear whether Von Kolkow acquired this specialisation on his own. In 1864, trade journals such as the Tijdschrift voor Photographie began publishing treatises on a regular basis, which described in detail the technique’s application as well as the cameras most suitable for this purpose.

Von Kolkow viewed photography above all as a utilitarian medium. This is not only affirmed by his interest in certain techniques, his shots of the Groningen fortification works, and the context in which they were taken: it is also evident in the work he did for the Groninger Natuurkundig Genootschap (‘Groningen Physics Association’). Von Kolkow became a member of this association in 1865. Annual reports show that in addition to taking portraits of the organisation’s professors, he devoted much of his time to microphotography. These same documents also indicate that Von Kolkow had mastered this specialisation as early as 1875. Some of the shots of preparations that he took were converted into glass lantern plates.

Scientists such as Dirk Huizinga, professor of physiology and biological chemistry, and Enno D. Wiersma, a private instructor and later a professor of psychiatry, used these plates during their lectures. The society’s annual report of 1875 cites a lecture presented by Petrus de Boer, a professor of botany: ‘… showed several exquisitely successful photographs of microscopic botanical objects produced by Mr. Von Kolkow for a competition organised in Vienna, and awarded there with silver.’

Von Kolkow’s microphotographs were not just admired by the professors at the Groninger Natuurkundig Genootschap. The various prizes he garnered for these kinds of shots likewise confirm the appreciation of others in the field of photography. A jury report for the exhibition of 1894 in Arnhem assessed Von Kolkow’s entry in the following manner: ‘(…) which the participants [Von Kolkow & Co.] have displayed a wide array of objects, including many important applications of photography in the area of science, e.g. very clear microscopic enlargements, the solar spectrum and several virtually successful photolithographic products.’

On the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Groninger Natuurkundig Genootschap in 1876, the projection of Von Kolkow’s photos of microscopic objects was included as part of the festivities. In addition, the camera with which these images were taken was also placed on exhibit. Von Kolkow’s membership in the organising committee for the celebration shows just how actively involved he was in the society. It would eventually lead to his being made an honourary member in 1891.

The importance that Von Kolkow placed on the relationship of photography and science is perhaps most evident in his lecture on the history of photography. At the invitation of the Groninger Natuurkundig Genootschap, he presented his lecture twice—on 4 and 12 February 1890—entitled ‘Over Daguerre’s uitvinding en de geschiedenis der photographie van 1839 af tot heden’ (‘Concerning Daguerre’s Invention and the History of Photography from 1839 to Present’).

The content of this lecture was reported in the Provinciale Groninger Courant of 6 and 13 February, and in the Nieuwe Groninger Courant of 5, 8 and 12 February. Von Kolkow first speaks about the earliest experiments with light-sensitive materials conducted by Thomas Wedgewood and Humphry Davy. He then provides an overview of photography’s early history based on the discoveries of Joseph Nicéphore Nièpce, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, and William Henri Fox Talbot. In the second part of his lecture, Von Kolkow talks about modern photography, including topics such as heliography, photolithography, collotype, carbon print, as well as the making of sensitive plates and microscopic preparations. Next, he shows a print of a ‘photographie instantanée met magnesiumlicht’ (‘instant photograph with magnesium light’). In addition, he speaks extensively about the ways in which the medium can be applied. The future role that he sees photography playing in science is addressed here explicitly: ‘Gone are the days when photography is practiced exclusively for portraits and landscapes. It is no longer a profession, a craft, it has become a science: a means to spread light at that point where our knowledge seemed to go no further. Through [photography], one can state facts that were unexplainable without it: yes, it brought facts to light, which had not even been suspected. It became the indispensable maidservant of science, art and industry. It teaches the physiologist how people walk, how the birds fly; to the astronomer, it supplies images with total accuracy of objects that appear in the sky and enables him to discover others; it helps the physician in studying the symptoms of illness; it provides the legal expert with the indisputable proof of punishable acts; members of the police force with the means to track down criminals. It exposes the production of fraudulent food products (…) The photographic eye can see what the physical eye cannot see. The first does not become fatigued as does the latter. On the contrary, the first sees more the longer it looks, with increasing precision.’

Von Kolkow emphasises the functional nature of photography. His choice of words and his ideas point in the direction of notions espoused by the followers of New Photography some forty years later. The notion that ‘objective’ photography was practiced in a well-conceived manner as early as the the nineteenth century has already been suggested, based on the oeuvres of industrial photographers such as Pieter Oosterhuis, Jacobus van Gorkom, and Julius Perger. Von Kolkow’s ideas and oeuvre are as well in accordance with this tradition of ‘Old Objectivism’. To accompany the aforementioned lecture, Von Kolkow organised an international photo exhibition at the meeting hall of the Natuurkundig Genootschap, called ‘het Concerthuis’ (the ‘concert house’). This exhibition illustrated Von Kolkow’s exposé. It was accessible only to a choice public, consisting of members of the Groninger Natuurkundig Genootschap, the Genootschap Pictura (‘Society Pictura’), the Maatschappij der Nijverheid (‘Society of Industry’), as well as those working in education. The thirty-two participating photographers hailed from the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Austria. Representing the Netherlands were Richard Kameke, Professor J.C. Kapteyn, P. Noordhoff, M. Berghuis, G.P. Smith, and Scholtens & Zoon. As the organiser, Von Kolkow wanted to show just how rapidly photography had managed to evolve in the past thirty years. For this reason, he also showed a number of photos taken thirty years before. An account in the Nieuwe Groninger Courant states the following: ‘At the time, they were a veritable triumph of human ingenuity; when compared to the level currently achieved, they almost come across as being ridiculous.’ The exhibition was a success, so much so that it was extended for several days and made accessible to those who had not been invited for an entry fee of twenty-five cents.

Von Kolkow’s areas of interest were by no means strictly limited to photography. In 1883, for instance, he wrote a letter to the city council bringing to its attention: ‘a substance (…) to improve water purification in the bathing and swimming facilities’. In 1907, he sent prospectuses to the mayor and city council members of Groningen regarding the sale of fire-fighting materials. At the age of 73, he negotiated on behalf of the ‘N.V. voor Wetenschappelijke Cinematografie’ (‘N.V. of Scientific Cinematography’), which organised a series of shows in Groningen from 19 to 26 September 1912. According to the minutes of a board meeting of the Groninger Natuurkundig Genootschap, dated 9 October 1911, a year earlier Von Kolkow had apparently tried to organise ‘shows in the area of science by means of a cinematograph’, to be held at the association’s meeting hall. Despite the board’s sympathy for his proposition, the event never took place—in all likelihood based on fears of a potential fire hazard and competition with the regular movie theatres.

When attempting to find a new location for his business in 1912, Von Kolkow’s notoriety apparently failed him. The new owner of the building in which his store was located no longer wished to have any commercial enterprise on his premises. The city council stated that they were dismissing Von Kolkow’s written request dated 11 December to ensure a temporary storage space for his inventory, which would have given him more time to seek a ‘modern accommodation that meets the requirements of the time’. This letter also establishes that Von Kolkow hoped to transfer his business to a second party in the form of a general partnership. Nevertheless, there is no mention of a potential candidate. In all likelihood, he was unable to find a successor. An auction catalogue of the Verkooplokaal ‘Plantyn’ (‘Plantyn Selling Hall’) from May 1918 declares the public sale of ‘the instruments of a renowned photography studio in Groningen’. While Von Kolkow’s name is not mentioned specifically, it seems reasonable to assume this concerns the sale of his inventory.

Von Kolkow’s archive has been partially preserved. No scientific applications have survived—microphotos or photolithography—that can be attributed to him. In 1921, Gerrit Pieter Smith (born 11 August 1868 in Groningen – deceased 20 January 1933 in Groningen)—a member of the Groningen city council, the director of a steam-roasting coffee company and a tea dealership, and an amateur photographer—donated various glass plate negatives of city gates and cityscapes to the ‘Museum van Oudheden voor Stad en Lande’ (‘Museum of Antiquities for City and Countryside’). In addition, a number of negatives depicting the Groningen city gates ended up in Groningen City Archive via the photographer Piet Kramer (born 2 February 1878 in Groningen – death 2 March 1952 in Groningen). Kramer’s negatives catalogue from about 1900 cites several locations where Von Kolkow is also known to have photographed. The glass plate negatives in the city archive have a double numbering along their edges, with one of the numbers crossed out. These concern images for which prints made by Von Kolkow are known to exist. Piet Kramer, who was also specialised in architectural photography, had apparently taken over these negatives.

While Von Kolkow was a pioneer in the field of the scientific application of photography and the development of colour photography, his influence was limited—in part because he was rarely involved in the discussions that were conducted in Dutch photography magazines. This may perhaps be attributed to his own notion of photography as a utilitarian, applied art. Around the turn of the century, most of these discussions centred on photography as a form of artistic expression, a subject that Von Kolkow is unlikely to have embraced. In terms of his photographic oeuvre and his technical experiments, he was a proponent of what one could in retrospect describe as ‘Old Objectivism’ in Dutch photography. His primary interest was always in its functional aspects. When one compares Von Kolkow’s ideas about photography with those of the ‘New Photography’ movement that emerged around 1930, then the similarity of spirit is remarkable.

Once Von Kolkow’s photography firm went out of business, his name was forgotten rather quickly. Yet it was precisely during the final years of his life that a substantial appreciation emerged for the manner in which he approached his profession. In preparation for the tercentennial celebration of the University of Groningen in 1912, the matter of choosing a photographer for a commemorative publication was raised at a committee meeting. Professor J.W. Moll proposed Von Kolkow as an eligible candidate, who in his opinion was ‘the only photographer in Groningen who has a feel for scientific matters and who will go to great troubles for this endeavour.’


Primary bibliography

(Advertentie) Groninger Courant 11 januari 1865.

(Advertentie) Provinciale Groninger Courant 14 januari 1865.

(Advertentie) Groninger Courant 10 mei 1868.

(Advertentie) Provinciale Groninger Courant 27 november 1869.

(Ingezonden brief) Provinciale Groninger Courant 29 november 1869.

(Advertentie) Provinciale Groninger Courant 30 november 1869.

Secondary bibliography

Auteur onbekend, Nieuwe copiëerramen van Von Kolkow, in Tijdschrift voor Photographie 2 (1865), p. 79.

(Verslag tentoonstelling) Groninger Courant 7 juli 1869.

(Verslag tentoonstelling) Groninger Courant 13 juli 1869.

(Verslag tentoonstelling) Groninger Courant 20 juli 1869.

(Verslag tentoonstelling) Groninger Courant 24 juli 1869.

(Verslag tentoonstelling) Groninger Courant 27 juli 1869.

(Verslag tentoonstelling) Groninger Courant 28 juli 1869.

(Verslag tentoonstelling) Groninger Courant 30 juli i86g.

Groninger Courant 31 maart 1876.

(Naturalisatie van Von Kolkow) Nederlandsche Staats-Courant (15 juni 1877) 138.

(Aankondiging lezing en opening tentoonstelling) Provinciale Groninger Courant februari 1890.

(Verslag lezing) Nieuwe Groninger Courant 5 februari 1890.

(Verslag lezing) Provinciale Groninger Courant 6 februari 1890.

(Verslag tentoonstelling) Nieuwe Groninger Courant 8 februari 1890.

(Vervolg verslag lezing) Nieuwe Groninger Courant 12 februari 1890.

(Vervolg verslag lezing) Provinciale Groninger Courant 13 februari 1890.

(Aankondiging verlenging tentoonstelling) Provinciale Groninger Courant 17 februari 1890.

W., Internationale fotografie-tentoonstelling te Arnhem, in Tijdschrift voor Photographie 22 (1894), p. 106-109.

Auteur onbekend, Varia, in Lux 16 (1905), p. 494.

Auteur onbekend, Mededeelingen, in Fotografisch Maandschrift 2 (oktober 1906), p. 27.

Ve Congres International de Photographie. Bruxelles 1910. Compte rendu, procès-verbaux, rapports, notes et documents, Brussel, (Emile Bruylant) 1912, p. 27.

G.O. ‘t Hooft, Het Lippmann kleurenprocédé, in Focus 5 (30 november 1918) 24, p. 360, 362.

J.L. Muller, Kleurenfotografie, Bloemendaal (Focus) z.j. (1923), p. 154.

A.T. Schuitema Meijer, Fotografen in het 19e eeuwse Groningen, in Groningse Volksalmanak 1961, p. 144-148.

A.T. Schuitema Meijer, Zó fotografeerden zij Groningen. 1868-1918, Groningen (N.V. Dijkstra’s Drukkerij v/h Boekdrukkerij Gebroeders Hoitsema) z.j. (ca. 1964), p. 6-8, afb. 1-5, 9, 18, 25, 29, 42-43, 59, 61-62, 64, 70, 76, 89-90, 92.

Jan Coppens (samenstelling), Een camera vol stilte. Nederland in het begin van de fotografie 1839-1875, Amsterdam (Meulenhoff), 1976, ongepag., afb. 188.

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1839-1920, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p. 24, 38, 63, 99.

Flip Bool en Kees Broos (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1920-1940, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1979, p. 105.

Blikvanger, Fotograaf Von Kolkow: oog voor stadsgezichten, in Nieuwsblad van het Noorden 1 juni 1979.

Catalogus tent. ‘Fotografie in de Marne 1900-1930’, Leens (Ommelander Museum) 1982, p. 3, 14, 24, 27.

Robbert van Venetië en Annet Zondervan, Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse architectuurfotografie, Rotterdam (Uitgeverij 010) 1989, p.6, 9, 51 (met foto’s).

Jan Coppens, Laurent Roosens en Karel van Deuren, ‘… door de enkele werking van het licht…’. Introductie en integratie van de fotografie in België en Nederland, 1839-1869, Antwerpen (Gemeentekrediet) 1989, p.265.


Natuurkundig Genootschap (Groningen), vanaf 1865, erelid vanaf 1890.

Organisatiecomité tentoonstelling n.a.v. 75-jarig bestaan van het Natuurkundig Genootschap (Groningen), Groningen 1876.

Jury, Internationale Tentoonstelling tot Bevordering der Photographie, Groningen 1894.

Jury voor Decoratieve Kunst, Internationale expositie, Milaan 1906.

NFK, vanaf ca. oktober 1906.


Gouden ring met briljanten, ‘als buitengewone belooning, voor aan het Russische Hof geleverde Photografiën, van Z.M. den Czaar Alexander III, Keizer van Russland.’

1866 Zilveren medaille, (tentoonstelling in het Paleis van Volksvlijt), Amsterdam.

1868 Ehrenpreis gestiftet von Friedrich Ritter v. Voigtlander.

1869 Bronzen medaille, (tentoonstelling van de Nederlandsche Maatschappij ter Bevordering van Nijverheid), Groningen.

1872 Zilveren medaille, (tentoonstelling te Winsum).

1872 Zilveren medaille, (tentoonstelling te Hoogezand).

1873 Medaille van verdienste, Wereld-Tentoonstelling, Wenen.

1873 Zilveren medaille, (tentoonstelling te Veendam).

1874 Zilveren medaille, (tentoonstelling te Appingedam).

1874 Zilveren medaille, (tentoonstelling te Warffum).

1875 Zilveren Voigtlander prijsvraag medaille.

1876 Medaille van verdienste, (tentoonstelling van het Photographische Gesellschaft), Wenen.

1876 Grote prijs medaille, Wereld-Tentoonstelling (International Exhibition), Philadelphia.

1877 Medaille voor Kunst en Wetenschap van Z.K.H, den Groothertog van Oldenburg.

1879 Gouden medaille voor Kunst en Wetenschap van Z.M. den Koning van Württemberg te dragen aan het lint der Frederiksorde.

1894 Eerediploma van Verdienste (inzending buiten mededinging), Internationale Tentoonstelling tot Bevordering der Photographie, Groningen.

1894 Diploma van Verdienste, Internationale Fotografie-Tentoonstelling, Arnhem.

1905 Gouden medaille, Wereld-Tentoonstelling, Luik.


1866 (g) Amsterdam, Paleis van Volksvlijt.

1869 (g) Groningen, Academiegebouw, (Nederlandsche Maatschappij ter Bevordering van Nijverheid).

1872 (g) Winsum.

1872 (g) Hoogezand.

1873 (g) Wenen, Wereld-Tentoonstelling (Weltausstellung).

1873 (g) Veendam.

1874 (g) Appingedam.

1874 (g) Warffum.

1876 (g) Wenen, (Photographische Gesellschaft).

1876 (g) Philadelphia, Wereld-Tentoonstelling (International Exhibition).

1876 (g) Groningen, (tentoonstelling n.a.v. 75-jarig bestaan van het Natuurkundig Genootschap (Groningen)).

1894 (g) Groningen, De Harmonie, Internationale Tentoonstelling tot Bevordering der Photographie (Amateur Photographen Vereeniging Daguerre).

1894 (g) Arnhem, Musis Sacrum, Internationale Fotografie-Tentoonstelling.

1905 (g) Luik, Wereld-Tentoonstelling.

1982 (g) Leens, Ommelander Museum, ‘Fotografie in de Marne 1900-1930’.


Den Haag, Koninklijk Huisarchief.

Den Haag, Algemeen Rijksarchief.

Groningen, Gemeentearchief.

Groningen, W.J. Roelfsema Hzn. (ongepubliceerd manuscript: Photografie in Groningen, augustus 1932).

Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.

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).

Zaandam, Gemeentearchief.


Assen, Provinciaal Archief van Drenthe.

Den Haag, Algemeen Rijksarchief.

Den Haag, Koninklijk Huisarchief.

Den Haag, Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst.

Groningen, Gemeentearchief.

Groningen, Rijksarchief.

Groningen, Universiteitsmuseum.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit Leiden.

Utrecht, Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum.