PhotoLexicon, Volume 8, nr. 17 (December 1991) (en)

Katharina Behrend

Carla van der Stap


Katharina Behrend was active as an amateur photographer in the first three decades of the twentieth century. She shot portrait photos of her immediate and extended family as well as her circle of friends and acquaintances, she photographed during her travels both in the Netherlands and abroad, and when on mountain hikes and boat trips. Behrend’s oeuvre also includes nature shots: sometimes as the main theme, at other times as a background for nude shots. In the years 1912–1915, she produced industrial images of her husband’s machine factory in Leiden for advertising purposes. Behrend recorded her daily activities in the journals she kept, starting in 1904 until her death in 1973.




Katharina Eleonore Behrend is born in Leipzig, Germany, on 26 July as the daughter of Robert Behrend. Her father is a renowned professor of chemistry, first in Leipzig and later in Hanover.


Katharina Behrend attends the Höhere Tochterschule (‘Higher Daughter’s School’) in Leipzig.


The Behrend family moves to Hanover and resides at Herrenhauser Kirchweg 20. Katharina continues her schooling at the Höhere Tochterschule in Hanover.


Katharina Behrend takes her first photos at and around her parental home with her father’s 9×12 camera. She begins keeping a journal about her photography.


Behrend spends six months in Algeria at the invitation of an uncle, who is a counsel in Algiers. She records her stay both in written form and with photographs.


Based on an interest in her Dutch fiancé’s work, Behrend attends a series of lectures on the topic of ‘Inleiding in het machinewezen’ (‘Introduction to Machinery’) in Hanover.


On 14 May, Katharina marries the Dutchman Arij Haentjens, an engineer and co-owner of the steam machine factory ‘Monhemius en Haentjens’ in Leiden (from 1913 on ‘N.V. Overrijn’). The couple moves to Thorbeckestraat 10 in Leiden.


Behrend’s daughter Liza is born on 17 August.


Behrend and her family move to Hugo de Grootstraat 14 in Leiden.


A second daughter, Hilde, is born on 22 November.


Arij Haentjens quits his job as company director and starts working for the Internationale Nautische Handelsmaatschappij (‘International Nautical Trading Company’) in The Hague. The family moves to Gentsestraat 58 in Scheveningen.


This is the last year that Katharina photographs on a regular basis. She also stops annotating her photos.


Due to the building of the Atlantic Wall, the Haentjens-Behrend family moves to Oude Singel 118 in Leiden.


Behrend and her husband return once again to The Hague, residing at Stuyvesantstraat 101.


Behrend’s youngest daughter, Hilde, dies.


On 29 December—nine days after the death of her husband—Katharina Behrend dies in a hospital in The Hague from an intestinal ailment.


Walter Haentjens, Behrend’s grandson, donates the archive of Katharina Eleonore Behrend to the Stichting Nederlands Fotoarchief (‘Netherlands Photo Archive Foundation’; since 2003, the Collections Department at the Netherlands Photo Museum) in Rotterdam.


Katharina Behrend’s journals reveal that she led a varied, but structured life, with art and culture making up an important share of her activity. Everything that Behrend did, she approached in a rational way. She was extremely strict, both with herself and those around her.

After she married, Behrend learned to speak Dutch fluently, without an accent. She also acquired a thorough knowledge of the history of her adopted country. Besides photography, music was Behrend’s biggest hobby, with photography even falling to the wayside starting in the late 1920s because of it. For years, she accompanied the Christelijke Oratoriumvereniging ‘Con Amore’ (‘Christian Oratorium Association Con Amore’) on the piano.

From 1904—the year she started writing her journal and also began photographing—until 1928, Behrend noted down the negative number for each photo she took, virtually always the shutter speed, aperture, location, date, and sometimes the names of the people depicted. She regularly recorded the weather and lighting conditions, e.g. whether it was cloudy or whether the curtains were shut or open at the time the shot was being taken. Behrend also occasionally mentioned when she had developed her plates and/or film or made enlargements. Ideas or opinions concerning photography, however, are nowhere to be found in her journals or other notebooks. The custom of writing in journals and recording observations about her photos in notebooks was by no means out of the blue: her father had also left behind an extensive, typewritten autobiography.

Behrend had not received a qualified education. Born in well-to-do, liberal surroundings, she grew up in an atmosphere of creativity, art and culture. At the age of seventeen, she received conversation lessons in Italian, bible studies, instruction in art history, and piano lessons. She attended concerts on a regular basis, played musical instruments, photographed, participated in gymnastics and tennis, read classical literature, and spent much of her time outdoors in nature. Her brother Walter became a painter, while her sister Else studied painting for a time in Hanover under Professor Ernst Jordan, and in Berlin, under Franz Skarbina. The interest in art shared by all members of the Behrend family undoubtedly served as a breeding ground for Katharina’s photographic work.

It seems likely that Behrend acquired her interest in photography through her father’s own enthusiasm for his hobby. In Robert Behrend’s autobiography, he states that he purchased a 9×12 camera in 1890, as well as a number of handbooks, including Die Amateur-Photographie (‘Amateur Photography’) by Robert Talbot (published 1889). Katharina herself purchased the book Ratgeber im Photographieren (‘Counsellor in Photographing’), by L. David (published 1909). This book devotes significant attention to composition, with an emphasis on painterly effects in photography.

In her youth, Katharina acted in plays written by her sister. In 1904, she confided to her journal a desire to become an actress. She gave up this idea after a while, but wished to continue with oration, which she later did in her private family circle on a regular basis. These activities most certainly influenced the way in which she presented herself to others: Behrend’s self-portraits convey a self-assertive woman who confidently gazes into the lens. An early self-portrait standing naked in front of a draped cloth shows an independent woman who is free of shame. Behrend’s pose bears a remarkable similarity to Ingres’ painting The Source from 1856, as well as the nude photo that Nadar took in the same year, based on a painting by Christine Roux. One can only assume she was familiar with reproductions of these works. Several subjects in Behrend’s work are photographed rather extensively, thus resembling a reportage: her trip to Algeria, the hospital where her sister Else worked, and the industrial photos she took on behalf of her husband’s machine factory in Leiden.

In November 1905, Behrend departed for Algeria at the age of seventeen on the invitation of her uncle, who was a counsel in Algiers. Having travelled with her photo equipment, she took pleasant, detailed shots of the places she visited: the temple ruins in Timgad, a caravan with camels, a kasbah, and a nomadic settlement in Batna.

In 1911, Behrend took shots at a children’s hospital in Hanover, where her sister Else was employed as the head nurse. The hospital personnel pose holding babies on their arms; a nurse bends over a mobile children’s bed. As opposed to a dry registration, the photos depict a busy hospital, where people—albeit in posed positions—are at work.

Beginning in 1913, Behrend photographed machinery and other equipment manufactured at her husband’s factory on a regular basis over a period of several years. Just as in her reportage on the hospital, she chose for a clear and objective approach. The machinery is photographed with the smallest of details sharply in focus. Behrend also devoted her attention to the transporting of these machines by ship, as well as the people working at the factory.

For Behrend, posing in front of the camera was often accompanied by (feigned) actions. The ‘active’ event is a noticeable characteristic in her reportages, but the same applies to those instances when Behrend herself stands in front of the camera together with friends or when photographing the maidservants. She photographed this latter group quite frequently, preferably while they were working. In early twentieth-century handbooks on photography, this was a topic often recommended and therefore commonly encountered in the work of amateur photographers.

During her travels, outings, and festivities both at home and abroad, Katharina Behrend always had her camera on hand. She took shots of family members and friends having fun on the beach or posing for her camera on a boat trip, while stopping to pause on a hike, or standing triumphantly on a snowy mountaintop.

Besides her many staged (group) photos, Behrend also took instant snapshots. Several of these photos possess the same spontaneity found in the work of Henri Lartigue, such as a shot in which Behrend and a friend are doing gymnastics in the garden, or a beach shot in which her brother can be seen jumping over a beach chair at full speed. Occasionally she took unposed shots of random strangers in the street, such as during a flood in her neighbourhood (Hanover, 1908). Apparently, this was an incident she considered interesting enough to be registered.

In Behrend’s outdoor shots, nature plays an important, but usually subordinate role. However, she did take several well-made landscape photos that do not include people. Behrend experienced nature in a deep, almost religious manner. Her travel stories feature page-long descriptions of the natural surroundings in which she found herself. She also devoted substantial attention to the weather conditions and light in these accounts. This is also evident in Behrend’s landscape photography: the effect of light is what largely determines the atmosphere. Especially in the early years, her nature shots were influenced by art photography. They possess a painterly quality with a wide range of tones, yet without the soft-focus effect propagated by art photographers in photography magazines. From the moment she moved to the Netherlands, Behrend was impressed by the Dutch landscape. The sea and the country’s waterways were what she photographed most. In spite of Behrend’s devotion to landscape, landscape photography was rarely an aim in itself. The landscape was more than anything a ‘figure’ in her compositions, as in some of her group photos, which she interpreted as pastoral representations. In these photos, Behrend clearly acted as the director. She staged her images precisely, as if looking at a painting.

An interesting component of Behrend’s work is her nude photography. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a small group of intellectuals and artists were promoting the notion of ‘back to nature’. They strove for healthier nutrition, natural healing remedies, and the liberation of the body: the birthplace of this movement was in Germany, referred to as the ‘Freikörperkultur’ (‘Free Body Culture’). In addition to walking around nude, this cult of the body also included sports, gymnastics, folk dancing, and clothing made from natural materials. The Behrend family belonged to these ‘liberators of the body’: the children played outdoors and participated in gymnastics in the nude. Starting in 1904, Katharina regularly attended meetings on the reformation of women’s clothing and later also lectures given by the utopist and writer Frederik van Eeden.

In 1910 and 1911, Behrend took nude photos of people in the natural environment (in German referred to as ‘Freilichtaktfotografïe’, ‘Outdoor Nude Photography’), at approximately the same time Henri Berssenbrugge was photographing dancers from Angèle Sidow’s group in the nude and dressed in see-through fabrics. Just as with her group photos, Behrend gave these images an idyllic character by introducing a harmonious compositional balance between the nude and the natural surroundings. She also placed her photos in a classical context, bestowing titles on these images such as Faune belauschen eine Nymphe (‘Faun Bespying a Nymph’).

Behrend took her large 9×12 camera everywhere she went, even on mountain-climbing expeditions. A majority of the circa 900 negatives are on glass plate and were printed by Behrend herself. Fifty of these are nitrate negatives. Several black-and-white slide positives that Behrend copied from glass plate negatives have also survived. Lithographs were produced from several enlargements she made with an Ica Miraphot enlarger, to be published as prints.

In 1930, Behrend switched to a Zeiss Ikon Ikonta (4.5×6 cm) with roll film. From this time forward, she photographed a bit more haphazardly (out of focus, poorly lit) and with less inspiration than in the past.

What one observes in Behrend’s earlier work (up to 1928) is the carefully conceive composition. In many of her photos, the perspective is emphasised: she liked to work with diagonals and various ‘plans’ to introduce variation and depth in these images. While Behrend showed no inclination in her work towards blur or art photography manipulated by other means—for instance, at no point did she turn to fine printing (‘edeldruk’) processes—she most certainly employed a variety of photographic approaches in addressing her subjects. While she allowed strong contrasts in light in her nude poses and managed to convey a mysterious atmosphere in her reportages on Algeria, the machinery factory and the hospital were photographed as objectively as possible. In Behrend’s photos, the hospital becomes a model of transparency and orderliness, enhanced by the bright lighting. These images are completely in correspondence with a journal entry she wrote in 1910, in which she expresses her delight with the modern, very practical, and clean accommodations at one of the institutions she visited.

Katharina Behrend’s photography provides an interesting glimpse into the life of a woman from a well-to-do, conservative-liberal environment in the Netherlands at the start of the twentieth century. Behrend’s love for photography—unfettered by any fear of the arduous technical and physical aspects of the profession—her curiosity, and sense of adventure all bring to mind the image of her well-known ‘predecessor’, Alexandrine Tinne. Behrend’s photographic legacy, however, is not only more varied than that of Tinne’s due to its sheer size, but it also has an entirely different character based on the subjects she chose to photograph. What distinguishes Behrend’s oeuvre from that of most amateur photographers of her day is the cohesion—a coherent visual narrative depicting the life of an energetic woman with her own, modern notions—and the astonishing accuracy with which it is documented. Together with the extensive journals she kept, Katharina Behrend’s oeuvre holds a special cultural-historical value. In terms of the history of photography, equally relevant is the fact that Behrend is one of the first (female) amateur photographers in the Netherlands—after Alexandrine Tinne—to leave behind an interesting and, with respect to her choice of subject matter, unconventional oeuvre.


Secondary bibliography

Walter Haentjens, Katharina Behrend, unieke collectie van fotografe ontdekt, in Maandblad voor audio-visuele communicatie april 1975, p. 18-21.

Marianne Vermeijden, Rust, reinheid en regelmaat in NRC Handelsblad 8 februari 1991, Cultureel Supplement, p. 3.

Lex Dalen Gilhuys, Bommen op slapend Scheveningen. (Die vroege 10de mei), in Haagsche Courant 11 mei 1991.


Den Haag, Gemeentearchief.

Enkhuizen, Walter Haentjens, mondelingeinformatie.

Hannover, Gemeentearchief.

Loosdrecht, Liza Garthoff-Haentjens, mondelinge informatie.

Rotterdam, Nederlands Fotoarchief.


Rotterdam, Nederlands Fotomuseum.