PhotoLexicon, Volume 9, nr. 19 (September 1992) (en)

Henk van der Horst

Annet Zondervan


Henk van der Horst was a young photographer in The Hague, who in the 1930s applied the principles of New Photography that had been formulated by a previous generation. His modestly sized oeuvre, which in terms of his choice of subject matter remains quite fragmentary, forms a stylistic whole. Van der Horst only photographed for a brief period. He was arrested at the beginning of the Second World War for his participation in the resistance and subsequently died one year later at the Polish concentration camp Gross-Rosen.




Hendrik Johannes Wilhelmus (Henk) van der Horst is born on 22 August in The Hague.


After having completed secondary school, Henk van der Horst attends the KABK (Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, ‘Royal Academy of Art’) in The Hague. At this school, where his father is an administrative employee, Van der Horst studies in the department of architecture. He receives his diploma within four years.


In September 1934, Van der Horst begins attending a follow-up programme at the KABK in ‘Constructietekenen’ (‘Construction Drawing’). In March 1935, he disenrols. The reason noted on his student card is military conscription. In spite of this, Van der Horst works from July to November for the D. Huurman construction company in Delft as a junior architectural draftsman. Van der Horst enrols once again at the academy, this time in the follow-up programme ‘Architectuur en Constructieberekening’ (‘Architecture and Construction Calculation’).


In October, Van der Horst quits stops with his architecture study. Instead, he starts taking evening classes in the department of ‘Reclameontwerpen’ (‘Advertising Design’) as a second-year student.


Based on his high study marks, Van der Horst is allowed to skip an entire academic year and is promoted to the fourth year of the full-time study programme ‘Reclameontwerpen’. He audits these classes.


On 11 January, Van der Horst leaves the KABK without having received his a diploma as an advertising designer. For a brief time, he works as an architectural draftsman for the Rijksgebouwendienst (‘Dutch Government Buildings Agency’). In the same year, Van der Horst decides to make his living as a freelance photographer and advertising designer. His studio is located at his parental home at Thomsonlaan 208 in The Hague.


Van der Horst travels to Hungary in 1938, together with a childhood friend, the painter Kees Andrea. Working as a photographer and advertising designer, Van der Horst comes into contact with Cas Oorthuys, Piet Zwart, and Henri Pieck.

Van der Horst works on commission for clients such as the Economische Voorlichtingsdienst (‘Economic Information Service’) and the ‘Rijksbureau voor Oude Materialen en Afvalstoffen’ (‘National Agency of Old Materials and Waste Products’). Van der Horst shoots portraits for the photographer Hans Polderman in Heemstede. In addition, he publishes his photos in various magazines, including Wereldkroniek (‘World Chronicle’).


On 2 November, Van der Horst marries Bertha Adela (Bertha) Dikker (born 13 May 1907 in Antwerp). Dikker is a communist-oriented teacher of the French language. Prior to marrying Van der Horst, she lived in the ‘Gemeenschapshuis’ (‘Community House’) in Amsterdam. Dikker is also friends with the communist politician Ko Beusemaker and works at the secretariat for the ‘Comité Hulp aan Spanje’ (‘Action Committee Help for Spain’).

The couple’s marriage—Van der Horst is Catholic, his wife, Jewish—is seen as a way to protect Dikker from the German occupying forces. At the time of the German occupation, Henk van der Horst becomes a member of the illegal political party CPH (Communistische Partij Holland, ‘Communist Party Holland’).


On 5 August 1941, Van der Horst is arrested for his participation in the resistance movement. Via Scheveningen and Amersfoort, he is transported to the Polish concentration camp Gross-Rosen. Following a brief time in Buchenwald, Van der Horst is moved back to Gross-Rosen, where he dies on 26 November 1942.


Bertha van der Horst-Dikker dies on 5 July 1991 in The Hague.


Henk van der Horst was actually only able to work for five years as a photographer. Van der Horst’s oeuvre, encompassing the years 1936 to 1941, serves as an example of how a young photographer applied the ideas of New Photography. In his documentary reportages, he introduced New Objectivist elements of style, such as a diagonal composition, attention to detail, strong light-and-dark contrasts, and a sharp, clear expression of texture. These reportages, which were published in different magazines, provide a glimpse of life in The Hague during the 1930s. In addition, Van der Horst also did portrait photography.

Van der Horst belonged to the sixth year of students who studied ‘Reclameontwerpen’ (‘Advertising Design’) at the KABK (Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, ‘Royal Academy of Art’) in The Hague. Classes in photography were an important part of the study programme in this department. Since 1930, the teachers in charge—Gerrit Kiljan, Paul Schuitema, and from 1935, Paul Guermonprez—had been able to pass their functionalist ideas on to a younger generation. Among them were Emmy Andriesse, Paul Hartland, and Carel Tirion, who would all play a major a major role in photography after World War II.

Van der Horst, who also received lessons from Kiljan, Schuitema, and Guermonprez, is certain to have been a talented student. He skipped the first year of ‘Reclameontwerpen’ (‘Advertising Design’), most likely on the basis of his diploma in architecture, which he had also obtained at the academy. He completed his second year with an excellent academic report. With the exception of a ‘six’ for the class ‘Photographic Theory’, he received one seven, one eight, and four nines, with the latter marks for classes in ‘Design’ and ‘Photographic Technique’. In the end, however, Van der Horst broke off his study prematurely, without obtaining his diploma, in order to work as a freelance photographer and advertising designer. It was an usual move in a period of economic recession—a difficult time for anyone trying to find work as a photographer/designer.

In many of Van der Horst’s photos, the stylistic ideas of his teachers are clearly observable. This can especially be seen in shots of subjects that Kiljan and Schuitema were likely to have inspired. In his images of the port of Rotterdam, in which bridges and shipping traffic figure as the main elements, Van der Horst expresses the dynamic of the big city—just as Schuitema—in disorienting bird’s-eye perspectives and diagonals that cut across the entire image. In one case, Schuitema is even quoted very literally: just as his teacher several years before, Van der Horst also climbed to the top of the Jan Kuiten Bridge in Rotterdam to capture the traffic below with his camera tilted. Van der Horst’s shots of people on the beach on a warm summer day at Scheveningen are reminiscent of images from the film Scheveningen, which Gerrit Kiljan made in 1931. In the same beach town, Van der Horst photographed two young boys playing foosball while a young girl looks on. Again he tilts his camera. The effect of disorientation is intensified by the shadows of people looking down at the scene from the boulevard above. One of these figures is the photographer himself. Because both the second and the sixth person from the left appear to be taking photographs, there is no way to determine with certainty which shadow belongs to Van der Horst. Perhaps the other photographer is a fellow classmate. Photographing beach life in Scheveningen was likely one of the standard study assignments that Kiljan, Schuitema, and Guermonprez gave to their students, as other students at the academy are also known to have taken photos of this kind. The playground of the ‘Luxe Bad’ (‘Luxury Bath’)—prior to the war, located just across from the Kurhaus and the only place where one had to pay to be on the beach—is likewise featured in a shot of children climbing up the ladder of a slide made by Carel Tirion in 1934.

Van der Horst’s oeuvre consists primarily of reportage photography, along with several photographic textural studies and portraits.

Van der Horst is certain to have taken countless numbers of portraits for the photographer Hans Polderman of Heemstede. He is nevertheless unlikely to have found this genre very inspiring. The portraits that Van der Horst shot on his own are generally nothing more than studies of the effects of strong light-and-dark contrasts on the faces of the people he portrayed. To intensify this effect, he introduced his own self-made sun reflector, which enabled him to capture, bundle, and direct light. The most successful portrait Van der Horst made was that of his father. Just as with the other portraits that surpass the level of a study, Van der Horst concentrates on the head of the sitter, capturing it full-frame, from a low vantage point, and with light-and-dark contrasts.

Light is also an important factor in Van der Horst’s still lifes. In these photos of daily utilitarian objects, the expression of surface texture is primary, with the photographed objects isolated from their usual context. This he achieves, on one hand, by grouping items in front of a neutral background in a well-conceived composition and, on the other hand, by focusing in on a single detail of an actual object. Whether in a photo of light bulbs or a shot of an umbrella covered by raindrops, it is light that gives the materials a surprising degree of clarity and transparency.

Van der Horst was chiefly involved in reportage photography. The majority of these reportage photos were likely to have been shot with the idea of being published. While his photos are certain to have been featured in magazines such as Wereldkroniek (‘World Chronicle’), Wij. Ons werk ons leven (‘We. Our Work, Our Lives’) and De Prins (‘The Prince’), determining which reportages were Van der Horst’s is a difficult task due to the lack of author citation.

Van der Horst captured a variety of subjects with his camera: ranging from old artisanal professions and waste processing to children playing in the dunes and at the Zuiderpark swimming pool in The Hague. He also photographed the swimming pool’s renovation. Six photos with brief descriptive captions such as ‘ladders and scaffolding have been set up for the work’ and ‘so it will be again once the Zuiderpark swimming pool opens its doors’, collectively form a visual narrative of the renovation phases.

Virtually all of Van der Horst’s reportage photos were shot in The Hague and its environs. But a far more significant unifying aspect of Van der Horst’s oeuvre, as well in this applied work, is that he always remained true to the principles of the New Photography. The dynamic design found in the photos of the restoration and reopening of the Zuiderpark swimming pool illustrate this perfectly.

Van der Horst worked with two types of cameras: a Rolleiflex and a Leica. His strong preference for a 35mm camera is evident when examining the contents of his negatives archive. Of the approximately 2,200 surviving negatives, by far the majority—2,100 in total—are 35mm nitrate negatives. For practically all of his reportage photos, he chose the small and portable Leica camera. On the few occasions when Van der Horst turned to a Rolleiflex, he was typically photographing subjects of a static nature, such as portraits and architecture.

Van der Horst experimented with positive photomontage. This technique—which entailed combining various image elements by cutting and gluing, and sometimes even photographing once again in order to create a single image—was extremely popular among the adherents of New Photography. With a photomontage, one could express more than any number of words, in just one glance. For this reason, it was a popular visual tool for political propaganda and advertising. Van der Horst made a photomontage for the EVD (‘Economische Voorlichtingsdienst, ‘Economic Information Service’), a department within the Ministry of Economic Affairs that was charged with the task, among others, to promote products made in the Netherlands. This photomontage, entitled Menschelijke consument 9.000.000 (‘Human Consumer 9,000,000’), shows which food products find their ways to large groups of consumers. This explains the presence of potato peels, fish on serving boards, coffee beans, and hands reaching into the air—at first somewhat astonishing—found in Van der Horst’s oeuvre. To what extent he did other work for the EVD, and on what basis, is not entirely clear. He may perhaps have been responsible for the design of its exhibitions, working either independently or in collaboration with Henri Pieck, a member of the EVD’s permanent staff.

In any event, there is no doubt that Van der Horst and Pieck knew each other. This artist/architect—who, according to Igor Cornelissen in the book De GPOe op de Overtoom (‘The GPOe on the Overtoom’), also worked for the Russian secret service—was a member of a communist resistance group, along with Van der Horst, Jan Schalker, Nico Wijnen, and Freek Driessen. As early as the first year of the German occupation, this group had been involved in illegal activity. Van der Horst photographed nothing of the group’s activities, most likely based on his concern for the group’s safety. The war and its influence on daily life is found only in a couple photos in his oeuvre, and even then, only indirectly. Examples are the photo of a news kiosk in Scheveningen, where only those newspapers sympathetic to the German cause are being sold, or a series of shots with children playing, where the only reference to their Jewish background is a Star of David on the wall.

In a declaration form for ‘the honour list of the names of those who have fallen for their country’, Bertha van der Horst-Dikker describes her husband’s activity with the resistance movement. Van der Horst distributed illegal newspapers such as De Vonk (‘The Spark’, the publication of the CPH) and collected money for the Solidariteitsfonds (‘Solidarity Fund’). This fund gave financial support to various individuals, including those who refused to work for the Germans (‘werkweigeraars’) and who were consequently in hiding, as well as the surviving relatives of members of the resistance who had been executed.

On 22 June 1941, Germany invaded Russia. With this invasion, the national socialists and the communists became outright enemies. In the Netherlands, this resulted in a wave of arrests among the communists. Henk van der Horst was arrested on 5 August 1941. After being held captive at Scheveningen, Amersfoort, and Buchenwald, and finally at the Polish concentration camp Gross-Rosen, he died of physical exhaustion in 1942.

Bertha van der Horst-Dikker, who was Jewish, had gone into hiding during the war at the home of Kees Andrea and his wife, Mettie Andrea- Naezer. In this period, Bertha shot photos with her husband’s camera. She took portraits of friends of the Andrea family and other people in hiding, including the painters Maurits Polak and Harry Verburg, the poet Nol Gregoor, and the photographer Wim Noordhoek. After the war, she declined membership in the Communist Party. The CPN had never shown any sign of appreciation or sympathy following the death of her husband. Dikker subsequently traded in her initial profession as a teacher in order to become a journalist. She worked for magazines such as Wereldkroniek, Eva (‘Eve’), De Touristen (‘The Tourists’) and Jeugdkampioen (‘Youth Champion’). Along with her interviews, she often published her own portrait work. In 1953, Dikker came into contact with Wies Meertens, a woman photographer with whom she collaborated on assignments on an incidental basis. In addition, Dikker had her own radio column with the VARA broadcasting company.

Because of the course his life had taken, Henk van der Horst has long remained an unknown photographer with an unexplored oeuvre. Had he been able to continue his promising start as a photographer after the war, Van der Horst may very well have evolved to become an important post-war photographer in the Netherlands. Various photos from his oeuvre, in any event, are promising in this light. Yet the value of Henk van der Horst’s oeuvre lies not only in images that inspire high expectations. His legacy shows just how strong and inspirational the influence of his teachers, Schuitema and Kiljan, is certain to have been. As a student of the New Objectivist study programme at the KABK in the Hague, Van der Horst became involved in reportage photography—though it must be said, every form of political engagement is lacking. The reportage element in Van der Horst’s photos precedes developments occurring after the war, at which time photographers abandoned the formal experiments of New Photography in favour of developing a more humanitarian vision of reality.


Primary bibliography

images in:

Wereldkroniek 47 (28 september 1940) 2418, p. 9.

Wereldkroniek 47(19 oktober 1940) 2421, p. 10-11.

Wereldkroniek 47 (14 december 1940) 2429, p. 12-13.

Wereldkroniek 48 (25Januari 1941) 2435, p. 2.

Wereldkroniek 48 (1 februari 1941) 2436, p. 1-2.

Wereldkroniek 48 (3 mei 1941) 2449, p. 15.

Wereldkroniek 48 (12 juli 1941) 2459, p. 6-7.

De Prins 40 (10 augustus 1940) 6.

D.F. Maan (samenstelling), De Maniakken. Ontstaan en ontwikkeling van de grafische vormgeving aan de Haagse akademie in de jaren dertig, Eindhoven (Lecturis) 1982, p. 18-19.

Secondary bibliography

Flip Bool en Kees Broos (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1920-1940, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1979, p. 70-71, 94, 96, 151 (met foto’s).

Kees Broos en Flip Bool, De Nieuwe Fotografie in Nederland, Amsterdam (Fragment) 1989, p. 20, 127, 139.

Annet Zondervan, Henk van der Horst (Den Haag 1912 – Groszrosen 1942), in Nieuwsbrief Nederlands Fotoarchief 1 (maart 1991) 0, omslag.

Loeki Abram, Nederlandse fotoarchieven herbergen schat aan onbekende joodse foto’s, in Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad 126 (7 maart 1991) 27, p. 12.

Annet Zondervan, Onder de Haagse Toren, in Haagsche Courant 22 juni 1992


Bedrijfsgroep Grafische Ambachten.

Werkgroep fotografie.


1979/1980 (g) Den Haag, Haags Gemeentemuseum, Foto 20-40.

1982 (g) Den Haag, Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum, De Maniakken. Ontstaan en ontwikkeling van de grafische vormgeving aan de Haagse akademie in de jaren dertig.


Amsterdam, Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie.

Den Haag, de heer K. Andrea (mondelinge informatie).

Den Haag, Gemeente-archief (archief van de Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten).

Den Haag, mevrouw B. van der Horst-Dikker (mondelinge informatie).

Nijmegen, mevrouw C. Pieck (mondelinge informatie).

Rotterdam, Nederlands Fotoarchief.

Soest, mevrouw E. Verlaan (mondelinge informatie).


Den Haag, Haags Gemeentemuseum.

Rotterdam, Stichting Nederlands Fotoarchief.