PhotoLexicon, Volume 10, nr. 20 (Februari 1993) (en)

Hans Wolf

Aukje Greydanus

Hripsimé Visser


Hans Wolf worked as a photographer in a period that was critical for his profession in the Netherlands: the 1930s and the first few decades after the war. His work reflects the development that the photographic avant-garde experienced during this period. Compared to his professional colleagues at the GKf (Gebonden Kunsten Federatie, vakgroep fotografie, ‘United Arts Federation, Department of Photography’), Wolf remained somewhat of a background figure. This stemmed not just from his having a modest nature, but also the mistrust and animosity that his political views incited in others during the Reconstruction era in the Netherlands.




Hans Max (Hans) Wolf is born on 5 June 1909 at Oude Hoogstraat 1 in Amsterdam as the son of Abraham Wolf and Hendrika Knap. The family is Jewish. Hans’ father co-owns a successful furniture store.


Hans Wolf attends the Handels-HBS (Handels-Hogere Burgerschool, a business-oriented upper-level secondary school) in Amsterdam. He completes this three-year secondary school level study programme in four years.


At the age of seventeen, Wolf departs for France to become a violin builder. He lives with the Didier family in Mattaincourt, France.


In early 1929, Wolf’s study to become a violin builder is temporarily suspended. He is conscripted for service in the Dutch military. He becomes a soldier with the liaison troops of the 18th infantry regiment at Amersfoort.

Hans Wolf and Mark Kolthoff establish a Dutch chapter of the ‘Les amis de Monde’, a friends’ club of the French cultural weekly Monde.

After having fulfilled his military obligations, Wolf travels to Berlin to complete his education as a violin maker with a course in repair techniques. The course fails to meet expectations and Wolf consequently returns to Amsterdam without his diploma several weeks later.


Wolf works at various jobs in Amsterdam. In 1931, he finds work as a library administrator with the photographer Joris Ivens. Wolf is also responsible for transferring Ivens’ film montages onto negative material. In the period he works for Ivens, Wolf takes a class in developing technique. Ivens and his employees—including Wolf—are actively involved in the activities of the VVVC (Vereeniging voor Volks Cultuur, ‘Association of Peoples’ Culture’), previously established in January 1928.


During these years, Wolf is a member of the VAF (Vereeniging van Arbeidersfotografen, ‘Association of Worker Photographers’).


Wolf departs for Paris, where he becomes an assistant cameraman for Jean Dréville. At the end of the year, Wolf works for several months for a portrait photographer on the Rue Vercingétorix. He is responsible for developing, printing, and retouching the shots taken by this photographer. When possible, Wolf also develops and makes prints of his own film.

Wolf becomes a member of the CPH (Communistische Partij Holland, ‘Communist Party of the Netherlands’).


One of Wolf’s photos appears on the 20 January 1933 cover of the magazine Filmliga (‘Film League’).

Wolf approaches correspondents with a proposal to take photos to illustrate their articles, to which the Dutch newspaper the Algemeen Handelsblad agrees. In 1934, Wolf becomes ill. His mother brings him back to Amsterdam, where he gradually recovers at his parents’ home on the Emmastraat.


Hans Wolf begins working as an assistant to Piet Zwart in Wassenaar. Together with Dick Elffers, he shares responsibility for taking, developing, and printing the photos that Zwart requires for his advertising work.


After approximately one year, Wolf stops working for Piet Zwart and is hired by the avant-garde movie theatre ‘Studiotheater’ in The Hague. As a jack-of-all-trades, Wolf is in charge of selecting the films, distributing the accompanying posters, and selling the tickets. He also works as the film operator’s assistant. After approximately one year, Wolf decides to start on his own.

Wolf works as an independent photographer in Voorburg, where he lives at the so-called ‘Gemeenschapshuis’ (‘Community House’).


On 28 August 1939, the Dutch government announces a ‘general mobilisation’. Wolf is required to report as a soldier with the liaison troops at IJmuiden.

Wolf meets his future wife, Judith Oostenbroek (born 1920).


After the Dutch capitulation, Wolf returns to Amsterdam, where he moves in with his parents on the Watteaustraat.

As a Jew, Wolf is faced with ordinances that make it impossible for him to find work. He nevertheless finds a way to get his photos published by illegal means.


After being called up to report to the ‘Zentralstelle für Jüdische Auswanderung’ (‘Central Office for Jewish Expatriation’), Wolf goes into hiding: initially with an architect Bart van der Berg on the Passeerdersdwarsstraat in Amsterdam, later with various other families. In late 1943, Wolf and his girlfriend Judith Oostenbroek decide to rent lodgings registered under her name from this point forward.


Wolf is a member of the ‘Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten’ (‘Domestic Armed Forces’) in Amsterdam.

On 5 May 1945, Wolf celebrates the liberation of the Netherlands from his hiding address on the Zwanenburgwal in Amsterdam. Following the German capitulation, he becomes involved in the arrest of war collaborators in the framework of the POD (Politieke Opsporingsdienst, ‘Political Investigative Service’). Wolf is also hired by the security police.


Wolf becomes an employee of the RIOD (Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie, ‘National Institute of War Documentation’), where his charged with the task of reproducing documents. On the RIOD’s behalf, he also makes photo reportages on the trial conducted against the Dutch collaborator Anton van der Waals and on Camp Vught.

Wolf becomes a member of the GKf (Gebonden Kunsten Federatie, vakgroep fotografie, ‘United Arts Federation, Department of Photography’).


After having worked for the RIOD for approximately two years, in 1949 Wolf begins as a freelance photographer for the newspaper De Waarheid (‘The Truth’). In addition to his many published photos, most without author citation, Wolf also contributes to the newspaper as a writer. After the (financial) position of De Waarheid weakens due to the newspaper’s stance on the Hungarian Revolution, Wolf’s services are virtually no longer requested from August 1956 on.

Besides photographs for De Waarheid, Wolf takes shots for ‘Eska’, a company that publishes various periodicals, from April 1949 to July 1951. The NVB (Nederlandse Vrouwenbeweging, ‘Netherlands Women’s Movement’) and the EVC (Eenheidsvakcentrale, ‘Unity Trade Union Centre’) as well make frequent use of Wolf’s services as a photographer.


Wolf conceives his plan for a photobook with children’s photos. The publication never comes to fruition because the Amsterdam publishing company ‘Paris’, with whom Wolf already has a contract, decides to drop the project without any further explanation. Deeply disappointed by the publisher’s decision, in 1957 Wolf decides—before actually stopping with photography—to obtain a teaching certificate and seeks work as a French-language instructor. He obtains his certification in 1960. In 1962, he ends his career as a photographer.


In late 1961, Wolf succeeds in obtaining a three-year contract as a French-language instructor at the Rijks-HBS secondary school programme in Coevorden. His contract runs out in 1964. Hereafter, Wolf teaches at various locations. He also does translation work on a regular basis, after being officially licensed as a French-language translator on 14 June 1967.


In 1974, Wolf retires as a French-language instructor. From this point onward, he teaches French privately and continues to do translation work. Health problems force him to eventually stop working.


Hans Wolf transfers his negatives archive to the de Stichting Nederlands Fotoarchief (‘Netherlands Photo Archive Foundation’, the present-day Netherlands Photo Museum) in Rotterdam.


On 29 December 1992, Hans Wolf dies in Amstelveen.


As a photographer, Hans Wolf’s development was shaped by the artistic political climate of the 1930s. Wolf had never received any training in the traditional sense. His formation was much more a consequence of the activities and ideals of the world in which he lived. Wolf’s initial choice of profession—violin builder—proved unachievable.

Via Mark Kolthoff, who worked as an assistant on Joris Ivens’ film for the ANB (Algemene Nederlandse Bouwvakarbeidersbond, ‘General Netherlands Construction Workers Federation’), Wolf was assigned the task of transferring Ivens’ film montages onto negative material—a technique used used to make multiple copies of a film. Employed by ‘Studio Joris Ivens’, Wolf also oversaw the library. It was in these inspiring surroundings that he came into contact with Russian films and the work of innovators such as Many Ray and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. In addition, he found a confirmation for his dormant left-wing leanings.

During this period, Wolf’s technical training consisted of a class in developing technique.

Wolf worked as an assistant cameraman on Jean Dréville’s film Pomme d’amour (‘Apple of Love’) in Paris. When his career in the film industry stranded due to the economic crisis, he purchased a second-hand folding camera to try his fortune in photography. Because he had no access to a darkroom or the material necessary to develop and print film on his own, in late 1932 Wolf found employment with an (unknown) portrait photographer in Paris.

With respect to intention and aesthetic, Wolf’s first photographic experiments were similar to what was being produced by the ‘New Photographers’. These photos were published in the magazine Filmliga (‘Film League’). With them, Wolf gained notoriety and recognition among members of the Dutch photographic avant-garde. Upon returning to the Netherlands, he worked for a year as an assistant to Piet Zwart, and as such, he found himself in the Dutch avant-garde environment, where artistic experimentation and political activism went hand in hand. Wolf’s next step was to establish himself as an independent photographer.

An emphatically left-wing view of society is one of the motives behind Hans Wolf’s work throughout his life. In late 1929, he established a Dutch chapter of the ‘Les amis de Monde’ (‘Friends of Monde‘), together with his brother-in-law Mark Kolthoff, who was married to Hettie Wolf. This friends’ club, set up to discuss articles in the French cultural weekly Monde, also drew a number of prominent communists, including David Wijnkoop.

In 1931, Wolf became a member of the VAF (Vereeniging van Arbeidersfotografen, ‘Association of Worker Photographers’), for which he also photographed during his holidays, only in the years 1932 to 1934. In the late 1930s, Wolf lived at the ‘Gemeenschapshuis’ (‘Community House’) in Voorburg, the living community set up by students of Paul Schuitema, where anti-fascist activities played an important role. Wolf took part in protests and demonstrations against the dictatorial regime of General Franco. He took photographs of this in order to confront the public with the atrocities occurring in Spain.

During World War II, Wolf—being both a Jew and a communist—was obliged to go into hiding. Yet he still worked as a photographer on illegal publications as well as with the PersoonsBewijzenCentrale (‘Identity Papers Centre’). Even after the war, Wolf was very active politically, both in his work and outside it: as a photographer for De Waarheid (‘The Truth’) in the 1950s, as a member of the CPH (Communistische Partij Holland, ‘Communist Party of the Netherlands’), and later as a member of the peace movement. Although he was a principled and very fervent communist, he was not blind to the failures of the Soviet system. His openly shared sympathies, however, seriously affected his ability to obtain lasting working agreements and commissions, especially during the years of the Cold War. Disappointed by the obstacles encountered in trying to realise his plans for a photobook of children’s portraits, Wolf decided to become a French teacher in 1957. After completing his study in 1962, he abandoned photography once and for all. Wolf’s political involvement continued undiminished until his poor health forced him to withdraw.

Wolf’s earliest work is characterised by a diversity of camera angles, an investigation of the effect of light, and an eye for details and structures. In terms of form and content, it bears similarities to the New Photography that had taken shape in the late 1920s/early 1930s in the Netherlands. The activities of the VAF, of which Wolf was a member, mark the transition in the Netherlands from experimental ‘thing-oriented’ photography to the socially committed ‘people-oriented’ photography of the late 1930s and the post-war period. Like the photographers Eva Besnyö, Cas Oorthuys, and Carel Blazer, Wolf was quick to focus on the depiction of people in their social surroundings and attached the somewhat parodic name ‘de nieuwe hartelijkheid’ (‘the new hospitality’) to this new orientation. The VAF presented itself as a collective. In general, photos were published without author citation, so that it is virtually impossible to attribute shots in magazines such as AFweerfront (‘Resistance Front’) and Tribune, to the extent that they have been preserved, to any one specific worker photographer.

An occasional preserved shot, such as ‘the home eviction of an elderly couple’, affirms that Wolf fully supported the notions that Paul Schuitema professed in regard to ‘photography as a weapon in the class struggle’. This photo shows a man in bed with his wife at the head of it. The somewhat diagonal composition draws one’s eye to the intense facial expression of these two elderly people. In its simplicity and directness, the image serves as a poignant complaint against a social system gone wrong.

Virtually from the very start, Hans Wolf was a member of the GKf (Gebonden Kunsten Federatie, vakgroep fotografie, ‘United Arts Federation, Department of Photography’), the photographer’s association that gave reportage photography in the Netherlands an identity of its own in the years of the Reconstruction following the war. In terms of the mentality behind it, Wolf’s work was completely in line with the ‘documentary humanism’ that this group aimed to achieve. An excellent example of Wolf’s ‘new hospitality’ is his shot of an elderly couple on the Roetersstraat in Amsterdam: besides a great sense of composition, it radiates an intense eye for human interest and highly expressive detail.

Wolf’s political involvement went hand in hand with a substantial degree of personal humility. This quality is one explanation for why he always remained somewhat in the background. Characteristic is the story of Edward Steichen’s visit to the GKf. As curator of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Steichen was in the Netherlands seeking images for his exhibition The Family of Man. To the dismay of Emmy Andriesse, Wolf felt that his own work was unworthy of being shown to Steichen. As a consequence, his work was not shown at this exhibition.

After the war, Hans Wolf worked for an extended period as a reportage photographer for the newspaper De Waarheid and ‘Eska’, a publishing company responsible for various periodicals. In addition, he photographed for the NVB (Nederlandse Vrouwenbeweging, ‘Netherlands Women’s Movement’) and the EVC (Eenheidsvakcentrale, ‘Unity Trade Union Centre’). He also did theatrical photography. Many of these shots are documents taken by a man whose perspective on the Reconstruction was more critical than the view commonly held by others. In the 1950s, Wolf photographed communist protests and meetings, as well as demonstrations, such as those opposed to the atomic bomb. The significance of these photos lies primarily in the loaded historical meaning and the position of social commitment that they entail.

Wolf’s notoriety and place in Dutch photography is chiefly based on his portrait photography, and then specifically his children’s portraits. Both on assignment and his own initiative—before and after World War II—Wolf photographed children from the day they were born until they reached puberty. These photos often convey a tremendous spontaneity. Using his sense of humour, Wolf was very good at winning a child’s trust. In so doing, he managed to capture highly intriguing images that were natural and yet formal. This is apparent, for instance, in one of Wolf’s best-known photos, entitled ‘Rik Jungman en zijn hond’ (‘Rik Jungman and his Dog’), in which the low camera angle refers back to the New Photography of the 1930s.

The relatively large number of children’s photos that have been preserved, and the renown that this work has received, stems chiefly from a photobook that Wolf once hoped to publish in the 1950s. To this end, he made large quantities of prints. Today, many of these photos are found in Dutch collections. Clearly, Wolf felt that this was his most interesting and personal photographic work. It is exceptionally tragic that this project—which was in an advanced stage, with plans for Cornelis Kelk to write the accompanying text and a contractual agreement already signed by the publishing firm ‘Paris’—never came to fruition, for reasons that have never been entirely clarified. Wolf himself believed that his personal political convictions were to blame. In terms of quantity, Work’s reportage work is significant. Its exact quality, however, cannot be readily determined due to the absence of authorship citation in publications and the fact that many of his negatives were handed over to those who had commissioned his work.

Wolf as well worked as a theatrical photographer on an incidental basis for the theatrical companies Amsterdamse Comedie (‘Amsterdam Comedy’), the GG-Cabaret, and the Scapino Ballet. Among the many rather conventional shots (staged living room scenes), there were also several images that, in their approach, reflected post-war innovations in theatrical photography such as found in the work of the Particam photographers (Aart Klein, Maria Austria). In his best theatrical photos—just as in his children’s photography—Wolf managed to avoid blatant poses, instead preferring to capture a certain dynamic, or by contrast, an intense sereneness.

Hans Wolf’s relatively modest oeuvre is important for the history of Dutch photography for various reasons. His early work illustrates the charm and vitality of New Photography’s desire for experimentation. In terms of vision, it falls under this movement. As a photographer, his most personal area of work lay in his children’s portraits. Finally, Wolf’s reportage work conveys—in addition to his skill—two aspects of a photographic mentality that gives his work historical significance and context: integrity and social engagement.


Primary bibliography

Nederlandse film onderneming VISIE. Kantoor/studio, z.j.

Joep (= Manuel van Loggem) (tekst), Het avontuur van Kobus Knabbel, het konijn van el pintor, Amsterdam (Jaap Kloots en Kalinka Ehrenfest) z.j. (ca. 1942).

Joep (tekst), Het rode opperhoofd. Het tweede avontuur van Kobus Knabbel, het konijn van el pintor, Amsterdam (Jaap Kloots en Kalinka Ehrenfest) z.j. (ca. 1942).

Joep (tekst), De kampioen. Het derde avontuur van Kobus Knabbel, het konijn van el pintor, Amsterdam (Jaap Kloots en Kalinka Ehrenfest) z.j. (ca. 1943).

Rondleider in een doosje, in Uilenspiegel 2 (16 augustus 1952) 41, p. 5 (met foto’s).

En nou komt vaders onderbroek, in Uilenspiegel 3 (29 november 1952) 4, p. 3 (met foto’s).

Niet te vet en niet te mager, in Uilenspiegel 3 (27 december 1952) 8, p. 19.

Hogeschool-knutselaar, in Uilenspiegel 3 (3 januari 1953)9, p. 3.


images in:

Filmliga 6 (20 januari 1933) 3, omslag.

Filmliga 6 (20 maart 1933) 5, p. 134-135.

Algemeen Handelsblad 19 mei 1933, p. 12.

Wij. Ons werk ons leven 1 (1935), p. 14

Wij. Ons werk ons leven 2 (7 februari 1936) 1, p. 14.

Wij. Ons werk ons leven 2(14 februari 1936) 2, p. 26.

Wij. Ons werk ons leven 3 (19 september 1937) 32, p. 11.

Wij. Ons werk ons leven 5 (7 april 1939) 10, p. 12-13.

Catalogus tent. Foto ’48, Kroniek van Kunst en Kultuur 1948 (speciale editie), p. 14.

Kroniek van Kunst en Kultuur 9 (mei 1948) 5, p. 157.

Forum 5 (1950) 1, p. 2, 12, 22.

Uilenspiegel 1 (11 november 1950) 1 t/m 4 (2 oktober 1954) 48.

Kijkprikkels, Prikkels (november/december 1958) 231, p. 30, 35.

Auteur onbekend, Met de regen als vriend, Haarlem 1959.

Han Hoekstra, Dag Amsterdam, Amsterdam (N.V. Het Parool) 1961, p. 74, 82, 101.

Joost Andriessen, Dag Amsterdam, in Foto 16 (april 1961) 4, p. 187.

Jelte Rep, Englandspiel. Spionagetragedie in bezet Nederland 1942-1944, Bussum 1977, tegenover p. 351.

J. van Tijn, De tweede generatie, in Vrij Nederland-Bijvoegsel (25 november 1978) 47, omslag, p. 3.

Flip Bool en Kees Broos, De Nieuwe Fotografie in Nederland, Amsterdam (Fragment) 1989, p. 86, 94.

De Volkskrant 3 maart 1990, p. 11.

Secondary bibliography

Auteur onbekend, Hans Wolf/ Twee foto’s, in Filmliga 6 (juli 1933) 8, p. 232-233 (met foto’s).

Auteur onbekend, Hans Wolf exposeert in Kriterion, in Het Parool 12 juni 1954, p. 3.

Peter Hunter, The GKf. A federation of photographers in Amsterdam, in Photography oktober 1958, p. 29, 61.

UrsuladenTex (eindred.), De bevrijde camera, Vrij Nederland-Bijvoegsel (15 mei 1976) 20, p. 14-16 (met foto’s).

Els Barents (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1940-1975, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p. 25, 111-112, losse biografie.

Flip Bool en Kees Broos (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1920-1940, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1979, p. 43, 45, 48, 60, 62, 64, 75-77, 81, 89, 95-96, 140, 142, 159 (met foto’s).

Marleen Kox, Verslag onderzoek fotoarchieven. (Samengesteld in opdracht van de Stichting Nederlands Foto-Archief), Amsterdam, juli 1981.

Flip Bool en Jeroen de Vries, De arbeidersfotografen. Camera en crisis in de jaren ’30, Amsterdam (Van Gennep /Pegasus) 1982, p. 9, 54-55, 87-88 (met foto’s).

Sybrand Hekking, Cas Oorthuys fotograaf 1908-1975, Amsterdam (Van Gennep) 1982, p. 21,40-41 (serie: De geschiedenis van de Nederlandse fotografie 2).

Evert van Uitert en Jacobien de Boer (red.), De kunst van Mark Kolthoff. Van realisme tot abstractie. Aspecten van het Nederlandse kunstleven in de periode 1930-1980, Rijswijk (Sijthoff Pers) 1986, p. 13, 66-67, 69, 73, 85, 91.

Lin Jaldati en Eberhard Rebling, Sag nie, du gehst den letzten Weg, Berlijn (Buchverlag Der Morgen) 1986, p. 117.

Karel Dibbets en Frank van der Maden (red.), Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse film en bioscoop tot 1940, Houten (Wereldvenster) 1986, p. 168-169.

Eric van ‘t Groenewout, Hans Wolf belicht, in GKf-bulletin (april 1986) 2, omslag, p. 4-9.

Jeroen de Vries en Dolf Kruger (samenstelling), Dolf Kruger fotografie 1948-1984, Amsterdam (Fragment) 1987, ongepag.

Bert Hogenkamp, De Nederlandse documentaire film 1920-1940, Amsterdam (Van Gennep) 1988, p. 53.

André Stufkens, Jan de Vaal en Tineke de Vaal (samenstelling), Rondom Joris Ivens wereldcineast. Het begin, 1898-1934, Houten (Het Wereldvenster) 1988, p. 103.

Philip Mechanicus, Een cursus fotografie, Amsterdam (Querido) 1989, p. 44-49 (met foto’s).

Arjen Ribbens, Het Nederlands Fotoarchief betrekt pand in Rotterdam. Eerste negatieven gaan de kluis in, in NRC Handelsblad 18 november 1989.

Margalith Kleijwegt, Het Nederlands Fotoarchief. ‘Wij zijn er voor de fotografen en niet andersom’, in Vrij Nederland (17 november 1990) 46, p. 42-46.

Ingeborg Leijerzapf e.a. (tekst), Het beslissende beeld. Hoogtepunten uit de Nederlandse fotografie van de 20e eeuw, Amsterdam (BIS) 1991 p. 64, 217.

Aukje Greydanus, Hans Wolf (Amsterdam, 1909), in Nieuwsbrief Nederlands Fotoarchief1 (december 1991) 1, omslag.


GKf, ca. 1948-1992.

VAF (Vereening Arbeiders-Fotografen), 1931-1934.


1937 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, foto ’37.

1948 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Foto ’48.

1954 (e) Amsterdam, Kriterion.

1958 (g) Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit Leiden, Foto’s GKf.

1961 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Dag Amsterdam.

1978/1979 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Fotografie in Nederland 1940-1975.

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

1985 (g) Rotterdam, Galerie Perspektief, Fotografen uit het Nederlands Fotoarchief.

1988 (g) Amstelveen, Cultureel Centrum, Dutch Photography (Paastentoonstelling van nieuwe aanwinsten uit de collectie Dutch Photography).

1989 (g) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, De fotoruil / De andere keuze (GKf-tentoonstelling).

1991 (g) Amsterdam, Nieuwe Kerk, Het beslissende beeld. Hoogtepunten uit de Nederlandse fotografie van de 20e eeuw (collectie Dutch Photography).


Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.

Rotterdam, Aukje Greydanus (ongepubliceerde doctoraalscriptie kunstgeschiedenis: ‘De nieuwe hartelijkheid’. De mens in het fotografisch werk van Hans Wolf, Rijksuniversiteit Leiden 1991).


Amsterdam, Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis.

Amsterdam, Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie (RIOD).

Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum.

Amsterdam, Stichting Dutch Photography.

Den Haag, Spaarnestad Photo

Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit Leiden.

Rotterdam, Nederlands Fotomuseum.