PhotoLexicon, Volume 12, nr. 26 (December 1995) (en)

Wies Meertens

Solange de Boer


Wies Meertens was one of the few women press photographers active in the 1950s in the Netherlands. Meertens produced reportages presenting an image of everyday life during the post-war period of reconstruction in the Netherlands for Dutch magazines, such as Eva. Het Rijk der Vrouw (‘Eve: The Realm of the Woman’), Het Vrije Volk (‘The Free People’) and the Toeristen Kampioen (‘Tourists Champion’). In addition, she did several reportages outside the Netherlands. Around 1956, Wies Meertens began working two days a week as a darkroom assistant for Cas Oorthuys. Starting in the 1960s, she devoted all of her time to making prints for other photographers. The high quality of Wies Meertens’ prints was widely lauded.




Wieteke Geesje (Wies) Meertens is born on 11 July at Klazienaveen as the second child of Jan Meertens and Idskje Dijkstra. Her father is the principal and her mother a teacher at the primary school in Klazienaveen. Jan Meertens initiates the founding of a local branch of the SDAP (Sociaal Democratische Arbeiders Partij, ‘Social Democratic Workers Party’) in Emmen and subsequently becomes its chairman.


The Meertens family moves to Rotterdam, where Jan Meertens becomes the chairman of the Centrale Nederlandse Ambtenaars Bond (‘Central Netherlands Civil Servants Federation’).


Wies Meertens is held back for a second time in her second year at the HBS (Hogere Burgerschool, an upper-level secondary school) on the ‘s-Gravendijkwal in Rotterdam, and subsequently drops out. She becomes an apprentice to the photographer C.A.G. Leyenaar on the Mathenesserlaan in Rotterdam, from whom she receives a thorough training in photography.

Ca. 1933–Ca. ’40

Up until the start of World War II, Wies Meertens works as an assistant to various photographers, including J.J. van der Rijk in Rotterdam, A.C. Stokhuyzen in Apeldoorn, and G.C. (Godfried) de Groot in Amsterdam.


At the time the war breaks out, Meertens has just completed the first week of a trial period working for a photographer in Oosterwolde. She returns to her family in Rotterdam and finds work as a photographer in Dordrecht.


Meertens moves to Amsterdam. She is hired by the photographer M.C. (Marius) Meijboom, where she works for three years.


Meertens marries the painter Jan Overduyn and moves to the Gaaspstraat in Amsterdam.


On 1 January, Meertens gives birth to her son, Peter Overduyn.


Meertens works for the photographer R. Melchers at Prinsengracht 845 in Amsterdam. Together with her family, she moves to Amstel 308.

Circa 1949

Meertens works in the darkroom of the photo agency Particam Pictures.


The photographer Sem Presser introduces Meertens to Emmy Andriesse, for whom she does darkroom work on call. Meertens starts working for Cas Oorthuys on the same basis.

In addition, Meertens herself photographs various subjects, including the rebuilding of Rotterdam.

Ca. 1951–Ca. ’60

Wies Meertens establishes herself as an independent photographer and works on assignment for newspapers and weekly magazines.


Meertens and the journalist Bertha van der Horst-Dikker travel across Yugoslavia as part of a group led by Anton Constandse, a freethinker and humanist. Together, the two women make a reportage for the magazine Eva (‘Eve’) and the newspaper Het Parool.


Bertha van der Horst and Meertens take a second trip to Yugoslavia together. This time they publish their work in the travel magazine Toeristen Kampioen (‘Tourists Champion’). Meertens’ divorce from her husband is finalised. She begins working two days a week as a darkroom assistant to Cas Oorthuys.


From 30 May to 27 June, Meertens’ children’s photos are shown at an exhibition in ‘La Cave Internationale’ at Herengracht 561 in Amsterdam. She furnishes photos to the socialist-democratic daily Het Vrije Volk (‘The Free People’) for the first time. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam buys eight of Meertens’ photos.

Ca. 1961–‘76

Wies Meertens receives a permanent contract from Cas en Lydia Oorthuys. After Oorthuys’ death in 1975, Meertens continues working for Lydia for a period of one year.


In the darkroom of the Leiden University Print Room, Meertens makes prints for Emmy Andriesse’s exhibitions in the Van Gogh Museum and in the Fiolet Gallery in Amsterdam.


Wies Meertens dies on 4 July in Rijswijk.


Wies Meertens was active as an independent photographer in the 1950s. She produced photo reportages for newspapers and weekly magazines in the category ‘background news stories’. She was not interested in focussing on the daily headlines. In her own words: ‘You’ve got to have a shrewdness that I’m probably entirely lacking.’ Meertens preferred to roam about the city, photographing people in their everyday surroundings. Perhaps because of her modest nature, she often maintained a certain distance between herself and the subjects she photographed. The people in her photos are not in the foreground, but situated within a larger framework.

Meertens received her photographic training from a variety of studio photographers at an early age. She started out working as a retoucher for the photographer Cornelius Leyenaar on the Mathenesserlaan in Rotterdam. Her activities were to go beyond retouching. Working as an assistant in a portrait studio, she received a thorough technical training. Two years later, she found employment with the photographer Johannes van der Rijk in Rotterdam, whom she assisted primarily at gatherings and receptions. Meertens’ next step was to work for various studio photographers, with Godfried de Groot in Amsterdam being the best known.

When World War II broke out, Meertens had been working for just one week in the studio of a photographer in Oosterwolde. She returned to her family in Rotterdam and subsequently found work as a photographer in Dordrecht. During the ‘Hunger Winter’, she took her mother to Groningen and, after rambling about, she eventually returned to Rotterdam. After the war, Meertens settled permanently in Amsterdam, where she was hired by the photographer Marius Meijboom. In the three years she worked in Meijboom’s studio, Meertens learned the fine points of retouching.

Around 1950, Meertens came into contact—via Sam Presser—with Emmy Andriesse, whose photos helped her to realise that a world lay open to her outside the photography studio. She discovered that photography could be approached in another way, one ‘that was not artificial, that lived, that was real.’ Accordingly, Meertens decided to start working as an independent photographer.

The first subject that garnered Meertens’ attention was the rebuilding of Rotterdam. From 1946 to 1958, her father was the city councilman in charge of ‘Reconstruction’ and ‘Public Housing’ for the city of Rotterdam, which were later merged into ‘Public Works’. Wies is likely to have received the commission to document the city’s reconstruction through her father’s intermediation. Architecture was the predominant theme in this series of photos. Rotterdam was being transformed from a barren terrain into a modern city, where the city’s main shopping street, the ‘Lijnbaan’, and the Groothandelsgebouw (‘Wholesale Building’) were being built. Meertens stated in no uncertain terms that her affinity with the reconstruction of Rotterdam was not just because she had grown up in this city: ‘I’m crazy about new buildings. It’s something they can always send me off to do.’

The photos that Meertens took of the Delta Works are as well proof of her passion in this area: she concentrated on the project’s construction as opposed to the construction workers. The clear conception of the composition, with the diagonal line and the ground-level shot predominating, indicate that the principles of New Photography were still influencing her work. Meertens probably became familiar with the movement through the work of photographers like Andriesse, who had been taught by the movement’s leading adherents back in the 1930s. Meertens’ photos of the reconstruction of Rotterdam as well display the influence of New Photography, albeit to a lesser degree.

In 1955, the theme of the ‘Reconstruction’ of the Netherlands was concluded with a reportage on the exhibition E 55, held at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, which signalled a turn-around in the Dutch economy.

In 1951, photos by Meertens were published in the magazine Eva (‘Eve’) for the first time. For the article ‘Kinderen en kunst’ (‘Children and Art’), she had photographed school children being given a tour at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. In the years that followed, Meertens produced several other photo series on assignment for the same magazine. With topics such as ‘How Do They Spend their Pocket Money’ and ‘Housekeeping is a Profession’, these series were clearly made for the readers of this women’s magazine. One exception was a 1955 reportage featuring photos that Meertens had taken in former Yugoslavia.

In 1958, Meertens was introduced at the social-democratic daily newspaper Het Vrije Volk (‘The Free People’) by her brother-in-law, Rienk Idenburg. During the 1950s, Idenburg headed the magazine’s news service and was as well the chief of its city editorial department in Amsterdam. Initially, the magazine published a number of single photos by Meertens. In 1959, however, her reportages about life in Amsterdam and environs began to appear on the back cover of Het Vrije Volk.

Through her sister in The Hague, Meertens came into contact with the journalist Bertha van der Horst-Dikker in 1953. Van der Horst wrote for publications such as the travel magazine Toeristen Kampioen (‘Tourists Champion’) and the Wereldkroniek (‘World Chronicle’). It was probably Van der Horst—the widow of the photographer Henk van der Horst, who was executed in 1942 for having participated in the Dutch resistance movement—who introduced Meertens to these magazines’ editors.

In the same year that Meertens met Van der Horst, her photo of a hat seller at a market in the South of France appeared on the cover of Toeristen Kampioen. In addition to an extensive series of photos depicting street markets in the South of France, this photo was part of a series on life in and around Arles. The photo was published in the same year that Emmy Andriesse’s book De Wereld van Van Gogh (‘The World of Van Gogh’), featuring photos shot in the Provence, was also published. While Andriesse had been inspired by the work of the painter Vincent van Gogh in taking her shots, Meertens’ aim was to capture day-to-day life in the South of France. Notwithstanding, Andriesse’s book is certain to have made an unmistakeable mark on Meertens’ work. In Meertens’ reportage, the inhabitants of this region were given the central role: something that was exceptional in her work. With such an approach, she was coming in close proximity to ‘human interest’ photography that characterised the work of Andriesse and many others from the same generation in the 1950s.

In the years that followed, Wies Meertens and Bertha van der Horst collaborated on several reportages together: for Wereldkroniek (‘World Chronicle’) on employees of the radio programme De familie Doorsnee (‘The Average Family’); and on Yugoslavia, for the publications Eva, Het Parool, and the Toeristen Kampioen. For this last reportage, Meertens and Van der Horst travelled to Yugoslavia in May 1955 with a group led by Anton Constandse, a renowned Dutch freethinker and humanist. At the time, the socialist leader Tito governed Yugoslavia. Meertens was a member of the left-wing of the Dutch democratic socialist movement and was interested in personally observing Tito’s communist experiment with ‘workers advisory boards’. The group travelled throughout Yugoslavia, including visits to the country’s interior, where tourists rarely came. After first visiting Dubrovnik, they travelled by bus to Hercegovni, Kotor, Cetinje, and Budva, and thereafter by train to Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Zagreb. In 1956, Meertens and Van der Horst made a second trip to Yugoslavia together, with stops in Split, Solin and Trogir. Besides Yugoslavia’s national monuments, the photos that Meertens took included the interior of the country, which at the time was still in a primitive state, with shepherds in the mountains and farmer’s markets in the villages, towns, and cities. Her photos also depicted modern living in the coastal areas, featuring boulevards lined with palm trees and terraces with a view in no way inferior to the Cöte d’Azur in the South of France. The reportage itself, however, far surpasses the level of a standard photographic travel account and may be considered a pinnacle in Meerten’s oeuvre. In essence, the previously cited influences of New Photography and ‘human interest’ photography had coalesced to form Meertens’ own personal style, characterised by a well-conceived composition, with people not predominating but instead blending in with their surroundings. In doing so, Meertens was able to create an almost surrealistic atmosphere in a number of her photos.

Meertens photographed children frequently: on assignment, for family and friends, or for herself. The unforced manner in which she managed to photograph children was widely praised and ultimately led to the use of her photos as illustrations in a brochure for the charitable youth foundation, Pro Juventute. In addition, in 1958 Meertens was invited to exhibit her children’s photos at La Cave Internationale in Amsterdam. Gerda Brautigam opened the exhibition, a close friend dating back to her days at the Arbeidersjeugd Centrale (‘Workers Youth Centre’) in Rotterdam, with whom she was still in contact. It was the first and only time an exhibition was devoted exclusively to Meertens’ work. In the same year, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam purchased eight of Meertens’ photos. Five of the eight photos were portraits of children.

Meertens photographed almost exclusively with a Rolleicord. Her archive comprises more than 13,000 black-and-white negatives and approximately 350 colour negatives in the format 6×6 cm. The Rolleicord, just as the Rolleiflex, was a camera highly suited to Meertens’ working approach. Specifically, it allowed her to devise a well-conceived composition by precisely determining the crop via the ground glass screen.

In the period that Meertens was active as an independent photographer, she also made prints for other photographers. Due to her modest nature, she experienced difficulty in finding new photography assignments and decided to do darkroom work to ensure herself of a steady income.

For many, Meertens is chiefly known as Cas Oorthuys’ assistant, for whom she worked for more than twenty years. They are likely to have met in the early 1950s, at the time when Meertens was working for Andriesse. Meertens began working two days a week for Oorthuys in about 1956. By the early 1960s, she was working for him full-time. Yet Meertens was making prints not only for Oorthuys. She was also asked to do darkroom work on a fairly regular basis for photographers associated with the ABC Press Service. At the request of Joost Elffers, Emmy Andriesse’s son, it was Meertens who made all of the prints for the exhibition on Andriesse, held at the Van Gogh Museum and the Fiolet Gallery in 1975. This again underscores the high value accorded her darkroom work.

Wies Meertens never worked at a rapid pace (her role model when it came to printing was Ata Kandó, who is reported to have printed no more than five prints a day). The fact that Meertens was approached on such a frequent basis stemmed not only from her professional craftsmanship, but was also probably linked to her personal take on photographic printing. From 1965 to 1969, Michiel Kort worked as an assistant under her direction in Oorthuys’ darkroom and experienced first-hand exactly what this entailed. When making a print of one of Oorthuys’ photos in the Dutch village of Puttershoek, depicting a tractor on the countryside and seagulls in the sky, Meertens rejected it outright, stating: ‘Don’t you feel how heavy the clay is, don’t you hear the screeching of the seagulls?’ In her view, the point was not to make a beautiful print, but instead to convey the photographer’s interpretation to the highest possible degree.

Wies Meertens’ qualities as a specialist in making prints have been lauded in the past on numerous occasions. Her photography, however, has always been overshadowed by her work in the darkroom. Following in the footsteps of photographer such as Emmy Andriesse and Cas Oorthuys, Meertens extensively photographed life in the Netherlands during the 1950s. The oeuvre she built, while in no way unique, bears her own personal stamp. At a time when the humanist perspective in photography was precisely at its peak, people were not the most important element in Meerten’s photos. Instead, she let them be part of the entire representation in a way that was almost self-evident, sometimes even assigning them a subordinate role.


Primary bibliography

images in:

(Brochure) Jan W. Holsbergen, Een kind in de wereld, Amsterdam (Projuventute) z.j.

Auteur onbekend, Kinderen en kunst, in Eva. Het Rijk der Vrouw 8 (31 maart 1950) 13, p . 14-15.

Toeristen Kampioen 16 (15 augustus 1953) 16, omslag.

Clinge Doorenbos, Bloemen voor Moederdag, in Margriet (7 mei 1955) 19, p . 70-71.

B. v. d. Horst, Rei/Prij zen in Joegoslavië, in Toeristen Kampioen 18 (15 mei 1955) 10, p . 301-303.

Bertha van der Horst, Joego-Slavië in de mode bij toeristen, in Het Parool 4 juni 1955, PS, p. 3.

B. v. d. Horst, Dubrovnik is anders, in Toeristen Kampioen 18 (1 j u n i 1955) 11, omslag, p. 338-340.

B. v. d. Horst, Dagjesmens in Montenegro, in Toeristen Kampioen 18 (1 juli 1955) 13, P. 389-392.

Auteur onbekend, Anika wees ons de weg, in Eva. Het Rijk der Vrouw 12 (9 juli 1955) 14, p. 35-37.

Bertha v. d. Horst, Zondag in Dalmatië, in Toeristen Kampioen 19 (15 april 1956) 8, p. 240-242.

Auteur onbekend, Hoe besteden ze hun zakgeld, in Eva. Het Rijk der Vrouw 14 (17 augustus 1957) 33, p . 4-5.

The Manchester Guardian 4 januari 1958, p. 3.

Auteur onbekend, Huishouden is een vak. Wordt een ruimtevaarder in Uw eigen huis, in Eva. Het Rijk der Vrouw 15 (1958) 11, p . 6-9, 34.

Auteur onbekend, Huishouden is een vak. Samenwerking en organisatie zijn onmisbaar, in Eva. Het Rijk der Vrouw 15 (1958) 12, p . 2 – 4 .

Auteur onbekend, Huishouden is een vak. ‘n Goed systeem is het halve werk, in Eva. Het Rijk der Vrouw 15 (1958) 14, p. 5-7.

Auteur onbekend, Huishouden is een vak. De keuken-prinses moet zich koningin voelen, in Eva. Het Rijk der Vrouw 15 (1958) 15, p . 65-67.

Auteur onbekend, Vizier presenteert in Ubachsberg en in den Haag “Boeven en madeliefjes”, in Vizier 7 september 1958, ongepag.

Het Vrije Volk 27 november 1958, p. 7.

Het Vrije Volk 5 december 1958, p. 1.

Het Vrije Volk 23 december 1958, p. 5.

Auteur onbekend, Amstel. Rivier met karakter, in Het Vrije Volk 3 juni 1959, p. 18.

Auteur onbekend, Hier zijn ze goed verzorgd, in Het Vrije Volk 23 juni 1959, p. 14.

Het Vrije Volk 28 juli 1959, p. 18. Auteur onbekend, De poppendokter maakt het wel weer in orde…, in Het Vrije Volk 27 november 1959, p. 24.

B. v. d. H., Jeugd graaft in de geschiedenis, in Toeristen Kampioen 23 (1960) 17, p. 549.

Han Hoekstra (tekst), Dag Amsterdam, Amsterdam (N.V. Het Parool) 1961, p. 70.

Secundary bibliography

K.G., Wies Meertens weet kinderen te vangen, in Het Vrije Volk 31 mei 1958.

Auteur onbekend, Goede kinderfoto’s van Wies Meertens, in Het Parool 2 juni 1958.

J.J. Hens, Wat ik zag en hoorde, dat mij trof…, in Foto 13 (6juni 1958) 6, p. 216-221.

Jan A. Kleyn, Wies Meertens in La Cave, in Focus 43 (16 augustus 1958) 17, p. 455.

Adam, Acht fotograferende vrouwen: expositie in de Gijsbert Hal, in Het Vrije Volk 26 november 1958, p. 5.

Auteur onbekend, Voor Wies Meertens is donkere kamer even belangrijk als keuken, in Het Vrije Volk 6 mei 1960, p. 12.

Auteur onbekend, Emmy Andriesse (1914-1953), in Het Financieele Dagblad 13juni 1975.

Marga Altena en Solange de Boer, Historische foto’s van vier Nederlandse fotografen, in Artoteek den haag 20 april 1994. ongepag.




1955 (g) World Press Photo.

1956 (g) World Press Photo.

1958 (e) Amsterdam, La Cave Internationale, Kinderfoto’s van Wies Meertens.

1958 (g) Amsterdam, Gijbert Hal.

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

1994 (g) Den Haag, Artoteek, Joegoslavië bestaat niet meer.


Amsterdam, Michiel Kort, mondelinge informatie.

Amsterdam, Bert Nienhuis, mondelinge informatie.

Amsterdam, Lydia Oorthuys-Krienen, mondelinge informatie.

Amsterdam, Peter Overduyn, mondelinge informatie.

Den Haag, Geesje Idenburg-Meertens, mondelinge informatie.

Rotterdam, Nederlands Fotoarchief.


Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum.

Rotterdam, Nederlands Fotomuseum.