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

Bert Verhoeff

Camilla Zeguers


Since establishing himself as an independent photojournalist in 1979, Bert Verhoeff has built a reputation based on his talent at finding news. He analyses events and can anticipate them to such a degree that he even turns trivial matters into much talked-about photos comprehensible to anyone. At the same time, the combination of details in his photos often functions as a metaphor for an entire situation or concept. Through his social engagement and originality, Verhoeff was one of the initiators of a shift in style that led to the high level of Dutch photojournalism in the 1980s. Verhoeff currently works as a photojournalist, primarily for the Dutch media. He also photographs for the corporate business world.




Gijsbertus (Bert) Verhoeff is born on 23 January in The Hague as the son of Arie Verhoeff, a police official, and Neeltje Noort. Bert has an older sister, Anke.


After living for several years in Apeldoorn, the Verhoeff family moves to Amsterdam. Bert attends HBS (Hogere Burgerschool, an upper-level secondary school curriculum) at the Dutch Reformed Lyceum-West.


Verhoeff shoots his first newsworthy photo on 15 April 1967 at a Rolling Stones concert at the Houtrusthallen in The Hague. The photo appears in Tuney Tunes.


In 1968, Verhoeff hitchhikes to Morroco. On the way, he photographs the student revolt in Paris with his ‘Aires’ camera. These shots are lost. Upon returning to the Netherlands, he works for a while at the photo-advertising studio of a former schoolmate, Ronnie Herz.

Verhoeff dislikes working in a studio environment, which leads to his becoming an apprentice photographer with the ANeFo (Algemeen Nederlandsch Fotobureau, ‘General Netherlands Photo Bureau’) press photo agency. There Verhoeff learns the tricks of the trade. Working under contract, he becomes a member of the NVF (Nederlandse Vereniging van Fotojournalisten, ‘Netherlands Association of Photojournalists’).


Bert Verhoeff weds Deta Marsman.


Verhoeff wants more space for his own viewpoint than his current job allows. On 1 January, he establishes himself as an independent photographer in Amsterdam. He works for twelve newspapers, which publish his photos three to four times each week.


Verhoeff receives a documentary photo assignment from the AFK (Stichting Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, ‘Amsterdam Fund for the Arts’), on the theme ‘sport recreation’.


Verhoeff moves to Duivendrecht.


On 5 March, Verhoeff’s daughter Eva is born.


Verhoeff travels to California, as well as Baja California in Mexico.


Verhoeff’s work becomes less hectic as a consequence of his personal decision to narrow the scope of his photography and to serve fewer newspapers.


Verhoeff travels to the Dutch Antilles. He wins the Silver Camera 1984 with a photo of Gijs van Aardenne, taken during the parliamentary investigation into the RSV Affair.


Verhoeff travels to Moscow, where he photographs a meeting of the Dutch prime minister, Ruud Lubbers, and his foreign minister, Hans van den Broek, with Mikhail Gorbachev.


Verhoeff travels to Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan. For the newspaper Het Parool, he travels to French Guyana and East Suriname. He also photographs Ronnie Brunswijk’s jungle commando.


Verhoeff visits Iceland. He also travels to Bangladesh on behalf of the Amsterdam photo agency Hollandse Hoogte.


Verhoeff is selected as ‘Photojournalist of the Year 1988’. He travels to Moscow with minority youths from the Bijlmermeer neighbourhood of Amsterdam. He also photographs in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In November, Verhoeff travels to the United States on behalf of Elsevier magazine. In December, he travels to Romania for De Volkskrant to photograph the fall of Ceaucescu’s regime.


In May, Verhoeff again travels to Romania. In November, he photographs in Moscow.


In April, Verhoeff travels to the Baltic countries with a delegation of members from the Tweede Kamer (the Dutch House of Representatives).

In May, Verhoeff produces a reportage on the Kurdish people in Turkey and northern Iraq. In November and December, he travels to Irian Jaya on behalf of the Leprastichting (‘Leprosy Foundation’).


Verhoeff becomes a board member of the NVF (Nederlandse Vereniging van Fotojournalisten, ‘Netherlands Association of Photojournalists’). On his initiative, the exhibition 10 Jaar Parlementaire Fotografie (’10 Years Parlaimentary Photography’) is organised at the building of the House of Representatives. A book on this topic is also published. Verhoeff and Taco Anema are both commissioned by the Rijksmuseum to photograph the PvdA (‘Partij van den Arbeid’, the Dutch labour party) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Dutch social democracy.


Verhoeff moves to Broek in Waterland, together with his family. He travels to Northern Ireland.


At the invitation of the World Press Photo Foundation, Verhoeff is asked to be a jury member for its annual exhibition. The book De Rode Loper. De P.v.d.A. 100 jaar later (‘The Red Carpet. The PvdA 100 Years Later’) is published, with photos by Bert Verhoeff and Taco Anema.


In August, Verhoeff travels to Indonesia to report on Queen Beatrix’s state visit to this former Dutch colony.


While still attending the HBS (Hogere Burgerschool, upper-level secondary school), Bert Verhoeff was already venturing out to take photos in Amsterdam West inspired by his own curiosity. While his ability was then no better than a snapshot, he still managed to overcome any discomfort when it came to photographing people directly in the face. In 1968, Verhoeff hitchhiked southwards. Along the way, he photographed the student revolt in Paris with his ‘Aires’, a rangefinder camera. Unfortunately, the film rolls for this first photo reportage were lost while being commercially developed.

Upon returning to the Netherlands, Verhoeff worked for a brief time with the advertising photography studio run by a former schoolmate, Ronnie Herz. The technical aspects of studio work failed to inspire him. Verhoeff preferred to photograph real life, and for this reason, he found work as an apprentice photojournalist with the photo press agency ANeFo (Algemeen Nederlandsch Fotobureau, ‘General Netherlands Photo Bureau’). There he grew accustomed to the routine of photographing climactic moments of events in an instant, such as the cutting of a ribbon or the smashing of a champagne bottle.

Once he had learned how to secure a place in front, Verhoeff was done with taking cut-and-dried photos, as approved by the RVD (Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst, ‘Netherlands Government Information Service’) and ANeFo. Like Dolf Toussaint, Han Singels, and Vincent Mentzel, Verhoeff wanted to photograph societal traditions, practices, and customs from a critical perspective. Implementing the new visual devices made possible through documentary photography—movement, blur, and the elimination of the central composition—Verhoeff was able to enliven his photography. The high-speed Tri-X film allowed him to capture the dynamic and tumult of his era, better than with the less coarse-grain films he had been using up to this time. Verhoeff also drew inspiration from photo reportages appearing in Vrij Nederland, addressing topics concerning Dutch society. They were revolutionary for the late 1960s, juxtaposing power and powerlessness. Portraits were cropped, focusing more on people’s individual characters. Verhoeff was especially impressed by the work of Willem Diepraam.

In 1979, Verhoeff quit his job and settled in Duivendrecht as one of the few one-man photo press agencies working at the national level (excepting those agencies working in the area of sports). Because newspapers selected from photos that came in at random, the market was freely accessible. Verhoeff covered all current events. Two to three times a week, he submitted photos to newspapers such as De Volkskrant, Het Parool, NRC Handelsblad, Trouw, and the publications of Tubantia Press.

Verhoeff’s journalistic talent allowed him to make the front page of the newspapers with photos of unique subjects. He tracked down noteworthy news stories before the media even knew anything about them. Getting pleasure out of doing investigative work and his dealings with people, Verhoeff was able to anticipate the news and photograph his own interpretation on the spot. Because he was working for several newspapers simultaneously, he at first kept things rather general. Certain newspapers, however, were already showing a specific interest in Verhoeff’s photos. Contrary to ordinary newspapers, they preferred photography with greater content. Verhoeff was working more creatively than before at ANeFo. Staff photographers and freelancers working on a flexible contract for newspapers were required to carry out the assignments they were sent to cover. Verhoeff decided for himself where he wanted to go. This meant, however, that he had to move much quicker to get his photos, which he then submitted free of any obligation, receiving payment only when a photo was actually published. Verhoeff never had the patience to wait around long in one spot just to capture the best moment. Contrary to journalists who write their stories and are therefore able to reconstruct events at a later point, Verhoeff had to be at the right spot even before something happened. He nevertheless got a kick out of witnessing important events, while the satisfaction of making his mark on numerous newspapers on a daily basis was addicting. Verhoeff became a racing ‘reference book’ of contemporary history. Along the way, he learned to predict its superficial flow to a degree, but its profundity surprised him time and time again.

Verhoeff’s freedom was extremely relative. In addition to his own programme, he also did rush jobs for newspapers. At such times, staff photographers were generally too busy with topics that were more engaging and newsworthy. Precisely because he was good at photographing topics of minor significance, Verhoeff was able to strengthen his market position. Around 1984, he started toning things down. Besides newspapers associated with the Perscombinatie publishing company, Verhoeff was still furnishing photos to Algemeen Dagblad, Elsevier, Nieuwe Revu, and occasionally Vrij Nederland and NRC Handelsblad.

Gradually, Verhoeff’s interaction with a number of his clients began to take on more defined contours. His own initiatives began to coincide with his commissioned work. Verhoeff’s clients valued him as a news photographer with his own story and visual idiom. He also worked under extreme conditions and at impossible hours. Major enterprises such as the raising of the ferry ‘The Herald of Free Enterprise’ in 1987 at the port of Zeebrugge, Belgium, took a major toll on him. Verhoeff organised everything in advance and travelled to his destination at a ridiculous hour, only to return home with a mediocre set of photos. Unwillingness on the part of the hired captain and the authorities present minimised his chances of producing outstanding images.

Verhoeff’s development as an independent news photographer ran parallel to that of the quality newspapers’ gleaning of photographic news. Verhoeff was among those who initiated a shift in style, which led to the high level of Dutch journalistic photography in the 1980s. Its success was also related to the increased importance that newspaper publishers placed on having a focused photo policy. This went hand in hand with the newspaper’s changing function, as television steadily grew faster in accessing news. A good newspaper began to distinguish itself from others by providing a specific perspective and background information, as opposed to news facts alone. In the competition arising among the various forms of media, photography took on a crucial role. Intriguing photos on the front page sent sales figures soaring. Furthermore, in the mid-1980s the Perscombinatie publishing company gained access to printing presses that enabled them to print higher-quality photos. Finally, newspaper photo editorial departments were expanded or, as in the case of the newspaper Trouw, set up for the first time. Photographers, who in the past had left their work with the building concierge, could now go directly to the photo editorial department, where they found assistance. At the Canon Gallery and the Hollandse Hoogte photo agency, Verhoeff met up with like-minded photographers who were no longer content with taking nice pictures just to accompany a story. The Stichting Plaatwerk (‘Plate Work Foundation’) and the magazine Plaatwerk provided a platform for socially engaged photojournalism, which opposed the traditional press. Verhoeff was an active participant in the framework of these discussions.

Inspired by the pioneers at Vrij Nederland and photographers like Vincent Mentzel, who had made his mark at the Dutch newspaper NRC as early as the 1970s, Bert Verhoeff—along with Wubbo de Jong and Daniel Koning—ensured newspaper readers obtained an interest in photography. One’s choice for a certain newspaper was now in part determined by the quality of its photography.

In journalistic photography of the last decade, photographers like Verhoeff began to show a greater degree of personal emotion. Young readers proved to be receptive to this, being more visually inclined than previous generations. With his ability to take powerful photos communicating more information than any number of columns filled with text, Verhoeff was in tune with the spirit of the times. This was most certainly true, now that some of the newspapers—including De Volksrant, which introduced a new layout in 1993—were striving for at least one top-quality photo on every page. Verhoeff could never have imagined that the ANeFo photo agency would be shut down ten years after his departure, because newspapers had decided to invest more in photos substantiating their own philosophy. Towards the end of the 1980s, Verhoeff began to indulge in more radical solutions, alongside his more general vision, by bringing his photography directly in synch with a newspaper’s own specific profile. As a result, his influence on a publication’s photo policy likewise grew. Yet there were still occasions when a visually striking image by Verhoeff had to make way for an important last-minute news story. The opposition between the photojournalist and the text journalist is perhaps nowhere so clearly expressed as in the final layout. In the end, the ultimate responsibility lies with the journalistic writer. Their numbers, and even that of photo editors, still exceeds the number of permanent staff photographers working in the newspaper business.

Starting in the early 1990s, De Volksrant entered a working collaboration with Verhoeff, as its photo editorial department saw him as the best photojournalist in the field. Verhoeff knows his business and always follows the latest news developments. A network of informants keeps him very up-to-date, facilitating quick assessments and sound conclusions. When tracking down a premiere news story, Verhoeff calls in a text journalist. If he senses something is about to happen and is unable to act himself, he notifies the newspaper’s editorial department to send another photographer in his stead. Many text journalists like to accompany Verhoeff when he is on the move, because he can them get them in virtually anywhere.

Besides his work for De Volkskrant, which takes up eighty per cent of his working time, Verhoeff also photographs for annual reports. He also produces corporate reportages. While essentially a news photographer, the photo editorial department relies on him chiefly for topics of limited news interest. With his anecdotal, light-hearted approach, Verhoeff can give even these stories substance. One case in point is his photo of the megalomaniacal ‘Palace of the People’ in Bucharest, Romania, which he turned into a spectacle by photographing two dogs in the snow sitting across from each other in the foreground.

Verhoeff is not the first person editors at De Volkskrant contact when they need someone to photograph something abstract or capture a certain mood. For that kind of work, the newspaper relies on Daniel Koning. For architecture, Wim Ruigrok gets first priority. Guus Dubbelman’s portraits are considered subtler than Verhoeff’s. When it comes to sports, Dubbelman and Hans Heus are the preferred choice. By his own account, Verhoeff feels at home in most genres.

In the past, the photo editorial department at Trouw held Verhoeff’s vision in high esteem. His working relationship with De Volkskrant, however, has kept him from doing any more work for Trouw. Since then, Werry Crone has filled this void. Verhoeff and Crone are often compared to each other, as both are socially driven. Verhoeff is shrewd and puts matters into perspective; Crone, by contrast, is more serious and moralising in her work and is therefore well suited for Trouw. Undeniably, within the limitations posed by the existing circumstances, their photos are sometimes almost identical.

In his formal idiom, Verhoeff incorporates every compositional scheme he can use. His experience with composition, depending on the situation, enables him to switch from one scheme to another, often unknowingly. Under the influence of wide-angle photography, which arose in the 1970s, Verhoeff abandoned the convention of the centrally placed motif. In the 1980s, however, he replaced the extremely wide shooting angle with other (zoom) objectives, then influenced by a new generation of high-sensitivity film. In the 1970s, Verhoeff worked with severe contrasts and coarse-grain images as if it was natural. Contrary to younger photographers, he now no longer strives for median gradations down to the finest detail. He heeds the obligatory nuance only in passing, when it suits his purpose. Loss of detail is of no concern to him. Verhoeff experiments with anything that can help him capture that journalistic instant he desires. These days, he might focus in on a person who suddenly appears in his viewfinder; in the past, he was certain to have steered clear of any distracting elements.

Although many of Verhoeff’s compositions are complicated, the situations appear unforced. In his photo of the blockade near Doodewaard of September 1981, a pair of optic lines divides the composition. Members of the press are standing above on the dike. A diagonal of military police lies beneath this, and below that, protesters are being compelled to flee from teargas. Verhoeff can spot a main character who unifies an entire image immediately. One such example is his photo of the RaRa (Revolutionaire anti-Racistische actie, ‘Revolutionary Anti-Racist Action’) suspect René R. from August 1988, who sits in the courthouse dock in Amsterdam. The line of the railing on which R. rests his feet continues in the direction of the judges’ table. Above it hangs a portrait of the queen, whose symbolic presence is encountered regularly in Verhoeff’s work.

Verhoeff stays around to capture people’s behaviour once they are less aware of the camera. If he were to have it his way, he would prefer to be completely invisible and inaudible. With his imposing stature of 1.95 meters, he is able to photograph over the heads of most people, but he usually sneaks in to get as close to his subject as he possibly can. He almost never uses flashes. When a ‘key moment’ suddenly appears, Verhoeff is capable of jumping at lightning speed from his frozen position. He is also remarkably frugal when it comes to the number of shots he takes. In his view, an experienced photographer knows precisely when to take the picture. He cannot afford to miss that one valuable fraction of a second when repeatedly taking photographs or relying on a motor drive.

Verhoeff’s narrative style is also to be found in the work of younger photojournalists, such as Arno Lingerak, Rien Zilvold, and Marcel Molle. These last two photographers also include a bit of jest in their work, similar to Verhoeff’s, though with more of an eye for aesthetics. Is this a product of their training at the academy? Spectacular newsworthy events are not an everyday occurrence in the Netherlands. To make rather insubstantial news appear more interesting, the obvious option is to do something with the form. A degree of artificiality is inevitable. While perhaps influenced by the current wave of aestheticism, Verhoeff feels he has substituted the worst aspects with a kind of nonchalance. His overemphatic reliance on the humour of the Magnum photographer Elliot Erwitt is certain to wane away. What makes Verhoeff’s photography so appealing is his sharp eye for small gestures or postures: a head peaking around the corner of a door, the hands of a surgeon folded together behind his back just before entering the operating room, or the curiosity of a demented woman who leans over to examine the queen’s car.

Verhoeff admires Leo Erken’s perspective on important world events. The emotions in the photography of his younger colleague are more intense than in his own work. Compared to Verhoeff, Vincent Mentzel is a more traditional press photographer. Intimacy is found in Mentzel’s work only on a sporadic basis: he tends to keep things more general. The ‘acceleration’ in his compositions often occurs in the middle, nor is he hindered by external distractions. People are rarely encountered in the foreground and the visual framing is more severe. With Verhoeff, stylisation and artistic direction are employed only in the area of commissioned portrait photography. Typically, there is virtually no time to elicit someone’s character. At best, Verhoeff is able to position the person at a striking angle of view in front of a work of architecture. People are accustomed to a less static setting. The problem is that many of these industrious people feel most tense when having to assume a semi-spontaneous pose. Verhoeff’s casual portraits of the man or woman in the street reveal more of these individuals’ personalities. A comparison with the portraits of Guus Dubbelman highlights the subtlety of Dubbelman’s work, a characteristic for which he is known, based on a serene beauty, which the photographer has managed to isolate. Wubbo de Jong almost always prefers the frontal and dynamic perspective. Verhoeff, by contrast, is more experimental and has access—as well in his portraits—to countless compositional schemes from which to choose. With group portraits, he ensures that everyone can be seen, even when the atmosphere is informal. Rarely do heads get lost behind those of others. Verhoeff avoids the code of the queen’s state portrait, who typically stands with her newly formed cabinet on the landing in front of her palace. Instead, he photographs the entire group in a formation descending the steps (the cabinet of Prime Minister Wim Kok, August 1994).

Verhoeff has never known technical perfection. His technique serves the journalistic moment alone. He exploits the film’s sensitivity, while prints have to be finished as quickly as possible. Verhoeff develops his prints mechanically. The term ‘print’ is certainly justified, when comparing his to the high quality of Leo Erken’s prints. Verhoeff is one of the very few photographers who has virtually no qualitative objections to the digital reproduction of his work: the rapid transmission of an image always has top priority.

For Verhoeff, there is no substituting the dramatic, emotional properties of black-and-white material with colour. This stems from his fascination for chiaroscuro. Only when necessary does Verhoeff occasionally introduce colour. Photographing in colour frustrates him, when sensing that he could have had an exquisite photo in black-and-white. He deliberately chooses not to see in colour: for him it has a dulling effect. In this regard, Emile Luider is Verhoeff’s opposite, striving for colour saturation and colour gradation due to the mood-enhancing qualities they provide.

Verhoeff has no problem with pushing the fastest film to 25,000 ISO. Decidedly averse to medium greys, he seldom uses an automatic light meter. He usually switches off the autofocus.

For photo editors, Verhoeff’s feeling for politics is proverbial. When one has no connections, political issues are harder to unravel. Over-friendly relations and animated conversations, however, can possibly get in the way of capturing the right moment. Verhoeff is amused by the manoeuvres that politicians employ to keep their opponents from being seen in a positive light in the media. Because Verhoeff observes such ties and cliques first-hand, he occasionally manages to conjure up a photo providing final visual proof of a signed deal, which shows up prominently on the front page. In September 1981, he photographed Hans Wiegel and Ed van Thijn (with both men’s permission) during a dinner at Le Bistroquet in The Hague. He did so in the same manner that Theo Meijer Jr. and Robert Lantos had photographed Wiegel, a member of the Dutch conservative-liberal VVD party, and Dries van Agt, the leader of the Christian-democratic party, in December 1977 during a dinner (at Wiegel’s invitation) just prior to the announcement of their planned cabinet formation. Wim Hofland has also taken photos showing two prominent political figures while dining out together. Since then, the image of two politicians sitting at the same table has come to be readily associated with secret negotiations or collaboration with the enemy. The next episode in this series occurred when Verhoeff photographed the leader of the VVD, Frits Bolkestein, dining at the same place with Hans Wiegel on 23 August 1993 and sitting directly beneath Theo Meijer Jr.’s photo. This time Wiegel appeared less triumphant, however, as his own party never brought him back to The Hague.

Verhoeff’s attraction to the parliamentary world in The Hague is expressed in images such as his photo of the minister of Economic Affairs, Gijs van Aardenne, during the RSV Affair, for which he was awarded the Zilveren Camera (‘Silver Camera’) in 1984. Verhoeff saw the minister sitting behind his governing table staring up at the ceiling. As quietly as possible, he pleaded with him: ‘Please stay sitting like that just for a moment.’ He whipped past the table—something that was not allowed—and managed to capture the minister’s pensive pose. While the jury report naming him as Photojournalist of the Year in 1988 praised his skill in choosing the right vantage point, Verhoeff himself will never easily forget the telling moments on those occasions when his calculations proved wrong. One such moment occurred in September 1988, when Minister Van Eekelen announced his resignation in the aftermath the ‘Passport Affair’. When passing by Joris Voorhoeve, the head of the VVD political party who had proven disloyal to him, Van Eekelen ostentatiously avoided the pat on the back his political opponent was trying to give him. From the opposite end of the room, Verhoeff stood by and watched, while the one shot that could potentially have summed up the entire affair slipped through his fingers. With the departure of such notable political personalities—Den Uyl, Van Agt, and Wiegel—Verhoeff believes the political theatre in The Hague will never be the same again. The new generation of politicians, such as an evasive Brinkman or a whining Ter Veld, come nowhere near the excitement of the past. Without doubt, the moving of the House of Representatives to a new location—with a number of the privileges afforded press photographers, having in the meantime evolved into a tradition, therefore having to be reasserted—now makes it more difficult to portray Dutch politics with a certain appeal.

With his knowledge and passion, Verhoeff follows in the footsteps of Erich Salomon, who was able to obtain privileges, even prior to the war, from which later generations of parliamentary photographers have benefited. For many years, Verhoeff profited from the world premiere brought about by Van Thiel, the chairman of the House of Representatives, who in 1970 allowed photographers to take shots from inside the chamber. On the other hand, however, the 1975 guidelines introduced by the ‘kamervoorlichtingsdienst’ (‘Chamber Information Service’) limit Verhoeff’s ability to capture ‘photogenic’ events as they occur in the House chamber itself.

In spite of his efforts as a member of the lighting committee, Verhoeff could do very little to change Deetman’s list of restrictions for the new chamber of the House of Representatives. During debates, house members and ministers are only to be photographed from a distance. As a consequence, photojournalists are left with no other option but to obtain their close-up shots of the meetings and the ‘whispering’ of political opponents from the hallways, either prior to or following the meetings of House members. Roei Rozenburg (NRC Handelsblad), Hans Kouwenhoven (AD), Werry Crone (Trouw), and Verhoeff are virtually part of the House chamber’s inventory. They know where to look when it comes to the steam rooms, parking garages, and the other locations where politicians meet—all in an attempt to outsmart each other.

Verhoeff occasionally runs into problems with the RVD (Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst, ‘Netherlands Government Information Service’). At such times, his intention is never to do anything improper—what he wants is to capture those telling moments that occur in places inaccessible to the public. The RVD is particularly vigilant when it comes to protecting the Royal House. The implacable ‘All right, that’s enough, gentlemen!’ is often heard precisely at that moment when Verhoeff senses he can get a great picture, with the light precisely as he wants it. In his view, a hand suddenly blocking his lens is nothing but a violation of the freedom of the press.

Regular journalists are unfamiliar with this problem. Their impressions—when convincingly worded—can never be verified at a later point. As a result, there are no obstacles to get in their way. They have the option of leaving out anything that might detract from their coherent story. If he still succeeds in taking a great photo, Verhoeff forgets his anger about such incidents—especially when learning later that the queen also liked the image and decided to order a reprint for herself.

Verhoeff finds his ‘story behind the story’ in the contacts occurring between people. On occasion, he teeters the edge of indiscretion. A photo of a couple on the beach created problems after it was published, once it became known they were having an affair.

As an experienced photojournalist, Verhoeff always keeps in mind that emotionally wired people are tempted to act strangely in the presence of the press. He sees no reason to justify the behaviour of colleagues who continue taking photos when someone’s life is at risk. He chooses not to photograph human misery, such as dead bodies or people in a mental institution. Instead of photographing the most spectacular aspects of an area ravaged by disaster, he focuses on the way in which people are managing to survive.

Verhoeff feels satisfied when one of his photos creates a commotion. His 1981 front page photo of a policeman photographically registering an elderly gypsy man sparked indignation at every level of society and inspired revulsion, due to perceived associations with Nazi practices. After the photo was shown on national television, the matter was debated in the House of Representatives. Although it failed to lead to any changes in police regulations, the impression made by the photo had ignited a major public discussion.

Verhoeff always tries to photograph with the highest degree of integrity. In 1984, however, he was accused of impartiality in his account of the squatters’ riots in Amsterdam. His photos were said to create the impression that squatters had plundered with intent. The shot most rebuked depicts a young woman holding up a pair of pants, which she had just retrieved from a large pile of clothing lying in the street. What the image does not show is that she subsequently walked away without taking the pants.

During demonstrations, masses of people all look the same, no matter what the nature of the protest. Accordingly, Verhoeff usually looks for something other than the traditional banner. In a photo from 1989, one can observe the Binnenhof (the ‘Inner Court’, the seat of the Dutch parliament in The Hague) through a window above. Verhoeff contrasts the masses in the courtyard below with an emissary of the chamber, who sits reading a newspaper in an empty room.

While Verhoeff praises Dolf Toussaint for laying down his camera during an emergency, it is not something he would do himself. Verhoeff’s top priority is to eternalise that harrowing moment: a policeman falling off his motorcycle, or Wiegel—having just lost his wife—who becomes emotional during a television debate concerning the ‘widows and orphans’ act, with Den Uyl comforting him by placing a hand on his arm. Verhoeff’s photo undermines the myth of Wiegel’s cast-iron persona. After careful consideration—no stunt is involved on Wiegel’s part—Verhoeff releases the photo for publication.

A five-column photograph on the front page of a newspaper gives Verhoeff an enormous kick, but what really matters to him is the official status that comes with receiving awards for his photographs. Various photos by Verhoeff have been awarded. He was also chosen as ‘Photojournalist of the Year’ in 1988. The jury report underscores Verhoeff’s diversity and the consistent, high quality of his work. Equal praise is bestowed on his accurate characterisations of political figures working at the Binnenhof, as well as his ‘document humain’ of his trip to flooded Bangladesh.

When acting as a jury member for the World Press Photo Contest in 1993, Verhoeff was supported in his view that a good news photo does not necessarily have to hold aesthetical appeal. When it comes to the depiction of news, even a photo series of substantial newsworthiness and extraordinary visual force can lose out to a somewhat blurred, random shot taken with a stroke of luck. The true meaning of a news photo only becomes obvious with the passing of time. When compiling books of his photographic work, Verhoeff never thinks in terms of his most visually appealing photos. He selects those images that depict a story that could otherwise not have been told.

In 1980, Verhoeff received a documentary assignment from the AFK (Stichting Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, ‘Amsterdam Fund for the Arts’). He photographed sports recreation in street views, interior shots, and portraits. In the context of documentary photo assignments commissioned by the Rijksmuseum’s Dutch history department, Verhoeff was asked to photograph the PvdA (‘Partij van de Arbeid’, the Dutch labour party) in 1992, one hundred years after the birth of social democracy. For more than a year, Verhoeff worked on a reportage on the party’s leadership and its members. Taco Anema took the portraits. A selection of these photos was made by both photographers and published in the book De Rode Loper (‘The Red Carpet’) in 1994. In a series of four photos, Verhoeff provided a concise summary of the full history of Prime Minister Wim Kok’s final years. This series shows Kok following the results of the election on 3 May 1994 on television while sitting in the room of Cox Habbema, then director of the Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg (the civic theatre). Kok’s face shows every shade of emotion in response to the fateful decision concerning his future as a government minister.

Verhoeff reformed photojournalism based on practical experience, by making news substantively visible. The more he evolved, the better he became at producing a clear visual narrative. In the late 1970s, he began creating a new genre of photography by submitting images to newspapers in which the ordinary man figured central—something that had been previously ignored. Verhoeff’s journalistic insight enables him to shoot news photos in places where nobody else ever comes. Humour and a personal perspective add a dimension to his work with which every observer can identify—with other layers of meaning almost always certain to be found. Verhoeff contributed to the changing of the newspapers’ policies towards photography in such a way that the public acquired an eye not only for the things that were amiss in society, but also for the things that were comical. He took an active stand in support of photography, in part by being a board member of various professional trade organisations. As a teacher—albeit never on a permanent basis—he passes on his knowledge to students at the Hoge School voor de Kunsten (‘College of the Arts’) in The Hague and the Academie voor Fotografie (‘Academy of Photography’) in Haarlem.


Primary bibliography

Theo Baart e.a., Beroepskiekjes, in Trouw 22 augustus 1987, p. 25.

Ronnie Brunswijk rebel en vrijheidsstrijder, in Bondig (31 maart 1988) 213, p. 29-32 (met foto’s).

Verrekijkers in Noord- en Zuid Korea, in Trouw 17 september 1988, p. 31.

‘Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst probeert inhoud krant te bepalen, in Reporter?, (september/oktober 1988) 13, p. 13-15 (met foto’s).

Wim Boevink (tekst), Volgend jaar een nieuwe vloed, in Trouw 1 oktober 1988, p. 27.

Bert Verhoeff, fotograaf, in Het Parool 4 maart 1989.

Wim Jansen (tekst), Perestrojka op straat, in Trouw 8 juli 1989, p. 27.

Haast is een goede smoes voor een fotojournalist, in Utrechts Nieuwsblad 30 december 1989, p. 32 (idem: NZC).

H.J.A. Hofland (voorw.), Hollands dossier 1980-1990. Een decennium fotojournalistiek, Amsterdam/Den Haag (Focus/SDU) 1990 (met foto’s).

De erfenis, in de Volkskrant 13 januari 1990, Het vervolg, p. 11.

Zigeunerbegrafenis, in de Volkskrant 26 mei 1990, Het vervolg, p. 11.

Laatste kaart, in de Volkskrant 22 september 1990, Het vervolg, p. 11.

Lawaai, in de Volkskrant 26 januari 1991, Het vervolg, p. 11.

Bert Verhoeff en Marcel Molle (foto’s), De uitslag, in de Volkskrant 9 maart 1991, Het vervolg, p. 11.

Frans Dijkstra (tekst), Verloren vallei, in Trouw 21 december 1991, p. 8.

Bert Verhoeff en Menno van de Koppel (samenstelling), Een bekeken zaak. Het laatste decennium van de oude Tweede Kamer gefotografeerd, Amsterdam (Menno van de Koppel) 1992 (met foto’s).

New York, in De Mediakrant 2 (september 1992) 6, p. 34-37 (met foto’s).

Misdaad. Cops, in De Mediakrant 2/3 (december 1992/januari 1993) 9/1, p. 14-15 (met foto’s).

Max van Weezel (tekst), Taco Anema en BertVerhoeff (foto’s), De Rode Loper. De PvdA 100 jaar later, Eindhoven/Amsterdam (Lecturis/De Verbeelding) 1994.

Wim Kok (voorw.), Werry Crone e.a. (foto’s), De formatie van Paars 1994, Amsterdam (Menno van de Koppel) 1994.

De terugkeer van het zwart-wit. De andere World Press-foto’s van Bert Verhoeff, in Vrij Nederland (19 februari 1994) 7, p. 36-41.

Max van Weezel (tekst), Taco Anema en BertVerhoeff (foto’s), Socialisten, op weg naar de macht. En terug. De PvdA in drie generaties, in Vrij Nederland (10 december 1994) 49, omslag, p. 42-48.

Jakarta. Manhattan in de kampong, in Vrij Nederland (16 september 1995) 37, omslag, p. 25-27.


images in:

Tuney Tunes april/mei 1967.

NRC Handelsblad 1979-1991.

Algemeen Dagblad 1979-1991.

Het Parool 1979-1991.

Trouw 1979-1991.

de Volkskrant 1979-heden.

Stedelijke Jaarverslagen Gemeentebestuur Amsterdam, 1980-1992.

Vrij Nederland 4 juli 1981.

De Tijd 9 (12 november 1982) 423, p. 21.

Elseviers Magazine 1984-1987.

Herman, Zwart op wit. Nieuwsfotografie in de media, Amsterdam (Lont en Raket) 1984, omslag.

Vrij Nederland 26 mei 1984.

Elseviers Weekblad 6 oktober 1984, p. 7.

NRC Handelsblad 25 januari 1985.

De Tijd 12 (19 april 1985), p. 10.

The Paper juni/juli 1985.

Vrij Nederland 23 augustus ig86.

Elsevier 1987-heden.

NRC Handelsblad 19 maart 1987.

Hans Aarsman, Denken is moeilijk, niet denken is moeilijker. Elf serieuze fotografen en de aanloopstrook, z.p. (Ribapers) 1988.

Nieuwe Revu (13-20 juli 1989) 29, p. 36-38, 41.

Marijke Bergh (red.), Libertate! De Roemeense revolutie, Amsterdam (Buijten en Schipperheijn) 1990, p. 70, 86-89.

Papoea’s houden vast aan eigen leefwijze, in Leidsch Dagblad 8 januari 1992, p. 1-2.

Peter Rehwinkel en Jan Nekkers, Regerenderwijs. De PvdA in het kabinet-Lubbers/Kok, Amsterdam (Bert Bakker) 1994- omslag, p. 8, 14, 30, 44, 58, 72, 84, 98, 112, 128, 142, 156, 172, 184, 198, 208, 222, 240, 262, 290.

Leidsch Dagblad 20 januari 1994.

‘Gelijk een wereld van verschil’, Anne Frank Krant 14+, 1994/1995.

Jaap Verschoor (hoofdred.), Kroniek ’94. Volledig jaaroverzicht in woord en beeld, Amsterdam (AGON) 1995, p. 2, 90, 97.

Jeroen Trommelen en Sietse van der Hoek, In de ban van het water, z.p. (Amsterdam) (de Volkskrant/Kosmos-Z&K Uitgevers) 1995, p. 49-54, 71, 83-84.

GKf Berichten januari 1995, omslag.

NRC Handelsblad 3 februari 1995,

Cultureel Supplement Literair, p. 5.

GKf Berichten maart 1995, omslag.


in Het aanzien van … Twaalf maanden wereldnieuws in beeld:

1979, p. 118.

1980, p. 198-199, 226, 228-229.

1981, p. 19, 23, 25, 28, 44-45, 52, 72-73, 75, 86-87, 90- 94, 100-101, 112, 116, 132, 162, 171, 176, 181, 186.

1982, p. 26, 31, 36, 52-53, 62-63, 132-133, 162, 178, 189, 196, 210-211.

1983, p. 11, 42, 51, 54-55, 61, 141, 189, 219, 232-233.

1985, p. 27, 210.

1986, p. 135.

1987,p. 131.

1988, p. 8, 16, 35, 49, 54, 56-57, 99, 126.

1990, p. 19, 30-31, 35, 54, 143.

1991, p. 160.

1992, p. 8, 16, 22, 26, 35, 45, 96, 116.

1993, p. 11, 20, 48, 51, 56, 76, 97, 142, 161.

1994, p. 18a-18b, 84-85, 89, 141, 159, 163a-163b, 178.


in Jaar te kijk …De Zilveren Camera:

1978, p. 4, 9, 60.

1979, ongepag., afb. 53.

1980, ongepag., afb. 7, 35, 82, 154.

1981, ongepag., afb. 3, 145.

1984, p. 4-5, 10, 12, 15.

1986, p. 6, 10-11, 27, 31-32, 38.

1987, p. 9, 60, 66-69.

1988, p. 86-91.

1989, p. 23.

1990, p. 35.

1991, p. 28-29.

1992, p. 17-18, 79-80.

Secondary bibliography

Catalogus tent. De stad in zwart/wit. 5 Jaar Amsterdamse dokumentaire fotoopdrachten, Amsterdam (Museum Fodor) 1981, p. 30, 34 (Skrien (juni 1981) 108, bijlage).

Jan Blokker, Nieuws, in Schipholland (19 december 1981) 16, p. 6.

Fred Jansz, Je komt jezelf steeds weer tegen. Bert Verhoeff, fotojournalist, in Foto 37 (januari 1982) 1, p. 34-38 (met foto’s).

R.B. (= Rolf Bos), Schurken, in de Volkskrant 22 december 1984, Het vervolg, p. 11.

World Press Photo, in De Tijd 11 (22 februari 1985) 24, p. 29.

Auteur onbekend, Fotograaf Bert Verhoeff wint Zilveren Camera, in de Volkskrant 1 maart 1985.

Wim de Jong, Bert Verhoeff. De mens achter de fotojournalist (Zilveren Camera ’84), in Focus (april 1985) 4, p. 28-33 (met foto’s).

Katrien Gottlieb en Ernst Gottlieb, Interview, in Professionele Fotografie (augustus/september 1985) 4, p. 8-11.

Tineke Luijendijk en Louis Zweers, Parlementaire fotografie. … van Colijn tot Lubbers, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1987, p. 71, 73, 92-93, 103, 105, 112-113, 115, 117.

Ellen Kok, Contact Bert Verhoeff, in Focus 74 (juni 1987) 6, p. 26-27.

Auteur onbekend, Vijftig jaar parlementaire fotografie. Gevluchte Duitser Salomon zorgde met lichtsterke camera voor doorbraak, in NRC Handelsblad 10 juni 1987, p. 2.

Maurice Wilbrink, Hartverscheurend Bangladesh, in Het Vrije Volk 6 oktober 1988, p. 1, 20.

Auteur onbekend, Bert Verhoeff wordt fotojournalist van het jaar 1988, in de Volkskrant 11 januari 1989.

Albert de Lange, Ik word hels van een hand voor de lens, in Het Parool 14 januari 1989.

Theo Temmink, De angst om “het moment” te missen heb ik niet meer zo, in Elsevier 45 (21 januari 1989) 3, p. 26-27.

Herman Hoeneveld, Bert Verhoeff. Fotojournalist van het Jaar, in P/F Professionele Fotografie (februari 1989) 1, p. 6, 8-13 (met foto’s).

Auteur onbekend, Bert Verhoeff. Fotojournalist van het jaar, in Focus 76 (maart 1989) 3, p. 5, 14-15 (met foto’s).

Huub Jansen, Fotojournalist van het jaar Bert Verhoeff: Het is maar hoe het balletje rolt (interview), in Fotoprof 7 (maart 1989) 1, p. 8-9, 11 (met foto’s).

Hans Sanders, Een andere foto. Het beste van drie fotografen, in KRO Studio 65 (27 april-3 mei 1991) 17, p. 14-19, 58.

Anneke van Veen (red.), Foto’s voor de stad. Amsterdamse documentaire foto-opdrachten 1972-1991, Amsterdam (Gemeentearchief Amsterdam) 1992, ongepag., nr. 073.

Auteur onbekend, Fotograaf Bert Verhoeff ziet zijn werk nog steeds als hobby, in Amstelgids 16 juli 1992, p. 9.

Auteur onbekend, De reportage, in Focus 80 (mei 1993) 5, p. 44-47 (met foto’s).

Arend Evenhuis, De beste foto maakt tekst overbodig, in Trouw 13 mei 1993, Kunst, p. 4.

Rolf Bos (tekst), Guus Dubbelman e.a. (foto’s), Schrijven met licht, foto’s voor de Volkskrant, Amsterdam (de Volkskrant) 1994.

Auteur onbekend, Stemming World Press Photo, in Het Parool 10 februari 1994.

Arjen Ribbens, World Press Photo: subtiel beeld wint, in NRC Handelsblad 11 februari 1994.

Dirk Kuin, Bert Verhoeff. De kunst van “het er niet bij willen zijn” (interview), in Camera Magazine (december 1994/januari 1995) 6, p. 50-53.

Jan Tromp, ‘Wij zoeken de zweetkamertjes’, in de Volkskrant 19 december 1994, p.6.

Auteur onbekend, De ‘verbluffende informaliteit’ van 100 jaar sociaal-democratie, in Trouw 20 december 1994, p. 2 (met foto’s).

Mark Kranenburg, Bloei en neergang van een droom. Hoe Brinkman voorbij ging, in NRC Handelsblad 29 december 1994.

Rolf Bos, De ‘onvergetelijke’ formatie van 1994, in de Volkskrant 7 januari 1995.

Roel Sandvoort, Fotografen van de Sociale Democratie, in Hollands Licht (1995) 1, p. 32-34.

Frits Baarda, De Rode Loper. Taco Anema en Bert Verhoeff, in Focus 80 (maart 1995) 3, p. 83.

Josephine van Bennekom, Bert Verhoeff. Een introductie, in Nieuwsbrief Nederlands Fotoarchief 5 (april 1995) 1, p. 15-16.

Andree van Es, Met de ene hand geven wij een aalmoes, met de andere hand slaan wij ze van ons af, in Hollands Licht (1995) 2, p. 30-31.


NVF vanaf 1970, bestuurslid 1992-1995.

Bestuur Stichting De Zilveren Camera vanaf 1993.

Jury World Press Photo 1993, 1994.

Stichting Nederlands Fotoarchief, bestuurslid (voorzitter) vanaf 1995.


1981 Derde prijs categorie Theater/Kunst, wedstrijd om De Zilveren Camera 1980.

1985 Eerste prijs categorie Hard Nieuws, tevens winnaar van De Zilveren Camera 1984.

1988 Eerste prijs categorie Buitenland en derde prijs categorie Nieuws, wedstrijd om De Zilveren Camera 1987.

1989 Fotojournalist van het Jaar 1988.

1992 Derde prijs categorie Nieuws, wedstrijd om De Zilveren Camera 1991.


1979 (g) Amsterdam, Expositieruimte Luchthaven Schiphol, De Zilveren Camera 1978 (rondreizende tentoonstelling).

1980 (g) Amsterdam, Expositieruimte Luchthaven Schiphol, De Zilveren Camera 1979 (rondreizende tentoonstelling).

1981 (g) Amsterdam, Expositieruimte Luchthaven Schiphol, De Zilveren Camera 1980 (rondreizende tentoonstelling).

1981 (g) Amsterdam, Museum Fodor, De stad in zwart/wit.

1984 (g) Amsterdam, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, (tentoonstelling georganiseerd door de Anne Frank Stichting).

1985 (g) Amsterdam, Expositieruimte Luchthaven Schiphol, De Zilveren Camera 1984 (rondreizende tentoonstelling).

1986 (g) Amstelveen, Stadhuis Amstelveen, Amstel (expositie fotografenvereniging “Stroming”).

1987 (g) Den Haag, Haags Historisch Museum, Parlementaire fotografie … van Colijn tot Lubbers.

1987 (g) Utrecht, Jaarbeurs, De Zilveren Camera 1986 (rondreizende tentoonstelling).

1988 (g) Utrecht jaarbeurs, De Zilveren Camera 1987 (rondreizende tentoonstelling).

1989 (g) Naarden, Fotofestival Naarden.

1989 (e) Duivendrecht, Dorpshuis, (overzichtstentoonstelling).

1989 (g) Utrecht, Jaarbeurs, De Zilveren Camera 1988 (rondreizende tentoonstelling).

1990 (g) Utrecht, Jaarbeurs, De Zilveren Camera 1989 (rondreizende tentoonstelling).

1991 (g) Utrecht, Jaarbeurs, De Zilveren Camera 1990 (rondreizende tentoonstelling).

1992 (g) Amsterdam, Museum Fodor, Foto’s voor de Stad. Amsterdamse documentaire foto-opdrachten 1972-1991.

1992 (g) Utrecht, Jaarbeurs, De Zilveren Camera 1991 (rondreizende tentoonstelling).

1992 (g) Den Haag, Gebouw Tweede Kamer, 10 Jaar Parlementaire Fotografie in Nederland.

1993 (e) Naarden, Gebouw Promers, Fotofestival Naarden.

1994 (g) Den Haag, Tweede Kamer (wisselende tentoonstelling tijdens de kabinetsformatie).

1995 (g) Amsterdam, Nieuwe Kerk, De rode droom.


1989 Een andere foto, documentaire over drie freelance fotojournalisten. Eindexamenfilm van Gilles Frenken (uitgezonden op televisie, 1 mei 1991 door de KRO).

Radio programs

1989 Gied Jaspers (interview).

1988 Nachtwacht (VARA).

Television programs

1988 (18 januari) TV-weekjournaal (reportage over schaatsen in Heerenveen, naar aanleiding van World Press Photo) (schooltelevisie).

1989 (januari) TV 3 (interview naar aanleiding verkiezing tot fotojournalist van het jaar).

1989 (februari) Jeugdjournaal Extra (over persfotografie) (NOS).

1989 (maart) Kinderkookcafé (KRO).

1990 Jeugdjournaal (naar aanleiding van boek Hollands dossier 1980-1990) (NOS).

1991 (april) Lopend Vuur (naar aanleiding van boek Hollands dossier 1980-1990) (NOS).

1992 (15 mei) Fotofeestweek (programma van Ralph Inbar naar aanleiding van promotieweek fotografie) (Tros).

1993 (februari) Stadsrumoer (interview van Frenk der Nederlanden met Bert Verhoeff over Rijksmuseumopdracht) (AT 5).

1994 (februari) [nieuwsprogramma] (interview over de jurering van World Press Photo) (AT 5).


Amsterdam, Theo Audenaerd, mondelinge informatie.

Amsterdam, Rolf Bos, mondelinge informatie.

Amsterdam, Jenny Smets, mondelinge informatie.

Amsterdam, Louis Zaal, mondelinge informatie.

Broek in Waterland, Bert Verhoeff, mondelinge informatie.

Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.


Amsterdam, Gemeentearchief.

Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.

Den Haag, Haags Historisch Museum.

Haarlem, Nederlands Foto- & Grafisch Centrum (Spaarnestad Fotoarchief).

Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit Leiden.


Hollandse Hoogte, Amsterdam