PhotoLexicon, Volume 17, nr. 33 (August 2000) (en)

John Fernhout

Solange de Boer


John Fernhout was essentially a filmmaker. He took photographs on the side, but had no major ambitions in the field of photography. In spite of this, Fernhout worked with photography actively and at a high level of quality during the 1920s and ’30s. A number of his photos are considered to be some of the finest examples of New Photography. In addition, Fernhout shot numerous photos during film shoots as well as at gatherings of family and friends. The latter category of photos also provides an interesting picture of the circle of friends centred around Charley Toorop and Joris Ivens.




Johannes Hendrik (John Ferno) Fernhout is born on 9 August in Bergen (North-Holland) as the second son of the painter Charley Toorop (1891-1955) and her husband, the philosopher Hendrik (Henk) Fernhout. John’s brother, Edgar, was born on 17 August 1912.


Annetje Fernhout, Edgar and John’s sister, is born in Utrecht. In late 1916, the family moves to the artists’ commune Huize Meerhuizen on the Amsteldijk in Amsterdam.


Hendrik Fernhout and Charley Toorop’s marriage ends.


Charley Toorop moves with her children to ‘De Vlerken’, a house designed in collaboration with the architect Piet Kramer, on the Buerweg in Bergen.


In October, the family moves to Leidsegracht 48 in Amsterdam. De Vlerken is subleased.


John Fernhout becomes an apprentice to the filmmaker Joris Ivens and subsequently moves in with him. He works as a jack-of-all-trades on Ivens’ film De Brug (‘The Bridge’), as well as the film Branding (‘Surf’), directed by Mannus Franken, with Ivens behind the camera. In August, Fernhout travels to Ploumanach (Brittany) on holiday with his family and Arthur Muller Lehning.


The film Branding makes its premiere on 9 February at the Filmliga (‘Film League’) in Amsterdam. Fernhout assists Joris Ivens with the film Regen (‘Rain’, in which he also appears as an extra). This film premieres on 14 December, also at the Filmliga in Amsterdam. Charley Toorop and Arthur Muller Lehning travel around Europe and stay in rented lodging rooms above Café De Valk in Westkapelle, where Fernhout visits them.

For Ivens’ film Heien (‘Pile Driving’), Fernhout does the camerawork himself for the first time. This later becomes the first act of the film Wij Bouwen (‘We Build’), Ivens’ first film on behalf of the labour movement. Fernhout is also involved in a film by Ivens that has since been lost, entitled Schaatsenrijden (‘Skating’).


Fernhout shoots a portion of the film for Zuiderzeewerken (‘Zuiderzee Works’), concerning the closing of the Afsluitdijk (28 May 1932). This film will also eventually serve as a single act in Wij Bouwen. The final version will be adapted for the film Nieuwe Gronden (‘New Grounds’).

Fernhout lives with Charley Toorop, Arthur Muller Lehning and his brother in Paris, where he studies cinematography. Fernhout is dissatisfied and never completes this study.


Fernhout assists Ivens with shoots for the film Creosoot (‘Creosote’).

Fernhout joins ranks with ‘Studio Ivens’, a group of young people centred around Ivens.

Together with Mark Kolthoff, Fernhout shoots Ivens’ first sound film Philips-Radio, which premieres on 28 September at the Tuschinski movie theatre in Amsterdam.

On Ivens’ urging, Fernhout takes photography classes in the fall at the Agfa Schule (‘Agfa School’) in Berlin. Here he takes his first photos with a 35 mm Leica. Through the photographer György Kepes, Fernhout meets Eva Besnyö. During this period, he also meets Robert Capa, an old neighbour of Besnyö’s from her childhood.


In the spring, Fernhout and Besnyö become romantically involved. In September, they move to Amsterdam and work on Hans Sluizer’s now lost film Puberteit (‘Puberty’). Besnyö plays the leading role; Fernhout is the cameraman.

Fernhout becomes a member of the VAF (Vereeniging van Arbeiders-Fotografen, ‘Association of Worker Photographers’).


On 25 July, Fernhout marries Eva Besnyö. Ivens, Anneke van der Feer, Charley Toorop, Fernhout and Besnyö spend their holiday together in Westkapelle.

Fernhout and Besnyö depart for Hungary to make a photo reportage in the slum neighbourhood Kiserdö, on the outskirts of Budapest. Fernhout is a director’s assistant on Hans Richter’s film for Philips: Hallo Everybody.


The film Puberteit premieres at the Uitkijk movie theatre in Amsterdam.

Fernhout photographs the ‘Jordaanoproer’ (‘Jordaan Uprising’) in Amsterdam.

Fernhout teaches at the Filmtechnische Leergang (‘Film-Technical Study’) in Amsterdam.

The Belgian film director Henri Storck asks Fernhout to make three films. In August/September, he departs for Easter Island.

On 10 December, Fernhout’s brother, Edgar, marries Rachel Pellekaan.


Fernhout makes three films in collaboration with Henri Storck. This is the first time he is responsible for both the camerawork and the film direction. Storck does the production and the film editing. This results in the films Paascheiland (‘Easter Island’), De steven naar het zuiden (‘The Bow to the South’) and Driemaster ‘Mercator’ (‘Tall Ship Mercator’). During his trip to Easter Island, Fernhout makes reportages about Gauguin’s gravesite, Pitcairn (Mutiny on the Bounty), and the Panama Canal. More films follow with Storck in the next two years.


In the winter of 1936-’37, Fernhout directs the film Land in zicht (‘Land in Sight’) for the CPH (Communistische Partij Holland, ‘Communist Party of the Netherlands’) in anticipation of an election campaign. He does so under the pseudonym Pieter Bruggens. Emiel van Moerkerken works on the film as a cameraman.


Ivens asks Fernhout to work as a cameraman on a documentary about the Spanish Civil War, entitled The Spanish Earth (commissioned by Contemporary Historians Incorporated). The crew stays at the Hotel Florida in Madrid, as do Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, Martha Gellhorn, and Ernest Hemingway (who narrates the film’s commentary). The film is shot from 21 January until the end of April in Valencia as well as in and around Madrid. Fernhout also takes photographs during the film’s shooting. These are shown at the exhibition Foto ’37 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.


Fernhout departs with Capa, who plans to do a photo reportage, leaving from Marseille on the passenger ship Aramis and arriving in Hong Kong on 15 February. Ivens arrives one week earlier. They travel for six months around China. In the fall, Fernhout and Ivens fly directly from China to the United States by seaplane.


The premiere of The 400 million takes place on 7 March 1939 at the Cameo movie theatre in New York. Ivens and Fernhout then depart for six weeks to Europe. Eva Besnyö picks them up in Paris, and on 14 April, they arrive in Amsterdam. At the Noordhollands Koffiehuis (‘North-Holland Coffee House’), they speak to the waiting journalists about their travels.

Fernhout then settles in the United States under the name John Ferno.


The Second World War prevents Fernhout from returning to the Netherlands. He works for the Educational Film Institute at New York University and the National Film Board of Canada. This results in the films A Child went Forth (with Joseph Losey and Hanns Eisler), High over the Borders (for the Canadian Film Board), and Youth Gets a Break (with Losey, Willard van Dyke and Ralph Steiner). In New York, Fernhout meets the dancer, Blanche Korchien (‘Polly’), via Robert Capa.


Fernhout works for the Netherlands Information Bureau in New York, where he is made the official head of the newly established ‘Film Department’ in 1943. Fernhout makes films on various subjects, including the baptism of Princess Margriet in Canada and Princess Juliana’s trip to the Antilles and Suriname.


Fernhout’s son with Polly Korchien, Douwes, is born in New York on 15 March.


In October 1944, Fernhout accompanies the Allied armed forces to Europe as a war correspondent (as head of the film section). On 10 November, he makes the crossing from England to the liberated Belgian coast. De Regeerings Voorlichtingsdienst (‘Governmental Information Service’) has requested that Fernhout record the liberation of the Netherlands. On 20 November, he films it from the start, with Frits Wassenburg and Piet Out as cameramen. These film shoots continue on until June 1945.


Fernhout makes several films, including Gebroken dijken (‘Broken Dikes’), about the flooding on Walcheren resulting from the bombardments, and Het laatste schot (‘The Final Shot’), about the end of the Second World War in the Netherlands. These films were compiled from material shot during the liberation.

Fernhout’s official divorce from Eva Besnyö takes place on 20 August. Fernhout marries Polly Korchien.


Fernhout makes the film Puerto Rico.


Fernhout directs seven geographic films, entitled People of the Earth, with Richard Leacock as cameraman. The series is produced by Louis de Rochemont for United World Films Inc. Fernhout films in France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Morocco and elsewhere. He lives in Paris, initially in hotels and later on the Quai Bleriot.


Fernhout lives in Bougival on Chateau St. Michel. Up until 1954, he makes numerous informational films on behalf of the Marshall Plan concerning the reconstruction of Europe in countries such as France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece, Italy and Israel. A sample of these films’ titles: Corinth Canal, Return from the Valley, Island of Faith, A Doctor for Ardaknos, Miner’s Widow. Following Miner’s Widow, Fernhout takes two years off and lives for one-and-a-half years in Rome on the Via Adda.


Fernhout travels to Israel with Henry Morgenthau Jr.—Secretary of Finance under President Roosevelt—to produce a Robert Capa film on the building of settlements.


Charley Toorop visits John and Polly in Rome from mid-January to mid-February.

Charley dies on 5 November.


Fernhout is associated with John Halas of Halas & Batchelor Cartoon Film Ltd., with whom he sets up Cinesphere LTD for the production of international films.


Fernhout lives in London at 50 Brunswick Gardens.

Fernhout makes film shoots in the Dutch Antilles for the film ABC, after which he stays in Jamaica.


Fernhout completes ABC and Blue Peter: both films are commissioned by the Ministry of OKW (Onderwijs, Kunsten en Wetenschap, ‘Education, Arts and Science’) and produced from out of London.


Fernhout lives in Loosdrecht (Netherlands) and subsequently moves to ‘s-Graveland.


Fernhout produces the animation film Dam de Delta (‘Dam the Delta’), about the struggle of the Dutch against the sea for the last one hundred years.


In Paris, Fernhout makes sixty films with Douwes (with whom he will continue working) about the French language, under the title Parlons Francais. The series is produced for American television by Louis de Rochemont in New York.

Polly Korchien dies on 6 February in Lausanne.


Fernhout directs Vigilant Switzerland, a film commissioned by the Swiss army for the Expo in Lausanne. The film is shown on a 70 mm super panorama screen with 18 sound channels. The film’s premier takes place on 30 April 1964.


Fernhout directs the film Fortress of Peace (an adapted version of Vigilant Switzerland), about the Swiss army in peace times, for which he receives an Oscar nomination. He rents a windmill in Abcoude where he lives and works.


Fernhout does both the production work and directs Delta Data, a documentary on the Netherlands’ ambitious Delta Plan.


Fernhout makes the film Sky over Holland (also a 70 mm film), which is awarded the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival in the same year. The film shows the relationship between the coast of the Netherlands and the Dutch landscape. Fernhout does the production and direction, while his son Douwes does the camerawork. Cas Oorthuys shoots the film stills.


Until 1980, Fernhout and Douwes film primarily in Israel. Fernhout clearly chooses sides for the Israeli stride against the Arabs and Palestinians. He commutes back and forth between the Netherlands and Israel. He has a house in Sperlanga (Italy), which he uses as a rest stop when driving between the two countries. In the Netherlands, he lives at the Apollo Hotel in Amsterdam. The first heart problems appear.


Fernhout makes the film The Tree of Life (with commentary narrated by Laurence Olivier), concerning the Jewish diaspora and the birth of Israel.


The film They want to Live is released during the October War. The film is about life in a settlement during the October War (film script by Julia Meirovna Wiener).


The film The Longest Wave is released, concerning the largest Jewish wave of immigration to Israel, i.e. those arriving from the Soviet Union (film script Julia Wiener).

John and Douwes rent a home on Jericho Road in Jerusalem.

Fernhout’s brother, Edgar Fernhout, dies on 4 November.


Julia Wiener moves in with Fernhout and Douwes.


Fernhout makes the film Mijn generatie is zwart-wit (‘My Generation is Black and White’), about the Dutch photographer Cas Oorthuys. The film is based on Oorthuys’ archive. Also working on this film are Dick Elffers, Willem Diepraam, and Bert Nienhuis.

On 17 July, John Fernhout marries Julia Wiener in Amsterdam.


Two of Fernhout’s films are released in this year: Museum on the Hill, concerning the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and Jerusalem the Golden City, about the city’s tourist attractions.

Fernhout returns to the Netherlands on a regular basis. At this time he lives at Hobbemastraat 20 in Amsterdam.


In June, four one-hour television programmes are televised, entitled Fernhout de filmer (‘Fernhout the Filmmaker’), produced by Belbo Film Produkties (‘Belbo Film Productions’).


Fernhout finishes De Drie Generaties (‘The Three Generations’), a film about his grandfather Jan Toorop, his mother Charley Toorop, and his brother, the painter Edgar Fernhout. Frank Oorthuys does the lighting. Nico Brederoo advises.


As of 1 May, Fernhout resides at Harskampweg 9 in Hoenderloo.


The film Het bewaarde landschap (‘The Preserved Landscape’) is released. The film concerns the symbiosis of the national park De Hoge Veluwe and the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller.

In February, Fernhout experiences a severe heart attack.


The Royal Dutch Touring Club (ANWB) awards Fernhout with the ‘Edo Bergsma Prize’ for Het bewaarde landschap.

Fernhout dies on 1 March in Jerusalem.


John Fernhout had already determined the direction his life would take at a young age. At barely fifteen years of age, Fernhout was placed under the care of Joris Ivens by his mother, the painter Charley Toorop, due to his poor behaviour at school. After this point, it was clear for him what he wanted to do: to make films. According to Ivens, John talked very little, much like himself. But the two understood each other perfectly, without using many words.

Charley Toorop was interested in film and photography, as affirmed by her involvement in the founding of the Filmliga (‘Film League’) in 1927. This interest is certain to have increased in the years that followed as a result of her interaction with Arthur Muller Lehning, with whom she had a personal relationship from 1928 to 1931. Lehning was the publisher of the magazine i 10, with Laszló Moholy-Nagy as the editor responsible for film and photography. Charley Toorop nevertheless found photography to be inferior to painting, because in her view this medium could capture only one moment, as opposed to painting, which could represent a wide range of sensations. It was therefore not Toorop, but Ivens, who gave direction to Fernhout’s life at a young age on various levels. It was he who taught Fernhout about the technique of film, hereby influencing the young boy’s way of seeing and the way in which he portrayed his subjects stylistically. In addition, it was via Ivens that he came to know the international avant-garde, not only in film, but also in photography and other artistic forms.

After working as a jack-of-all-trades and subsequently having been involved in Ivens’ films as a camera assistant—such as De Brug (‘The Bridge’), Branding (‘The Surf’), and Wij Bouwen (‘We Build’)—Ivens urged Fernhout to undertake a study in photographic technique. While there was still no study for film, in this way Fernhout would be able to get a proper training in fundamentals that would also prove extremely handy in film. Ivens was very much up to date when it came to the latest innovations in photography: his father had made him the director of C.A.P. Ivens’ affiliate store on the Kalverstraat in Amsterdam. In the early 1920s, he had also had a technique-based education in photography in Berlin, Dresden, and Jena (Germany). Moreover, it was during these years that Ivens was involved in a romantic relationship with Germaine Krull, the German photographer, who introduced him to the Berlin avant-garde.

Like Ivens, Fernhout also had to travel abroad in order to get an education in photography. He initially enrolled in a study in Paris in 1930, but this failed to meet his satisfaction. From this period, only few street images and a couple of photos of his friends Eli Lotar and Umbo are still surviving. Lotar and Fernhout also took photos of each other in Amsterdam, when both were working as assistants in 1930 on Ivens’ films Zuiderzeewerken (‘Zuiderzee Works’) and Wij Bouwen (‘We Build’).

After Paris, Fernhout took lessons in Berlin at the Agfa Schule (‘Agfa School’) starting in October 1931. He remained there for about one year. Just as with Ivens, however, it was not so much the training but rather his interaction with the Hungarian photographer, Eva Besnyö, which inspired him to photograph with enthusiasm and brought him into contact with the latest developments in this area. Joris Ivens was as well regularly spending time in Berlin during the years 1930-’31, then busy with shooting the film Creosoot (‘Creosote’), for which Fernhout was a camera assistant.

It was in Berlin that Fernhout first became intensively involved with photography. A single microscopic shot is all that remains of his assignments at the Agfa Schule. For the rest, Fernhout took full freedom in what could be considered as the opposite of this technical-based study: in the spirit of New Photography, he photographed his surroundings, and especially his friends, using compositions that were frequently determined by diagonals, an element introduced by the Russian filmmakers that Ivens admired. The best-known example of this is the photo of Eva Besnyö, lying across portrait photos of a graphologist once photographed by her. This photo is considered one of the finest examples of New Photography.

Less well known is the portrait of György Kepes and Chaja Goldstein, as well with a composition that is emphatically diagonal. It was through Kepes that Fernhout had met Besnyö. In the years that Fernhout was in Berlin, the city was still a leading centre of culture. Besides Hollywood, the German film industry was the centre for both silent film as well as avant-garde film. An important event for photography was the exhibition Fotomontage (‘Photomontage’), was organised by the painter, Cesar Domela, in the German capital in 1931. The photomontage, a method by which fragments of photos are put together in forming a coherent composition, played an important role in advertising and the political struggles existing at the time. In Germany, it was particularly John Herzfelde (later Heartfield) who experimented with this visual form; in the Netherlands, Piet Zwart and Paul Schuitema. Fernhout may possibly have seen this exhibition and experimented with photomontages himself. The technique is certain to have interested him. After all, with photomontage one can suggest movement and tell a ‘story’, by placing each separate image in a dynamic way either alongside or on top of each other. In this manner, photomontage can be seen as a bridge between photography and film. However, the only example that remains of Fernhout’s work in this regard is a combination print, as opposed to a photomontage, that he made in 1934 while in the Netherlands, comprised of two negatives—each turned in relation to each other—taken of the painter, Pyke Koch, on a ladder.

Around 1930, people referred to what was called ‘Studio Ivens’. Besides Fernhout, this also included Joop Huisken, Mark Kolthoff, Hans Wolf, Helen van Dongen and Wim Bon. They provided a course on film technique to students, as well as an opportunity to experiment. In 1931, Fernhout—just as all of the other employees at Studio Ivens—became a member of the VAF (Vereeniging van Arbeiders-Fotografen, ‘Association of Worker-Photographers’), an organisation linked to the CPH (‘Communistische Partij Holland, ‘Dutch Communist Party’). Ivens had previously been involved with the founding of the VAF in March 1931: in the fall of 1930, he taught a photography class from which the VAF arose. Similarly, he also gave its members access to photo material coming from CAPI (his father’s photography business). Once Fernhout had left Berlin for good and returned to the Netherlands, he again became very active on behalf of the VAF. Eva Besnyö also became a member in 1933.

In that same year, Fernhout and Besnyö—while on their ‘honeymoon trip’—made a reportage on the slum neighbourhood Kiserdö in Budapest. Both of them took photographs (it still remains unclear which photos are to be attributed to whom) and Eva conducted the interviews. An account of the reportage appeared in the Communist newspaper, De Tribune, but due to a lack of funds, the actual photos could not be printed. An opportunity for this would later arise with Het Leven Geïllustreerd (‘Life Illustrated’).

During the Jordaanoproer (‘The Jordaan Uprising’) in Amsterdam, Fernhout was one of the ‘worker- photographers’ that photographed the demonstration. A couple of photos (a victim of police treatment and a policeman in action) were published in Links Richten (‘Aim Left’) and the brochure Roode Juli 1934 (‘Red July 1934’). Both publications were devoted solely to the Jordaan Uprising. Only a few other shots have been preserved from Fernhout’s time as a worker-photographer. The photos of Kiserdö and the Jordaan Uprising are starkly different from the photos that he took during his time in Berlin. Rather than taking aesthetic photos of ordinary subjects, Fernhout instead focussed on topics that were socially motivated in the manner of a reportage photographer. A similar transformation can likewise be observed in the photographic oeuvres of colleagues such as Piet Zwart and Paul Schuitema. In these activities, they saw an opportunity to apply a knowledge of photography towards addressing class-based conflict. In a certain sense, the same applies to Fernhout. Ivens describes him as a sceptic who maintained a neutral stance when it came to political parties, but because of his character, his upbringing and the people with whom he associated, he was also someone that strongly believed in justice and freedom. This conclusion may in any case be drawn from the photo of the Jordaan Uprising, in which the head of a demonstrator, shot dead, is shown from very close up without reserve. Admittedly, the aesthetic aspect of these photos has not been completely overlooked, as can be seen in the shot of a pawn shop owner standing in his display window: he can barely be seen behind a ‘curtain’ of wristwatches.

After these reportages, Fernhout became increasingly involved in film. Accordingly, the subjects of his photos are an extension of the film that he was working on at any given moment. They reveal the degree to which Fernhout had an eye for photography. Even when, in fact, photography was of secondary concern, the photos he took were well balanced in composition. While this may perhaps seem obvious for a skilled cameraman, there is more to it. Filming requires an entirely different approach than photographing for several reasons: because it involves teamwork, the end result can only be seen quite some time after, and because time and movement play an important role during the shooting.

This proved to be the case with Capa’s film experiments during the shooting of Ivens’ The 400 million (1938) in China. Fernhout did the camerawork and Capa travelled with them in order to take photos and become familiar with filming. Capa tried using the film camera for a short period, but neither he nor Ivens was satisfied. The working process was not to Capa’s liking and Ivens was unhappy with the result: ‘Capa had the eye of a photographer. (…) the theme of the fixed imaged as opposed to the moving image. The two kinds of images appear to be related in every way, and yet, they are also opposed to each other in every way. Capa made no distinction’. Fernhout, on the other hand, did have this ‘double talent’ in his possession: this can clearly be seen in the photos that he took during the filming of The Spanish Earth (1937), for which Fernhout did the camerawork.

Ivens asked him to also bring along a photo camera, because he had made some profitable deals for selling photos with the American press agencies. Just as in a few of Fernhout’s earlier photos, the photographic series that he made at this time reveals an aesthetic quality that strengthens the subject without damaging the content. Particularly the photos that he took of Ivens and Ernest Hemingway (who narrated the film’s commentary) at work are excellent examples of this, showing the two men’s silhouettes against the daylight during film shots on a balcony in Madrid. The photos of the battlefield in the vicinity of Madrid and the consequences of the battle itself depict the harsh reality from close up without making any attempt to conceal it, just as in some of the photos of the Jordaan Uprising.

Ivens also found the cold-bloodedness with which Fernhout did this admirable: ‘During these weeks, John Ferno turned out to be a war buddy with exceptional qualities. If he hadn’t been there, Spaanse Aarde [‘Spanish Earth’] would certainly not have become the film we made. John was unbelievably calm and courageous. Quite often I asked myself, when considering that he didn’t have any real political beliefs, where he got the mental political endurance, at least physically, to throw himself into the battle with so much composure. He said little, but took action.’ According to Eva Besnyö, Fernhout’s dedication was based above all on his loyalty to his teacher, followed by a desire for adventure, and in the last place, his anti-fascist sentiment. Eva made sure that Fernhout’s photos of the Spanish Civil War—together with those of Carel Blazer—were shown at the exhibition Foto ’37. In addition to showing photos taken while shooting the film, prints of the film shots were also exhibited.

The majority of Fernhout’s archive comprises photos taken in Fernhout’s private circle. Besides the inevitable snapshots, a number of the photos falling into this category are icons of New Photography, such as the aforementioned portrait of Eva Besnyö and the beach photos that John and Eva took of each other at the Baltic Sea (1932). Fernhout also took numerous shots of family and friends at the family home De Vlerken in Bergen (North Holland), as well as on holidays in Zeeland and France. Charley Toorop figured as a model in many of these photos. The most remarkable private photos were taken in the period that Fernhout maintained an intimate relationship with Besnyö, as it was during these years that he experimented freely with composition. Apparently, her presence and her style of photographing was an important stimulus for Fernhout. Indeed, the camera was passed back and forth between the two, making it sometimes unclear as to whether Fernhout or Besnyö was the author of a given photo. The photo series of a pub walk that Fernhout, Ivens, Carel Blazer and Besnyö made in 1939 in Amsterdam, after Eva had travelled to Paris to pick up Fernhout and Ivens upon their return from China, serves as the conclusion of this fruitful period.

Privately, Fernhout would continue to take photographs on a frequent basis. His personal shots from the late 1920s and ’30s depicting the artistic milieu centred around Charley Toorop and Joris Ivens are different from the personal photos that he took later. These were taken in a much smaller circle of people, i.e. Fernhout’s immediate family and people involved in any one particular film.

Fernhout initially photographed with a Rolleiflex camera, as can be seen in a self-portrait of circa 1928. During the filming of Creosoot (‘Creosote’) in 1930, he took photos with the Leica camera for the first time, which had been put onto the market in 1925. This 35-mm camera used the customary 35 mm cinema film, meaning that the film material for both was interchangeable. With his Leica, Fernhout applied the principles of Russian film that he had learned from Ivens in his photographs: close-ups, associative images and unusual cameral angles, including a diagonal composition (the ‘Russian Line’). In Fernhout’s photos there is a dynamic that reminds one of film. In a certain sense, they are in line with Ivens’ early films, such as Regen (‘Rain’), in which—despite the tripod’s liberation by the hand-held camera—the movement is derived not so much from the camera itself as from the objects and people who enter and leave the image. These early films, as such, are to be viewed as a succession of photos in which moving compositions can be seen.

Fernhout actively put into practice the notion that serves as the foundation of Russian film at the beginning of this century: i.e. that one can see more of the world with the help of a camera, thus providing a new perspective of that world. Fernhout captured the world around him on celluloid throughout his life. At the same time, photography—alongside film—was a way for him to explore his surroundings up until the end of the 1930s. It is precisely these years that formed a pinnacle in Fernhout’s work, as he managed to portray his subjects with power and vision, both in terms of style and content.


Primary bibliography

images in :

Pierre Bost, Photographies Modernes, Parijs (Librairie des Arts Décoratifs) z.j. [ca. 1930], p. 16-17.

Auteur onbekend, paria’s in Boedapest. De krotten van Kiserdö, in Het Leven. Geïllustreerd 29(17 maart 1934) 11, p. 336-338.

Auteur onbekend, paria’s in Boedapest. De krotten van Kiserdö, in Het Leven. Geïllustreerd 29 (24 maart 1934) 12, p. 379-381.

Links Front (augustus 1934) 5 [speciaal nummer Jordaanoproer], p. 4, 11.

(Brochure) Roode Juli 1934 [uitgave over Jordaanoproer van de IRH).

Wij. Ons werk ons leven (1935) 44, p. 4-5.

(Brochure) Eenheid voor vrede en socialisme – Tegen oorlog en fascisme, Amsterdam (CPH) 1936.

BKVK-bulletin (1937) 1.

Het Volk 19 juni 1937.

Paul Schuitema, Waar Nederland trotsch op is. Hoe we tegen het water vochten en wat we er mee deden, Leiden (Sijthoff) 1940.

Wereldkroniek 23 maart 1940.

NRC Handelsblad 30 november 1984, Cultureel Supplement, p. 9.

Yara Brusse en Tineke de Ruiter, Eva 75, Amsterdam (in eigen beheer) 1985, ongepag.

Secondary bibliography

Auteur onbekend, Arbeidersfotografen in Kiserdö, De Tribune 15 januari 1934, p. 4.

Bert Hogenkamp, Land in zicht of de aanzet tot een populaire filmcultuur, in Skrien (1977) 64, p. 30-31.

Flip Bool en Kees Broos (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1920-1940, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1979, p. 45, 48-49, 54-55, 60, 62, 64-65, 75-76, 81, 89, 94, 125, 134-135, 140, 142, 149 (met foto’s).

Peter Cowie, Dutch cinema. An Illustrated History, Londen (The Tantivy Press) 1979, p. 56-58, 141.

J.A. Frenkel, John Fernhout eindelijk in eigen land geëerd, in Haagsche Courant 6 juni 1981.

Evert van Tijn, NOS brengt serie over filmer John Fernhout, in Leidsch Dagblad 10 juni 1981.

Nico J. Brederoo e.a., Charley Toorop. Leven en werken, Amsterdam (Meulenhoff/Landshoff) 1982, p. 10-11, 27, 29, 31, 34-41, 45, 48-49, 60, 70, 72-73, 79- 83, 93-96, 104, 106-107, 111-112, 115-116, 120-122, 140, 142, 145, 156, 161-162, 165, 167, 173-176, 179, 189-190, 203- 204, 208.

Joris Ivens en Robert Destanque, Aan welke kant en in welk heelal. De geschiedenis van een leven, Amsterdam (Meulenhoff) 1982, p. 52, 147, 151, 155-158, 177-178, 181, 183-184, 186-189, 193-194, 198, 201, 281, 357.

Torn Rooduijn, Een definitief verleden. John Fernhouts films over Cas Oorthuys en drie generaties Toorop, in NRC Handelsblad 9 november 1984.

Nico J. Brederoo, Een familie van kunstenaars; Charley Toorop en Edgar Fernhout. [proefschrift ter verkrijging van de graad van Doctor in de Letteren aan de Rijksuniversiteit Leiden], z.p. 1985, [Charley Toorop:] p. 10-11, 27, 29, 31, 34-41, 45, 48-49, 60, 70, 72-73. 79-83, 93-96, 104, 106-107, 111-112, 115-116, 120-122, 140, 142, 145, 156, 161-162, 165, 167, 173-176, 179, 189-190, 203-204, 208; [Edgar Fernhout:] p. 1,4-6,8, 11,44-45,47,57,80-82, 85-87.

Pieter Ploeg, In de bronsttijd buiten slapen. Vader en zoon Fernhout verfilmen vijftigjaar Hoge Veluwe, in Leidsch Dagblad 4 maart 1985.

Karel Dibbets en Frank van der Maden (red.), Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse film en bioscoop tot 1940, Houten (Het Wereldvenster) 1986, p. 166, 168-170, 172, 204-205, 207-210, 218.

Esther Talboom, [interview met John en Douwes Fernhout], in Deventer Dagblad 2 oktober 1986 (bijlage Plus Uit).

Hans Beerekamp, John Fernhout 1913-1987. Een onberispelijk vakman, in NRC Handelsblad 2 maart 1987.

Bert Hogenkamp, De Nederlandse documentaire film 1920-1940, Utrecht/Amsterdam (Audiovisueel Archief van de Stichting Film en Wetenschap/Van Gennep) 1988, p. 49, 53, 60,63-64,91.

Flip Bool en Kees Broos (red.), De Nieuwe Fotografie in Nederland, Amsterdam/Den Haag; (Fragment/SDU) 1989, p. 11, 16, 26, 38 68, 80, 118-119, 138 (met foto’s).

Ingeborg Leijerzapf e.a. (tekst), Het beslissende beeld. Hoogtepunten uit de Nederlandse fotografie van de 20e eeuw, Amsterdam (BIS) 1991, p. 1, 190-191.

Carel Blotkamp, De werkplaats. Eva Besnyö fotografeert Charley Toorop, in Kunstschrift 38 (1994) 3, p. 48-49.

Flip Bool, John Fernhout in Spanje, in GKf-Bulletin (1994) 2, p. 10-13.

Alette Fleischer e.a., De maaltijd der vrienden. Kunstenaars in Bergen 1930-1935, Amsterdam/Bergen (Alexander Valeton) 1994, p. 6-7, 10-11, 17-18, 22-24, 26-28, 30-31, 33-34, 37, 40, 50-59, 61-62, 66-67, 113-114, 133-134, 138-139 (met foto’s).

Bert Hogenkamp, John Fernhout filmt de bevrijding van Nederland in dienst van de RVD. Een artiest tussen de ambtenaren, in GBG-Nieuws (1994) 28, p. 4-18.

Hans Schoots, Gevaarlijk leven. Een biografie van Joris Ivens, Amsterdam (Jan Mets) 1995, p. 75-76, 92, 96, 98, 127, 161, 163-173, 188, 192-204, 215- 216, 275-277, 320, 379.

André Stufkens (red), Passages. Joris Ivens en de kunst van deze eeuw, Nijmegen (Museum Het Valkhof/Europese Stichting Joris Ivens) 1999, p. 66, 70-71, 135-136, 142-150, 159-160, 170-171, 174-176, 178-179, 195-196, 217, 252 (met foto’s).

Willem Diepraam (tekst) , Eva Besnyö, Amsterdam (Focus Publishing) 1999, p. 71, 84-85, 90-93, 96-97, 104-105, 121, 135, 139, 172, 186.


VAT, 1932-1933.

BKVK, vanaf 1936.


1933 (g) Brussel, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Deuxieme Exposition Internationale de la Photographie et du Cinema.

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

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

1989 (g) Amsterdam, Nieuwe Kerk, De Nieuwe Fotografie in Nederland (Foto ’89).

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

1999/2000 (g) Nijmegen, Museum Het Valkhof, Passages. Joris Ivens en de kunst van deze eeuw.


1929 Branding (regie: Mannus Franken en Joris Ivens; assistent: John Fernhout).

1929 Regen (regie: Joris Ivens en Mannus Franken; assistent: John Fernhout).

1929 Heien [onderdeel van Wij Bouwen] (regie: Joris Ivens; camera: John Fernhout).

1930 Wij Bouwen (regie: Joris Ivens; camera: John Fernhout e.a.).

1930 Zuiderzeewerken [onderdeel van Wij Bouwen; laatste versie wordt bewerkt tot de film Nieuwe Gronden] (regie: Joris Ivens; camera: John Fernhout, Joris Ivens e.a.).

1931 Philips Radio (regie: Joris Ivens; camera: Joris Ivens, John Fernhout, Mark Kolthoff).

1931 Creosoot (regie: Joris Ivens; camera: Joris Ivens, John Fernhout e.a.).

1933 Puberteit (regie: Hans Sluizer; camera: John Fernhout).

1933 Hallo Everybody (regie: Hans Richter; regie-assistent: John Fernhout).

1934 Nieuwe Gronden (regie: Joris Ivens; camera: Joris Ivens, John Fernhout e.a.).

1934 Het Meisje met de Blauwe Hoed (regie: Rudolph Meinert; camera: John Ferno = John Fernhout e.a.).

1934 De steven naar het zuiden/Cap au Sud (regie en camera: John Ferno).

1934 Driemaster ‘Mercator’/Le Trois-Mats (regie en camera:John Ferno).

1935 Paascheiland/L’Ile de Paques (regie en camera: John Ferno).

1935 Tapijten en Kunstmeubelindustrie /L’Industrie de la tapisserie et du meuble sculpté (regie en camera: John Ferno)

1936 De Beiaarden/Les Carillons (regie en camera: John Ferno).

ca. 1936 Katoen (regie en camera: John Ferno).

1936 Zonnig leven aan het Strand/Les jeux de 1’été et de la mer (regie: Henry Storck; camera: John Ferno).

1936 Langs Zomerwegen/Sur les routes de 1’été (regie: Henry Storck; camera: John Ferno).

1937 Beelden uit het Belgisch Verleden /Regards sur la Belgique ancienne (regie: Henry Storck; camera: John Ferno).

1937 Huizen van ellende/Les Maisons de la Misère (regie: Henry Storck; camera: John Ferno e.a.)

1937 Land in zicht (regie: Pieter Bruggens = John Fernhout; camera: E. Drayer = Emiel van Moerkerken).

1937 The Spanish Earth/Spaanse aarde (regie: Joris Ivens; camera: Joris Ivens, John Ferno).

1939 The 400 million (regie: Joris Ivens; camera: John Ferno,Joris Ivens).

1940 And so they live (regie: John Ferno en Julian Roffman; camera: John Ferno).

1942 A Child went Forth (camera: Joseph Losey, John Ferno).

1941 High over the Borders/Vogels weten niet van grenzen (regie: Irving Jacoby en John Ferno; camera: John Ferno).

1942-1944 Voor het Netherlands Information Bureau in New York maakt Fernhout o.a.:

High Stakes in the East.

The Dutch next door.

Peoples of Java.

Dutch Tradition.

Prinses Juliana in Suriname en Curacao.

Buiten de grenzen.

1945 Uit het gefilmde materiaal voor de Regeerings Voorlichtingsdienst van de bevrijding van Nederland werden o.a. samengesteld:

De Koningin weer thuis.

Broken Dykes.

The Last Shot/Het laatste schot.

1946 Puerto Rico (regie: John Ferno; camera: Benjamin Doniger).

1947-1949 People of the Earth [overkoepelende titel van zeven geografische films] (regie: John Fernhout; camera: Richard Leacock).

1948-1954 Voor de Economie Cooperation Administration (Marshall hulpplan) produceert en regisseert Fernhout films over het herstel van Europa, waaronder:

1949 Island of Faith/L’Ile Fervente/Eiland van vertrouwen (regie: John Ferno).

1950 Corinth Canal/Le Canal de Corinthe (regie: Johan Ferno).

1950 Return from the Valley (productie: John Ferno, regie: Nelo Risi).

1950 A Doctor for Ardaknos (productie: John Ferno, regie: Nelo Risi).

1954 Miner’s Window (productie: John Ferno; regie: John Ferno, geassisteerd door Nelo Risi en Budge Cooper).

1958 ABC. (regie: John Ferno).

1958 Blue Peter (regie en scenario: John Ferno).

1958 The Golden Hoop/The low lands/De lage landen [animatie] (productie: John Ferno).

1961 Dam de Delta/Dam the Delta [animatie] (productie: John Ferno).

1962 Parlons Francais [zestig kleurenfilms van 15 min.] (regie: John Fernhout; regie-assistant: Douwes Fernhout).

1964 Vigilant Switzerland (regie: John Ferno; regie-assistent: Douwes Fernhout).

1965 Fortress of Peace/Een bolwerk van vrede (regie:John Ferno).

1967 Sky over Holland/Ciels de Hollande (productie en regie: John Fernhout; ass. productie: Douwes Fernhout, camera: Douwes Fernhout e.a.).

1968 Delta Data (productie en regie: John Ferno; camera: Douwes Fernhout).

1971 The Tree of Life (productie en regie: John Ferno; camera: Douwes Fernhout).

1973 They want to Live/Zij willen leven (productie en camera: Douwes Fernhout; regie: John Ferno).

1974 The longest wave (productie: John en Douwes Fernhout; regie: John Ferno; camera: Douwes Ferno).

1980 Museum on the Hill (productie: John Ferno; camera: Douwes Ferno).

1980 Jerusalem, the Golden City (productie: John Ferno).

1983 De drie generaties (regie: John Ferno; camera: Douwes Ferno).

1984 Mijn generatie is zwart-wit (productie: John Ferno; camera: Douwes Ferno).

1985 Het bewaarde landschap (regie: John Ferno; camera: Douwes Ferno).

Television programs

1981 (10 juni) Fernhout de filmer. Serie van vier programma’s onder eindredactie van Dick van Reeuwijk. Deel 1. Paascheiland en The Spanish Earth (NOS).

1981 (17 juni) Fernhout de filmer. Deel 2. The 40 million en Broken dykes (NOS).

1981 (18 juni) Fernhout de filmer. Deel 3. Miner’s window en Fortress of Peace (NOS).

1981 (25 juni) Fernhout de filmer. Deel 4. They want to Live en Sky over Holland (NOS).


Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek- en documentatiebestand (o.a. ongepubliceerde doctoraalscriptie kunstgeschiedenis: H.E.C. Pott Hofstede, Overzicht van het werk van de documentaire filmer John (Ferno) Fernhout, Rijksuniversiteit Leiden 1981).

Rotterdam, Nederlands Fotoarchief (nu Nederlands Fotomuseum).


Amsterdam, Nederlands Filmmuseum.

Amsterdam, Stichting Dunhill Dutch Photography.

Den Haag, Haags Gemeentemuseum.

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

Leiden, Prentenkabinet Universiteit Leiden.

Rotterdam, Stichting Nederlands Fotoarchief.