PhotoLexicon, Volume 18, nr. 34 (October 2001) (en)

J.G. Kramer

Mirjam E. de Jonge


Johannes Gerardus Kramer, together with his son, Piet, photographed the city of Groningen and its surroundings over a period of three-quarters of a century. J.G. Kramer started out as a portrait photographer, with university students making up most of his clientele, but he quickly evolved into an architectural photographer. He was also a dealer in art as well as photographic supplies. The quality of Kramer’s oeuvre is technically good, holding clear significance for studies of a regional nature.




Johannes Gerardus Kramer is born on 10 December in Groningen as the second son and fourth child of Hinderikus Kramer, a merchant in textiles, and Anna Maria Krom.


‘Dr. Loek’, a traveling daguerreotypist (probably Mozes Sax), sets up studio for several days in the business of J.G.’s father at Oude Boteringestraat 117.


In 1864, J.G. Kramer is assigned to the National Militia by lot, group 1865, no. 112. His profession is listed as: clerk. According to Kramer’s National Militia form, the duration of his military service dates from 8 May 1865 to 7 May 1870. It remains unclear whether Kramer actually saw any action.


Kramer works for six months as a store attendant in Dokkum, Friesland.


Together with someone named ‘Sanders’, Kramer opens a photographic studio behind his father’s business, by this time located at A-Kerkhof H126 in Groningen.


On 23 June, J.G. Kramer weds Jantje Everdina Nienhuis, born 22 April 1849 in Groningen.


Kramer’s first daughter, Anna Maria, is born on 7 May.

Kramer wins a silver medal for a photographic entry to an international exhibition in Utrecht.


Kramer’s son Petrus Bernardus (Piet) is born on 2 February.

J.G. Kramer and the photographer Eduard Treisse win a silver medal for their entry to the agricultural exhibition in Veendam.


Kramer’s son Hendrikus is born on 24 April.


Kramer’s daughter Elisabeth is born on 27 August.


Kramer’s daughter Hermanna Gesiena (Manny) is born on 4 May.

The family moves to Broerstraat 80 (Academieplein) in Groningen.


Kramer’s daughter Johanna Marie is born on 4 October.


The building at Broerstraat 80 is demolished. It is not known to what location the Kramers moved.


The Kramers move to Visscherstraat I 60, later renumbered as 46. At this address Kramer establishes an art dealership/photo supply store, as well as a photography installation.


Kramer’s son Piet departs for Enschede, where he works as an apprentice to the photographer S. Goudsmit.


Piet Kramer returns to Groningen and leaves several weeks later for Tournai (Doornik, Belgium).


In September, the photographer and painter Johannes Hubertus Vaessens (1868-1954) is given a studio on Kramer’s premises. Vaessens departs in January 1898.

Kramer is an honorary member of the Groningen chapter of the Maatschappij tot Bevordering der Bouwkunst (‘Society for the Promotion of Architecture’).


Kramer photographs the construction of the Rijkspostkantoor (‘National Post Office’) in Amsterdam designed by the architect C.H. Peters.


Kramer’s daughter Anna Maria departs on 6 March for Tournai. On 15 April, Kramer’s son Hendrikus departs for Brussels.


Anna Maria returns on 4 December, together with Hendrikus, who lists his profession in the civil registry as a photographer (subordinate). The Kramer family moves to Nieuwe Ebbingestraat 37a in Groningen.


On 18 January, Hendrikus Kramer dies in Groningen.

On 29 April, Piet Kramer returns from Tournai to his birthplace Groningen.

Johannes Gerardus Kramer dies on 4 December in Groningen.


J.G. Kramer’s wife, Jantje Everdina Nienhuis, dies on 22 July in Groningen.


J.G. Kramer was a traditional photographer. He never participated in the discussions of his day regarding the artistic or scientific relevance of photography, nor did he conduct photographic experiments such as those carried out by Julius von Kolkow, another photographer in Groningen. While Kramer’s work was by no means innovative, it was respectable. That is not to say his photos lack a feeling for atmosphere. As far as can be determined, Kramer was never a member of any photography association and received but a limited number of awards.

J.G. Kramer was the son of a textile dealer. During the years he was growing up in Groningen, there were already plenty of opportunities for him to have come into contact with the relatively new phenomenon of photography. Travelling photographers visited the city on a regular basis. On 17 April 1859, one of these photographers, named ‘Doctor Loek’, announced in the Groninger Courant: ‘that for several days he will be producing exquisite photography portraits in all genres, which are never subject to any change.’

This traveling daguerreotypist/photographer is likely to have been Loek Sax (= Mozes [Morris] Sax) from Rotterdam. Sax worked in Groningen from October 1858 to April 1859, the last time in Hinderikus Kramer’s textile store. These activities undoubtedly made a big impression on Johannes, who was thirteen at the time. For the time being, however, his future lay in helping out at his father’s business. In 1865, J.G. Kramer spent several months in Dokkum, where he worked in a textile store. He returned to Groningen in 1866. Meanwhile, his father’s business had relocated to Akerkhof H129. Johannes’ time spent working at his father’s store was of short duration.

On 28 June 1868, an advertisement appeared in the Groninger Courant with the following notice: ‘The new photographic studio of Sanders and Kramer is currently open. A-kerkhof H129.’ It is not known to which member of the extensive Sanders family—who produced numerous photographers—this advertisement refers. Kramer and Sanders opened their studio at a time when many photographers were setting up studio in the city of Groningen. According to the book Photographieën en Dynastieën (‘Photographs and Dynasties’, p. 11), published in the year 2000, the number of active photographers in the city rose from six in 1860 to eighteen in 1865. The ‘Akerhof’ was a practical location for a photography studio: the building was centrally located in the city and had a large garden. This garden had two advantages: first, there was sufficient space to photograph groups; and second, Kramer was able to raise chickens there, providing him with ready access to eggs, necessary for preparing photographic paper. The studio in no way interfered with the textile store: both businesses were located in the same building for years.

Besides working with a member of the Sanders family, J.G. Kramer also collaborated for a while with Eduard Treisse, an artist/photographer. At the agricultural exhibition held in 1878 on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ‘Veendam-Wildervank’ chapter of the Maatschappij van Landbouw in de Provincie Groningen (‘Society of Agriculture in the Province of Groningen’), Kramer and Treisse shared a silver medal for a photographic entry. They also advertised together for ‘enlargements of small portraits’, but ‘for direct shots they recommend themselves each individually’. Treisse had his own studio on the Gelkingestraat in Groningen.

In 1886, Kramer moved to the Broerstraat (in the local vernacular called the ‘Academieplein’, or ‘Academy Square’, the address that Kramer also used himself). He lived there in a structure built up against the Saint Martinus Church. On the reverse of the carte-de-visite and cabinet card portraits taken on the Akerhof, mention is made of a ‘photographisch atelier’ (‘photographic studio’); for those taken on the Broerstraat, reference is made to the ‘Atelier voor Portretten, Landschappen en Vergrootingen’ (‘Studio for Portraits, Landscapes and Enlargements’). In the sense of topographic photos, however, landscapes were also taken on the Akerhof. Various cabinet card photos of cityscapes were published during the time that Kramer worked on the Akerhof. On the Broerstraat, he began selling photographic supplies and was accordingly one of the first in the city to do so. He also promoted himself as an art dealer.

In 1894, Kramer moved with his family to Visserstraat I 60, later renumbered as 46. Here, too, he advertised as a photographer and an art dealer. In this capacity, Kramer was the Groningen agent for H. Bogaerts & Co., a company located in Boxtel that furnished ‘portraits from any photography in oil-painting colours’. From September 1897 to January 1898, the studio of the painter/photographer Johannes Hubertus Vaessens (1868-1954) was also located at Kramer’s address. Vaessens moved to Leeuwarden in January 1898. It is unclear whether there was any kind of collaboration between the two men. When Kramer moved to Nieuwe Ebbingestraat 37a in 1902, the photographer J.A. Steenmeijer established himself in his building on the Visserstraat. Steenmeijer would later prove to be a major competitor of Kramer’s son, Piet.

Like most photographers, J.G. Kramer started out as a portrait photographer. The garden behind the building on the Akerhof offered ample possibilities for taking group portraits. For several years, Kramer was the ‘court photographer’ for the student fraternity ‘Vindicat atque Polit’. The student photos he produced resemble those taken by the photographer I.D. Kiek in Leiden, who became famous for his portraits of half-drunken members of the student fraternities haggardly seated in their chairs or hanging from ladders. The students in Groningen clearly also had their own manner of posing, which Kramer either tolerated or perhaps even exploited. Sometimes portraits were sold to third parties other than those portrayed, without the sitters’ permission. On one occasion, specifically in 1878, Kramer found himself in trouble stemming from the sale of a portrait of J.J.A. Goeveneur, a renowned poet in Groningen. The photo was part of a series entitled ‘Famous Men’, from which Goeveneur himself hoped to earn a fair sum. This turned out to be a disappointment, however, despite Kramer’s warning in advance (as reported by Schuitema Meijer in the Groningse Volksalmanak, though without citing his source). A cousin (or nephew) of Goeveneur had purchased a cabinet card portrait of the poet in Arnhem, from which the latter concluded: ‘You are therefore conducting forbidden trade with my person’ (Groningen Archives, access no. 1501, inv. no. 288). Goeveneur wrote an angry letter in which he demanded extra prints. A lawyer tried to tone down the matter on Kramer’s behalf, but to no avail. Goeveneur apparently claimed the right to disseminate his own portrait. By contrast, photographers at this point were as yet unable to claim right of authorship with respect to their photos. It was not until 1912 that the Netherlands signed the Berne Convention, an international organisation overseeing the protection of rights of ownership in the areas of literature and art, under which photographic work was also legally protected.

Kramer was known as someone who shot photos for his own personal use, in addition to his commissioned work. A number of these photos were surely intended for sale to the public. Cabinet card and stereo photos of cityscapes were readily sold in those days.

Another genre that J.G. Kramer practiced was reproduction photography. Part of this was commissioned work, with a share also intended for (the art-dealing) trade, as conveyed in a transcribed copy of a letter written by the painter H.W. Mesdag, preserved by chance. In his letter, Mesdag compliments Kramer on the photos taken of his paintings, which he had received through C.H. Peters.

Besides those individuals who had their portraits taken by Kramer, there are only a few cases in which the identity of his clients is known. One important client was most certainly the ‘rijksbouwmeester’ (‘national architect’) C.H. Peters, who had begun with the measuring and drawing of Groningen’s historic architectural monuments, including churches, in the late 1880s. In 1891, Peters began publishing articles on this topic in the Groningsche Volksalmanak (‘Groningen People’s Almanac’), which were illustrated with drawings made himself or photos taken by Kramer. It is not known precisely how the two men came into contact. Certain, however, is that Kramer photographed for Peters on a frequent basis, not only in Groningen, but also (far) beyond its borders, in cities such as Nijmegen and Amsterdam. Peters was building the ‘Rijkspostkantoor’ (‘national post office’) on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal in the Dutch capital, with Kramer photographing various stages of its construction. Architectural photography was to become Kramer’s specialty, specifically mentioned in his letterhead. His architectural photos are characterised by an abundance of detail and sharpness, likely achieved by working with large-format negatives.

J.G. Kramer’s company gradually expanded to become a family business, with both of his sons becoming photographers. The youngest son, Hendrikus, was the most talented member of the family. He died, however, at the age of twenty-three. No photos have survived that can be attributed to Hendrikus Kramer with certainty. Piet, the eldest son, returned to Groningen in 1903—just three months after the death of his brother Hendrikus—following a period of apprenticeship in Enschede and Tournai (Doornik, Belgium). He moved in with his parents on the Nieuwe Ebbingestraat. When J.G. Kramer died on 4 December 1903 at the age of 58, Piet (P.B.) Kramer took over the running of the business. All indications are that J.G. Kramer had relinquished the art dealership and the sale of photographic supplies at the time he relocated to the Nieuwe Ebbingestraat.

Large quantities of Kramer’s negatives and photos are found in the collections of the Groningen City Archives. Photos have also been preserved in other public collections. The majority of Kramer’s legacy consists of architectural and cityscape photos, interior shots, as well as reproduction photos of paintings and museum objects. The level of J.G. Kramer’s craftsmanship was higher than that of his son, P.B. Kramer; the latter, however, appears to have been more versatile than his father when it came to his choice of subject matter. Notwithstanding, the importance of both photographers was primarily regional.


Primary bibliography

(Advertentie) Groninger Courant 28 juni 1868.

(Advertentie) Nieuwe Groninger Courant 25 mei 1887.

(Advertentie) Nieuwsblad van het Noorden 2 december 1896.


images in:

Groningsche Volksalmanak 1892, t.o. p. 145.

Groningsche Volksalmanak 1 893, t.o. p. 148, t.o. p. 180 (foto’s verm. van P.B. Kramer).

Groningsche Volksalmanak 1894, t.o. titelpag.

Groningsche Volksalmanak 1896, t.o. p. 125, t.o. p. 162 (foto’s verm. van P.B. Kramer).

Groningsche Volksalmanak 1899, t.o. titelpag., t.o. p. 201 (foto’s verm. van P.B. Kramer).

C.H. Peters, Oud Groningen, Den Haag (Mouton & Co.) 1907.

C.H. Peters, Oud-Groningen. Stad & lande, Groningen/Den Haag (Scholtens en Zoon/Mouton & Co.) z.j. [1922].

Peter Don (samenst.), De bouwkunst vereeuwigd. Fotografie voor monumentenzorg/ Architecture Immortalized. Photography for Conservation, Zwolle/ Zeist (Waanders/Rijksdienst voor de Monumentenzorg) 2000, p. 31, 45.

Secondary bibliography

A. Eisses, Verslagen van vergaderingen, in Bouwkundig Weekblad 17 (januari 1897) 5, p. 30-31.

A.T. Schuitema Meijer, Fotografen in het 19 e eeuwse Groningen, in Groningse Volksalmanak 1961, p. 148-149, 151-152.

A.T. Schuitema Meijer, Zó fotografeerden zij Groningen, 1868-1918, Groningen (N.V. Dijkstra’s Drukkerij v/h Boekdrukkerij Gebroeders Hoitsema) z.j. [1964], p. 8, 33, afb. 6, 19, 21, 30-31, 34, 36-38, 50-51, 55, 57, 63, 66-67, 69. 71-75, 79, 85, 88.

Blikvanger, Een eeuw geleden: De schutters rukken uit, in Nieuwsblad van het Noorden [zomer] 1978.

I.Th. Leijerzapf (red.), Fotografie in Nederland 1839-1920, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978, p. 100.

Blikvanger, Foto’s van J.G. Kramer, in Nieuwsblad van het Noorden 28 mei 1979.

Catalogus tent. Fotografie in de Marne 1900-1930, Leens (Ommelander Museum) 1982, p. 3, 14.

Robbert van Venetië en Annet Zondervan, Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse architectuurfotografie, Rotterdam (Uitgeverij 010) 1989, p. 11,21, 70-71, 137 (met foto’s).

Henk Wierts e.a., Photographieën & Dynastieën. Beroepsfotografie in Groningen 1842-1940, Bedum (Egbert Forsten & Profiel) 2000, omslag, p. 14, 17, 36-38, 45-46, 51-52, 54, 63, 70, 72, 75-76, 86-87, 89, 92, 95. 104-105, 133 (met foto’s).


1876 Zilveren medaille, tentoonstelling, Utrecht.

1878 Zilveren medaille samen met Eduard Treisse, landbouwtentoonstelling t.g.v. 25-jarig bestaan van de afdeling Veendam-Wildervank van de Maatschappij van Landbouw, Veendam.


1876 (g) Utrecht.

1878 (g) Veendam, [landbouwtentoonstelling t.g.v. 25-jarig bestaan van de afdeling Veendam-Wildervank van de Maatschappij van Landbouw].

1982 (g) Leens, Ommelander Museum, Fotografie in de Marne 1900-1930.

1989 (g) Rotterdam, tentoonstellingsruimte Oude Binnenweg 113, Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse architectuurfotografie.

1995 (g) Groningen, Synagoge [Folkingestraat 60], Photographieën & Dynastieën. Beroepsfotografie in Groningen 1843-1940.

1996 (g) Veendam, Veenkoloniaal Museum, Photographieën &Dynastieën. Beroepsfotografie in Groningen 1843-1940.


Groningen, Groninger Archieven, Groningen.

Leiden, Studie en Documentatie Centrum voor Fotografie, Prentenkabinet Universiteit Leiden.


Amsterdam, Gemeentearchief Amsterdam.

Assen, Drents Museum.

Den Haag, Haags Gemeentearchief.

Groningen, Groninger Archieven, Groningen.

Groningen, Universiteitsmuseum.

Leeuwarden, Gemeentearchief Leeuwarden.

Leeuwarden, Ryksargyf Friesland.

Leiden, Museum Boerhaave.

Leiden, Studie en Documentatie

Centrum voor Fotografie, Prentenkabinet Universiteit Leiden.

Utrecht, Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum.

Zeist, Rijksdienst voor de Monumentenzorg.