Emmy Andriesse: Hidden Lens

Schilt Publishing  2013


Just as the photograph of the small boy in the Warsaw Ghetto, hands raised in surrender, compresses the horror of the Ghetto into one image, so Emmy Andriesse’s photograph of a small boy with an empty pot searching for food distills the winter of hunger in Amsterdam, when the Germans cut off supplies to the city.

An assimilated and secular Jew and noted photographer, Andriesse (1914-53) was barred from working after the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1941. She and her husband, Dick Elffers, part of an avant-garde circle, resisted the Germans by creating false papers for resistance fighters and Jews.

Andriesse was eventually driven underground but emerged to document the German occupation in late 1944 equipped with a hidden camera and false papers, taking stark, straightforward photographs that recorded the deprivation of the war. Within a few weeks of liberation her photos were part of an exhibit on the occupation that became a book in 1947.

With the war behind her Andriesse resumed her career, working under the fear that she, like her mother, would die young. Her photos reveal a curious and perceptive eye and a talent for capturing striking yet ordinary moments. For his groundbreaking exhibit The Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Edward Steichen chose Andriesse’s photo of an elderly woman and man—residents of a retirement home—sitting on a bench in the sun looking straight ahead, hands neatly folded in their laps.

Louise Baring, a British journalist and author, has selected about 100 of Andriesse’s 14,000 negatives and contact sheets and written a brief biography to accompany them. Despite her short career, Andriesse’s photos show her joy and perception in subjects from high-fashion models to portraits of artists to simple everyday scenes as well as a docu¬≠mentary legacy of the German occupation. Bibliography, notes.

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