Visu­al Arts

Emmy Andriesse: Hid­den Lens

Louise Bar­ing
  • Review
By – May 9, 2014

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 (191453) 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 docu­mentary lega­cy of the Ger­man occu­pa­tion. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, notes.

Relat­ed Content:

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions