Birth of amateur photography exhibited at Rijksmuseum

Jumping boys from the Piek album featured in Mattie Boom exhibition 'Everyone a Photographer' in the Rijksmuseum
Jumping boys from the Piek album featured in Mattie Boom exhibition 'Everyone a Photographer' in the RijksmuseumPhoto: Rijksmuseum / Twitter

Exhibition 'Everyone a Photographer' currently in the Rijksmuseum shows the start of amateur photography. The over 100 year old photos on display are all remarkable in their unremarkable way - a baby photo, a family portrait, a seflie in the mirror. The exhibition focuses on how photography changed from solemnly posed portraits to snapshots of spontaneity at the turn of the previous century. "You can say that at that moment the daily life came into photography", Mattie Boom, who obtained her doctorate with these photos, said to NOS.

"In the initial period, if you wanted a photo of yourself, you posed in a studio. You also bought a cityscape or a landscape from the photographer. But now people could suddenly take their own photos in the near surroundings. You photograph your loved ones, outings, that type of thing", Boom said. "It was really a missing link. We know a lot about early photography and about the important names of the 20th century, Weston, Capa, Van der Elsken. But no one had done any research on this strange interval."

Like most changes, this one was brought on by technological developments. In 50 years photography went from complicated cameras and cumbersome fiddling with chemicals to cameras and film rolls. "At first you always had to have a dark room with you, but now technology became more accessible. That meant freedom. All you had to do was press a button."

A new form of expression emerged, with emphasis on the fleeting moment. Helped by better film and faster cameras, people became fascinated with recording movement. 

One of the earliest examples included in this exhibition is the oldest Dutch photo album dating from 1889. The photos were taken with the revolutionary Kodak camera. The album was found at the Waterlooplein flea market in 1973 and eventually came into Boom's hands. The album contained photos of Willem Frederik Piek - an industrialist who picked up the camera while traveling in the United States - and his family. 

The logo of this exhibition came from the Piek album - a photo of jumping boys frozen for eternity. "You see everything created by people who did not care about tradition and convention."

During her research, Boom noticed parallels to our time, she said to NOS. Once again visual culture has gained momentum through advancing technology. Now everyone has a phone with a camera, and photos are shared online faster than ever. "We started to communicate lingually much less frequently, much more with images." 

The result is that photos have become more casual. The Piek-album ended up at a flea market after two generations, because no one had any connection with the people in the photos. Our photos fade shortly after being published online. 


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