The Nederlands Fotomuseum reopened with the great promise of the honour gallery of the Dutch photography with its “99 iconic photos”, gratified by the presence of the king, himself, opening it. But at the same time, almost unnoticed in the basement, another exhibit also started on June 9th: that of Ellen Thorbecke’s China. And that is a real delight for the eyes and the true discovery of the day, combined with a coup de ❤️. Ellen Thorbecke, a German by birth, was a true 20th century woman. With a classical education in languages and piano, she further studied economy and worked as a freelance journalist. After meeting her second husband Willem J.R. Thorbecke in 1930 while working at the Dutch embassy in Berlin, she started photography with a Rolleiflex. She followed her husband to Beijing in 1931, not just as an expat wife, but with a journalist contract to report in writing and images on life in China. And what a photographer and a story teller! Ellen Thorbecke is far less known and recognized than Henri Cartier-Bresson but her work on China is, certainly for me, of the same quality, with a rare talent and as additional twist, a closer, more feminine approach of her subjects, as shown for instance in her portraits of Chinese figures. The large exhibit displayed in Rotterdam mixes original prints, extracts from her delightful books and beautiful new prints, as the museum is also the curator of her large fund of 6×6 negatives. Mainly focusing on China, Ellen also spent some time in Hong Kong – see her hilarious picture of the diverse Hong Kong police – and traveled back via Paris where she spent some time as well in 1936. A book was issued at the occasion of this marvelous exhibit, which found in the meantime its way to my private library…

The envoy, 1931 ©Ellen Thorbecke
The streets of China, 1931 ©Ellen Thorbecke
The streets of China, 1931 ©Ellen Thorbecke
The Manchu Duke , 1935 ©Ellen Thorbecke
The industrialist, 1935 ©Ellen Thorbecke
The theater-manager, 1935 ©Ellen Thorbecke
The monk, 1935 ©Ellen Thorbecke
Police, Hong Kong, 1939 ©Ellen Thorbecke
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