Ed van der Elsken is back, at the Rijksmuseum this time. I always wondered how he “treated” Japan during his stays there in 1959-1960 and then in the second half of the 1980’s before his death in 1990. I was curious to see his “blessed eyes” fall upon this culture, so strange for us, so difficult to apprehend and to understand. His book about Japan “de ontdekking van Japan” remains almost impossible to get, so getting an insight on his vision of Japan, for a passionate lover of Japan like me, was crucial. Van der Elsken took the time, in Japan, to photograph not only the streets, the youth but also the a-typical Japanese: the yakuza, the sumos and the geishas. The result is stunning and triggers this deep desire to go back there very soon. The Rijksmuseum put together a large exhibition of his work, titled “a crazy world”, not only to show his Japanese pictures but mainly to get a deeper insight into the way he worked: multiple reframing of the same picture, to get the perfect balance for a publication or an exhibition. But what remains remarkable of Van der Elsken’s work, and for that matter for all the artists of that time, is to be seen on the several contact sheets exhibited: not many shots of the same subject, one, two, maybe three. We are far from the hundreds of shots one can take with a digital camera. One, two, three shots and the magic happens. Ed van der Elsken hd undoubtedly “blessed eyes” to get the decisive moment.

“first picture taken in Japan, November 1959, Kobe” ©Ed van der Elsken
Girl from the refugee district with a barrel of water, Hong Kong 1959-1960 ©Ed van der Elsken
Portrait of a woman, 1984 ©Ed van der Elsken
Yakuza, Osaka, Japan, 1960 ©Ed van der Elsken
Students, Osaka, Japan, 1960 ©Ed van der Elsken
Protest against racial discrimination outside of a Woolworth store, New York, 1960 ©Ed van der Elsken
May Day demonstration, Paris, ca. 1949-1951 ©Ed van der Elsken
one of the contact sheets exhibited ©Ed van der Elsken
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