Discovering Emmy Andriesse
But it sounds like it will be well worthwhile to track down her work. Andriesse seems to have been a courageous and creative woman.
A Secret history
A new exhibition of Emmy Andriesse's work is a compelling visual documentary of occupied Amsterdam.
Tuesday October 17, 2006
Not one of the shoes has laces, and the soles are worn into raggedy slithers. Torn socks slump around the boys' ankles, and one boy's knees bear the telltale lumps of having been badly set after an accident: Emmy Andriesse's image of boys' legs dangling over broken shards of concrete bears the hallmarks of 1940s avant garde documentary photography. Beautifully composed with striking use of light and shade, it aestheticises the subjects without flinching from their pain. Formally seductive though her portrayal of the bruises, tattered clothing and fractured concrete are, Andriesse leaves us with no doubt as to the severity of the poverty and brutality that caused them.
Read as a study of wartime poverty, the image is compelling, as are the other photographs taken by Andriesse of daily life in Amsterdam during its "winter of hunger" in 1944-45. Yet unlike other documentary photographers noted for their sensitive portrayals of oppression and deprivation, such as Lee Miller's of wartime Europe, Andriesse was more than an observer. As a Jew, she was a participant in - and victim of - the brutality and persecution of occupied Amsterdam during the second world war.
Born in 1914, Andriesse studied on what was considered to be the radical advertising course at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague from 1933 to 1937. There she was encouraged to experiment with the formal possibilities of photography, and with its political role as a documentary medium. After graduating, she became a fashion photographer for Dutch newspapers and continued these assignments in the early years of the war until, as a Jew, she was forbidden to work and, in 1943, forced to go into hiding.
It was only after obtaining forged papers that Andriesse was able to photograph again, working with the Underground Camera group of documentary photographers. Even then she had to work in secrecy, often at grave personal risk, sometimes snatching images from her doorstep of life on the street outside. The precariousness of her situation is reflected in their intensity.
After the war Andriesse worked as a fashion photographer and portraitist until her death from cancer in 1953. (Sadly, like so many women who had worked with great courage in wartime, she may have had no choice but to work in a more conventionally feminine field.) Yet in her "winter of hunger" photographs of the boys' tangled legs, a uniformed gravedigger, and children huddling for warmth, Andriesse showed people playing the roles that history had dealt them with dignity and humanity.
Emmy Andriesse's work is part of "In the Face of History: European Photographers in the 20th Century." 13 October 2006 - 28 January 2007, Barbican Art Gallery, London. The other photographers included in the exhibition are Eugene Atget, Brassai, Robert Doisneau, Ed van der Elsken, Seiichi Furuya, Jitka Hanzlová, Craigie Horsfield, Sune Jonsson, Viktor Kolár', André Kertész, Chris Killip, Boris Mikhailov, Anders Petersen, Henryk Ross, Inta Ruka, Michael Schmidt, Annelies Štrba, Christer Strömholm, Josef Sudek, Wolfgang Tillmans, S. I. Witkiewicz.
You can find more of Andriesse's work here and here and here.