Late in 2006 the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag acquired a major collection of photographs compiled by Amsterdam gallery owner and publisher Willem van Zoetendaal. The museum’s photo-collection was expanded at a stroke by more than 1000 items, including not only early and previously unknown work by modern photographers of the calibre of Rineke Dijkstra, Koos Breukel, Blommers & Schumm, Hellen van Meene and Paul Kooiker, but also historic photographs taken by figures like Cas Oorthuys and George H. Breitner. In addition, the Van Zoetendaal Collection includes hundreds of pictures classifiable as ‘vernacular photography’: usually anonymous amateur shots and portraits taken by small local photographic studios like those of Gyula Kardos in Hungary, Georg Eckert in the former GDR and To Sang in the formerly working class and bohemian De Pijp area of Amsterdam. A wide selection of pictures from Van Zoetendaal’s heterogeneous and highly personal collection will be on show at the Hague Museum of Photography from 22 March.
The majority of the photographs acquired by the Gemeentemuseum are connected with the many books published on Van Zoetendaal’s initiative since the mid-1990s. These volumes bear the stamp of his unique gifts as a graphic designer and picture editor: a combination of minimum text and design with a meticulous choice of images and optimum print quality. Van Zoetendaal’s books are works of art in their own right and, as such, are now highly prized collector’s items. For this reason, the main emphasis in the forthcoming exhibition at the Hague Museum of Photography will be on these publications: large-scale reproductions of the printed pages will cover the walls, enlivened by around 300 original photographs resembling those used in the books. Willem van Zoetendaal (b. The Hague, 1950) began his career as art director on a leading Dutch newspaper: the NRC Handelsblad. His interest in photography produced sophisticated picture editing, especially on the front page of the newspaper’s cultural supplement. Every week, Van Zoetendaal treated the newspaper’s readers to a startling but superb ‘opening shot’. In 1991 he was appointed head of the Photography Department at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Besides recruiting attractive and interesting tutors like Rineke Dijkstra, Paul Kooiker and Annaleen Louwes, Van Zoetendaal managed in the course of the 1990s to inspire a host of talented students to embark on successful careers in fine art photography. During this period, he also set up a publishing house (Basalt) and a gallery. In 2003 he left the Academy in order to become a full-time promoter of (particularly contemporary) Dutch photography. In this capacity, he has become a much sought-after guest curator for exhibitions in the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea and France.