Artist: Cas Oorthuys (1908-1975)
Amstel river, Amsterdam, 1957.
Fine art pigment print, size 40x40cm, 1/1.
Originally trained as an architect, Oorthuys began his photographic career as a communist workers’ photographer. From 1936 to 1942 he worked as a reportage photographer for the social-democratic weekly Wij.
During the German occupation his house was full of people in hiding and he contributed to the forgery of identity cards. After a short detention in camp Amersfoort he became involved after Dolle Dinsdag in the later named group De Ondergedoken Camera. In this context, he illegally photographed the harsh living conditions and the resistance during the Hunger Winter.
Even after the liberation, social engagement was initially at the heart of Oorthuys. His photo book shows A state in the making (1947), which aimed for a peaceful solution to the Indonesian struggle for independence. But it was different and partly because of this changed his vision on the function of photography. The medium was no longer a political weapon for him. He started to photograph man and human actions from a form of human interest. Under the title ‘Mensen / People’, he put together a solo exhibition in 1969 at the Stedelijk Museum, accompanied by a publication of the same name. Fifteen themes formed the guideline for the selection, starting with death and ending with laughter; each preceded by a text or poem by a friendly author. He drew on this from his archive, which was mainly the result of countless assignments for corporate books, annual reports and book publications by the Amsterdam publishing company Contact – such as the ‘De Schoonheid van ons Land’ series, about forty photo and travel pockets (1951-1965) or Rotterdam dynamische stad (1959).
Cas Oorthuys, like no other photographer, expressed the growing self-awareness of the Dutch in the period of reconstruction. His enormous productivity in the period 1945 to 1975 resulted in one of the largest and most accessible Dutch photo archives.