The oldest known image of the camera obscura principle (1545), the original camera belonging to painter George Hendrik Breitner, daguerreotypes over 150 years old: Leiden University's photographic collection is unique in many ways. It is both the oldest and the largest museological photography collection in the country, telling the whole story of the emergence and development of photography. It also includes work by contemporary photographers, and 'classic' works by photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Diane Arbus. The largest ever exhibition of pieces from this unique collection can be seen at The Hague Museum of Photography from 23 January.
Despite resistance from both artists and academics - who felt it was 'beneath them' - in 1953 Hans van de Waal, professor of art history at the Leiden University, began the university's photography collection. His explicit aim was for the collection to illustrate the development of the medium. The acquisition of several large private collections provided firm foundations for the collection, which has been enriched with many purchases and donations over the decades. The photography collection is now part of Leiden University Library's Special Collections.
Leiden University's photography collection represents the history, development and different forms of the medium. It includes examples of virtually all photographic techniques, rare objects and artistic highpoints: the early experiments of photographic pioneers like William Fox Talbot, for example, and the photomontages of Paul Citroen. Artistic ambition is illustrated by pieces from Gerard Kiljan and Theo van Doesburg's Dutch New Photography movement, and photographers like Emmy Andriesse and Cas Oorthuys represent the engagement of documentary photographers. The collection focuses on Dutch photography in an international context, and so includes work by great photographers like Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Curtis and Cecil Beaton.
The exhibition will feature a special selection from the collection, chosen for its visual quality. The pieces will not be shown chronologically, but on the basis of artistic theme, producing surprising combinations and unique insights. Contemporary photography will play a special role, including Hendrik Kerstens' complete series of portraits of his daughter Paula - recently donated by the artist to the university's collection - which have never been shown together before.
The diversity and richness of the University of Leiden's photography collection, as showcased in the exhibition, will also be reflected in a lavishly illustrated catalogue, in English, with texts by Maartje van den Heuvel and Wim van Sinderen. While the exhibition is on display in The Hague, a number of public events will be held in Leiden University Library's Special Collections Reading Room. For further information on these events see www.bibliotheek.leidenuniv.nl.