Ed van der Elsken isn’t a name you come across often in the mainstream world of photography. Partly because he steered clear of commercial work and partly because of his reputation as the ‘enfant terrible’ (loosely translated as the troublesome child). Like a lot of great artists, he refused to play by the rules, photograph nice people and pretty landscapes, instead he aimed to photograph all aspects of reality – the best and the worst of human nature.
“I report on young, rebellious scum with pleasure … I rejoice in everything. Love. Courage. Beauty. Also blood, sweat and tears.”
Born in Amsterdam, der Elsken started off his career with the intention of becoming a sculptor before moving to Paris and discovering ‘la bohemes’ of Saint-Germain-de-Prés who would become the focus of his photography. Though much of his work purports to be documentary, it remains closely intertwined with the theatrical and surreal reflecting on the drug hazed bohemian society in which he lived. That said, the pictures are clearly rooted in the everyday rather than the transcendent, recording ‘characters’ in their intimate daily routines of drinking coffee, dozing and daydreaming. These are people who really existed despite polite society’s attempts to believe otherwise…
der Elken also made a pretty hypnagogic film, Death in the Port Jackson Hotel, which features the star of the artist’s most famous photography series, Love on the Left Bank, Vali Myers, and is worth a watch if you can handle drawn out interviews with doe eyed hippies and bizarre sequences of toads mating.