The Jeu de Paume is currently showing an exhibition entitled Ed van der Elsken, la vie folle until September 24th, in collaboration with the Stedelijk Museum. This first retrospective in France is a chance to discover the work of the Dutch photographer who died in 1990, before it travels on to the Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid. An icon of 20thcentury Dutch photography and documentary cinema, Ed Van der Elsken scoured the streets of Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo searching for an aesthetic free of artifice. Between documentary photography, eroticism and exuberant personalities, his work spans several decades, a temporal journey whose scope varies according to medium. Because Ed van der Elsken wasn’t content with just taking pictures, he also filmed, wrote, drew and staged made-up characters from the Parisian rive gauche to his natal Amsterdam.
Sombre in the 1950s, a rebel ten years later, Ed van der Elsken even dabbled in philosophy in the 1980s. A seducer and provocateur, the photographer above all lived an artistic idyll with the men and the women who feature in his clichés, images that buzz with a distinct notion of bohemian life. The youth are uncertain but eccentric, living “a charming and terrible life, with its victors and its martyrs” in the words of writer Henry Murger.
With his camera, Ed van der Elsken filmed the world that surrounded him, his approach was direct and quasi-autobiographical. “I do things that are deadly serious but I also do funny things. I report on young, rebellious thugs with pleasure… I rejoice in life, I’m not complicated, I rejoice in everything. Love, courage, beauty. But also blood, sweat and tears,” he explained in his film The Infatuated Camera / Camera in Love of 1971. The exhibition at the Jeu de Paume reveals the numerous facets of the artist, his projects, his contact sheets and his sketches enabling us to fully understand his methods of working.
Ed van der Elsken, la vie folle, at the Jeu de Paume Museum (Paris 8th), until September 24th 2017.