Mirelle Thijsen

Analyzing work today: company photobook collections

Photography books have been generating a lot of interest among collectors and art historians in the last years. Mirelle Thijsen has focused on identifying the best post-war photobooks published by Dutch companies. This fascinating reference work, Het bedrijfsfotoboek 1945-1965. Professionalisering van fotografen in Nederland (The Company Photobook 1945-1965. Professionalization of Photographers in the Netherlands), has become a rare collector's item.
Borrowing from both Dutch and international institutions, Mirelle has offered to create, for Bologna, an original contribution based on remarkable company photobooks.

The Table of Power (1996). Photography: Jacqueline Hassink. Design: Melle Hamer, Plus X. Text: Henry Peretz, Raoul Bunschoten.
Publisher: Menno van de Koppel, Amsterdam. Size: 12x9cm. Spread. Private collection Bart Sorgedrager, Amsterdam

Renato Padovan et al., IGNIS 25, (Rizzoli Editore), Milan 1969. Commemoration book (25 year anniversary).
Collection: Bart Sorgedrager, Amsterdam

Carel Blazer, Eva Besnyö, 50 Jaar Bruynzeel 1897-1947 (C. Bruynzeel & Zonen) Zaandam1947. Commemoration book(50 years anniversary).
Collection: Jan Wingender, Leusden/ The Netherlands, Fotomuseum, Rotterdam 

Anonymous, My trip to "Caterpillar", (Tractor Co. Peoria) Illinois, USA (anni 1940/1940s). Commemoration book (visit to the factory).
Collection: Bart Sorgedrager, Amsterdam

Born in 1960.
Lives and works in Amsterdam.

Analysing Work Today: Company Photobook Collections

The company photobook occupies a prominent position in the history of post-war Dutch photography and the years 1947-1962 reflect the heyday of the genre. 'Company photobook' has since then become an accepted term. A company photobook is usually a commemorative volume for restricted circulation whereby a company commissions a team of professionals to document different aspects of the corporation. What makes the genre unique for the Netherlands is that early cases of these books were the result of collaboration between photographers and designers members of a professional association for practitioners of the applied arts, the Amsterdam-based GKf. Company photobooks represented lucrative and prestigious assignments for photographers in the post-war years. Two renowned titles highlighting this genre during the pinnacle period are: Bruynzeel 1897-1947 and PLEM 1859-1959.
Two other titles reflect the optimism present in Dutch industries after World War II: Oranje Nassau Mijnen (1953) and Mensen van Menko (1956). In the course of the 1950s rhetorical imagery gave way to uncontrived documentary photography. Book design bore witness to social involvement with corporate communities, while strikingly informal use of language by experimental writers/poets appeared in the genre. There was a strong desire to depict the reality of men and women at work. The rapid transformation towards a more informal social life in the 1960s is reflected in company photobooks such as De Verbinding/The Connection (1962). The books on display have been selected from the private collection of Jan Wingender, acquired this year by the Netherlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam.
The category 'Analysing work today' extends the genre to the present-day and across national borders. A more hybrid type of company photobook has emerged. Annual reports as new strategies for commissioning artists are being generated. Emphasis is on contemporary photographers documenting corporate culture, work areas and people working. Others produce visual narratives on office life and dress codes in factories and corporations or explore the manufactured industrial landscape. What is more, mensenstroom (1997) demonstrates the extent to which documentary photographers have been inspired by the post-war company photobook. Today annual reports published by Migros and The George Gund Foundation can be considered sequels to the early company photobooks, with features of landmark documentary photobooks.
Photobooks published by and on Dutch public health care document medical and personal care in public institutions. In the 1950s and 1960s visual narratives on academic hospitals were compiled by the first generation of photographers to work in the tradition of humanist photography. Representatives of this genre include Eva Besnyö (1910-2003) and Ad Windig (1912-1996). Moralistic in tone, these photobooks depict 'a day in the life' of a patient in a care environment. Such publications are a prelude to self-published and digitally produced photobooks. The photographer sometimes focuses on his/her own family and personal involvement, as in Intensive Care (2010) by Andrea Stultiens.
During the post-war era, some of the finest company photobooks in which photography takes on a leading role were produced by Dutch graphic industries. Various professions developed from the all-round pre-war applied artist, such as photographer, graphic designer and illustrator. De letter op straat (1956) demonstrates the high-quality printing practiced by progressive publishers-printers. Striking commemoration books and goodwill publications were created by way of print expertise and enhanced by documentary photography and vanguard graphic design. Now, partly as a result of the advance of the photobook, unconventional variations on this genre are appearing, such as On show (2008).
'For CEOs Only' is a selection of international company photobooks from the private collection of professional photographer Bart Sorgedrager, based in Amsterdam. He has strived since the 1990s to document the closure of factories in the Netherlands as a consequence of outsourcing. The result is a photobook commemorating the closure of a company, which is both commissioned and self-published and ultimately a farewell gift for each of the former employers. In Sorgedrager's opinion, the 1900-1940 may be more evoking than the years of reconstruction, particularly with the rise of modernism in Germany and Russia in the 1930s. In his view, and his collection, a company photobook is a publication realized with corporate financing and commissioned by the company. Ignis (1956) and A Souvenir of my trip to Caterpillar are examples of such.

Mirelle Thijsen

Curated by Mirelle Thijsen

Research-assistant
Clara Jankowski (compiled the bibliography and wrote the room text for 'For CEO's Only').

We thank the private collectors for their loans
Jan Wingender,
Bart Sorgedrager

As well for their contributions
the Netherlands Fotomuseum, Insinger the Beaufort N.V./BNP
Parisbas, Erik Kessels, Hans Gremmen