Friday, August 18, 2023

FOAM Photography Museum


Visiting small museums is one of my joys when I travel. Institutions like the Rijksmuseum offer wonderful, expansive collections of well known art. They also draw the huge crowds that often travel by guidebook, and have their checklist of things to see and take a selfie with. I try to spend as much time as can avoiding the crowds and enjoying what smaller venues have to offer.

Bicycles out side the subway station

Amsterdam Symphony Hall

Canal Houseboat

My destination on day three in Amsterdam was FOAM - Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam. This photography museum is in two old canal houses on the Keizersgracht canal. FOAM was founded in 2001, and is dedicated to making photography accessible to everyone and to exploring the role of photography in society. They offer large exhibits of the works of well known photographers, along with shorter shows featuring young and upcoming ones.

© Struan Robinson, Fair use image

My visit coincided with a major exhibition of photographs by Ernest Cole. (1940-1990). Cole was a Black South African who grew up under apartheid. He was given his first camera at age 10, and at 18 began working for the picture editor at Drum magazine, whose audience was primarily South Africa’s Black population. He spent the next eight years secretly documenting the lives of Black people and the effects of the apartheid system. Cole was able to leave South Africa in 1966, and published his work in the book “House of Bondage” in 1967. In the book he wrote -

Three hundred years of white supremacy in South Africa has placed us in bondage, stripped us of our dignity, robbed us of our self-esteem, and surrounded us with hate. 
The Changeover - mine workers at the end of their contract (right) passing those at the begining (left)

Pass Raid

Servant with two white boys

Cole spent several years in the United States, traveling through the south and documenting the lives of black people there, before moving to Sweden, where he lived for the rest of his life. Unfortunately he never published another book. It was believed that all of negatives had been lost, but in 2018, they were discovered in a safe-deposit vault in Sweden. 

One thing about visiting small museums is that in an hour or two and I was done. This gave me a whole afternoon to walk along Amsterdam’s canals and take in the variety of houses that were built along them.


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