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Leiden University Libraries acquires major 19th-century photography collection on South East Asia

Leiden University Libraries (UBL) recently acquired a major collection of 19th-century photographs on South East Asia. The collection comprises more than 3,700 photographs of the Netherlands East Indies and mainland South East Asia, including Singapore, Myanmar, Penang and Malacca. The photographs are an important addition to UBL’s collection of colonial photographs.

Valuable addition

UBL’s photography collection on South and South East Asia is a rich source for social historical research. The work of such 19th-century photographers as Woodbury & Page, Kassian Céphas and Isidore van Kinsbergen are key elements in the collection. Their work shaped the perception of the Netherlands East Indies inside and outside the colony. Thanks to the recent purchase, the collection has now been enlarged with unknown material from these photo studios. Two highlights are a pair of hand-coloured photographs by the Padang photographer Christiaan Benjamin Nieuwenhuis. It was not known that C.B. Nieuwenhuis also produced hand-coloured photographs. The memory albums also included in the collection offer an insight into the colonial networks of Europeans with a certain standing in the Malay archipelago.

Unique and rare items

The recently purchased collection contains images that provide new information on the colonial authorities and private individuals from Europe, such as the album of a Dutch recruiter of unskilled ‘coolie’ labourers in China, photographs of heads hunted by the government in Borneo and a photo of a public execution in Deli. Of major importance is the work of the first female photographer in the Netherlands East Indies, Thilly Weissenborn, both private and professional photographs. Private photographs are highly valued among photo researchers because it  helps to contextualize a photographer’s oeuvre. Another major addition is an ambrotype portrait of a Javanese aristocrat made in 1858. Early images from the Netherlands East Indies are a rarity.

‘The Tilly Weissenborn pictures are a highlight at the Edwards Collection. They show some of her most striking work, for her own studio and for Kurkdjian. The sample books are also interesting because they show how her works were presented to customers, and personal photographs give a rare insight into her networks and life’.  

Susie Protschky, Senior Lecturer in Modern History, Monash University, Melbourne




(See the individual presentations.)

Opening by Kurt De Belder, University Librarian

‘Introduction Edwards collection’
Presentation by Liesbeth Ouwehand, curator South & Southeast Asian photography , UBL 

Susie Protschky - Intermezzo: Thilly Weissenborn

‘Photo’s of Sumatra’
Presentation Mattie Boom, curator Photography Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Maartje van den Heuvel - Intermezzo: Demonstration camera's from the tropics

Mattie Boom - Intemezzo: Early ambrotypie

‘The volatile tropics: Studio photography from Indonesia in the Edwards Collection’
Presentation by Susie Protschky, researcher Monash University Melbourne

Liesbeth Ouwehand - Intermezzo: Photo Hindou Temple Boroboudour, Java

Closing by Kurt De Belder

The Edwards collection
The collection was purchased from G.A. Edwards (1947), a private collector who built his collection in the course of three decades. His collection was chiefly put together while he was living in Indonesia, where he worked for the oil industry in Borneo and Jakarta from the 1970s. His love of the country and its rapid transformation caused him to study Indonesia’s visual history and begin a collection in this field. The recently acquired collection has been named after Edwards

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