The Nederlands Fotomuseum is about to digitize all 442 albums of contact prints compiled by Cas Oorthuys, one of the most influential of all Dutch photographers. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the historic nature of these fragile albums and the need to conserve them properly as part of the photographic heritage of the Netherlands. For this reason, the museum wishes to stop using them as a working tool in the management of the Oorthuys archive and instead to preserve them as a unique historic artefact. In order to maintain access to the Oorthuys archive, the museum has decided to digitize the entire set of albums. This will be one of the biggest digitization projects in the history of Dutch photography.
The Nederlands Fotomuseum has stewardship of the complete Oorthuys archive. Cas Oorthuys (1908-1975) was one of the most significant Dutch photographers of the 20th century and ranks alongside top international postwar documentary photographers like Werner Bischof and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
A unique feature of the archive is what is affectionately known as ‘Cas’s Cabinet’: a set of cupboards containing no fewer than 442 albums of contact sheets. Compiled by Oorthuys and his wife Lydia, the albums contain sheets of 6 x 6 cm contact prints pasted in by hand. The couple used the books as a way to show photos to clients and other interested parties and then to immediately identify the right negative to produce any desired print.
The albums are arranged by subject in 36 wooden cupboards. They contain a total of over 500,000 contact prints and directly identify the numbers of the individual negatives. For this reason, they are an invaluable tool for the management and use of the Oorthuys archive. Even today, they are still being used for this purpose.
Not only is the set of albums unique in the history of Dutch photography, but the annotations they contain provide insight into Oorthuys’s working methods. This makes ‘Cas’s Cabinet’ a historic object worthy of conservation to museum standards. The Fotomuseum is therefore keen to stop using the albums as a working tool and instead to preserve them in its collection as a unique historic artefact. In order to maintain access to the Oorthuys archive, the museum has decided to digitize the entire set of albums.
Captions for Cas The Nederlands Fotomuseum is seizing the opportunity to achieve a major advance in the description of the Oorthuys archive. This is a matter of urgency because a great deal of the relevant knowledge is believed to be in the hands of elderly people. Under the title Captions for Cas, a proportion of the digitized contact sheets will be placed online from May 2018 and the general public will be invited to help identify the content of the prints.
Retrospective in autumn 2018 The Nederlands Fotomuseum is simultaneously preparing to mount a long-awaited retrospective of Cas Oorthuys’s work. New research being conducted on the albums of contact prints and on the huge archive with its many vintage prints is likely to produce fresh insights, which will be showcased in the exhibition. The retrospective is scheduled to open at the Nederlands Fotomuseum on 14 September 2018 and will subsequently tour internationally. A book will be published to accompany it.