Love on the Left Bank


Ed van der Elsken (1925-1990) - the enfant terrible of Dutch photography was a talented photographer and filmmaker who expressed his meetings with people in photos, photo books and films for more than 40 years. Strolling through cities such as Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Amsterdam or traveling through Africa and Japan, he preferably took photographs of striking individuals with character. His first photo book was published in 1956 „Love on the left bank“, which instantly made him world-famous. Some twenty photo books followed. He also made several television films, mostly about subjects regarding his own life. Ed van der Elsken died of cancer in 1990.


In 1950 Ed van der Elsken left for Paris, where he founded “kindred spirits” in a group of dropouts in the St. Germain des Prés neighborhood. In a private diary he kept photographic “notes” about their activities, which he was allowed to photograph undisturbed. It is evident that he was primarily fascinated by the beautiful redhead Vali Myers. In 1953 he met Edward Steichen, who pointed out that his photographs had a narrative structure and advised him to create photography book that tells a story. Supported by his wife at the time, the Hungarian Ata Kando, van der Elsken organized his contact sheets, put together the first of a total of three dummies and started a joint project with the graphic designer Jurriaan Schrofer. In 1956 the publisher De Bezige Bij released „Love on the Left Bank“. Elsken‘s pictures were put together to form the story of the unrequited love of the protagonist Manuel for Ann alias Vali Myers. It is fictional and takes place over a period of months, during which he followed a pair of lovers with his camera and captured a harsh yet tender love story in the working class neighborhood of St. Germain des Prés. The photography book that resulted is not only regarded as the summit of his work but is also internationally recognized as one of the most extraordinary photography books of the 20th century, as it is the first one using the format of a photo novel.


In the break-down of Ed van der Elsken‘s book Markus Schaden, Frederic Lezmi and Nina Poppe have carried out a close study of the history of influence, genesis, and editions of this exceptional photography book. Their investigations range from an analysis of the dummies and contact sheets to research on the Paris cafés, as well as the obscure political circles of the protagonists.

PhotoBookStudies are a new exhibition program created by the PhotoBookMuseum to visually explore the complexity and context of seminal photobooks.