Willem van de Poll, who later became the Dutch royal family's house photographer, was a travel and advertising photographer during the interwar period. He frequently depicted domestic and foreign railways. In several episodes, retours will be featuring these photos.
Van der Poll's railway photographs were innovative: the experience and aesthetics of traveling were key rather than the rolling stock as such.
In 1932 Van der Poll made a series of photos at Amsterdam Central Station for a railway advertising campaign. They were too experimental for the Dutch Railways. Also new was Van de Poll's use of photo models.
by Arjan den Boer
Amsterdam-born Willem van de Poll (1895-1970) had his photography education in Vienna. Then he worked as a police and press photographer. He became the most important pre-war Dutch international photo reporter. In the 1930s he also took on advertising and fashion photography. His photos were distributed by AP and published in Vogue.
During WWII Van der Poll worked at Phillips, and then became Prince Bernard's staff photographer at the BS (Dutch Interior Forces). After the war, his photos of the Dutch princesses growing up became well-known. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Van de Poll did not have left-wing sympathies. He preferred the glamorous life instead. Still, in 1934 he did make an impressive report on the Warsaw ghetto.
Van der Poll died in 1970. After his wife's death his family transferred his photo archive and copyrights to the RVD (Dutch Government Information Service). The collection is now managed by the Dutch National Archives, which incorporated the tens of thousands of photographs in its image database and recently provided them with an open license.
Around 1930 Van de Poll was influenced by the New Photography movement. It was characterized by the use of diagonals, repetitions, uncommon viewpoints and close-ups to create dynamic images. The new photographers had a penchant for modern engineering and industrial materials. Railways were a fitting subject, as Van de Poll's photographs show.
New Photography coincided with the late emergence of photography in advertising. Product photos and photomontages by Paul Schuitema and Piet Zwart were trendsetters in the Netherlands. The younger generation of Cas Oorthuys, Carel Blazer, Emmy Andriesse and Eva Besnyö transformed New Photography into a socially engaged art direction.
Van de Poll created the 1932 railway photos for a selection pitch. However, the NS (Dutch Railways) deemed his pictures too experimental. The board selected a straight-to-the-point photographer. Van der Poll's photos were not used at all and only the winning candidate was paid.
"The fatal competition system that makes many Dutch advertising agencies work for free again and again”, the journal of the GvR (Dutch Advertising Society) wrote. The magazine showed how Van de Poll had suggested to use the photos: in photomontages for full-page ads.
The selling points of this ad were: speed and security. Look at the raging locomotive rattling on the junction points. You can immediately see the concept of traveling-by-train-plus-speed. Speed once again put to the fore by the speedometer indicating "90". The speedometer also links the bottom photo with the top one. And the symbol of safety can be found in the driver, who scans the track full of attention. Just another ad where the image tells the whole story without words. Tells it clearly. And sells!
GvR monthly, December 1934
Willem van de Poll used the signal bridges on either side of the station as viewpoints to take exceptional bird's-eye-view pictures. He photographed the western bridge itself from the railway yard. Both signal bridges were demolished in the 1970s.
In the same year 1932, the NS (Dutch Railways) issued a poster prominently depicting the western signal bridge. The poster was signed: W.v.d.Poll. Did Willem van de Poll also design posters?
The creator turns out to be namesake and colleague Willy van de Poll (1893-1951). They were no immediate family but must have known each other. They were about the same age, living not far apart, and both were members of the Advertising Society.
Willy van de Pol used photos as a starting point for his lithographs.
In an article titled 'Trade snapshots', he wrote that he considered his camera his associate, assistant, right hand and travel companion.
Apart from the NS, Willy van de Poll designed posters for Heineken beer and Klene liquorice.
Willem van de Poll wat not interested in individual locomotives or cars, but only in aesthetics. Yet there is plenty to see on his photos for train enthusiasts. A bird's-eye view shows two mirrored NS 6100 class tank locomotives, one shunting the other. These large passenger transport locomotives were built in 1929 in a series of ten.
At the right under the canopy, luxury Pullman carriages are ready for departure with the Étoile du Nord to Paris. On the left an electric trainset nicknamed Blockbox is visible, which also appears on a photo taken from a walkway between the overhead wires.
The 'Blockboxes' were given their nickname because of their angular shape after the arrival of streamlined electric trainsets in 1935. The original 1924 white-green livery had already been adapted to practical requirements.
Being commuter trains, the Blockboxes were similar to today's Dutch 'Sprinter' trainsets.
A documentary photographer by origin, Van de Poll could not resist capturing everyday life at the station, yet with special attention to cropping, diagonals and contrast.
Outside the station post office large flat boxes were unloaded from a vehicle.
The boxes were filled with flowers from the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. The Flower Express was a cooperative truck service to Amsterdam Central Station and Schiphol Airport. The flowers were distributed by train throughout the Netherlands and neighboring countries. More distant destinations such as Vienna and Stockholm were already being served by plane.
Nowadays the ICE high-speed train to Germany departs from this part of the first platform.
The 1925 postal building still stands, but a larger station post office built nearby in 1965 has since been demolished. Mail and packages are not transported by train anymore.
Van de Poll immortalized both the newspaper stand on the first platform and a newspaper boy with his cart. Both belonged to AKO: the Amsterdam Kiosk Company, established in 1887.
Just northwest of the railway station a roundhouse was located with a turntable and 15 tracks. It was built in 1928 after the renewal of the Western Island railway yard.
Van de Poll was interested in the roundhouse because of the high-contrast light conditions. Through the large doorways light fell sideways on the locomotives in the dark shed. This made, for example, the rivets in the steel stand out, producing the desired industrial look.
The roundhouse was demolished shortly after 1955, when the Amsterdam CS locomotive depot was closed down.
A few years after the demolition of the roundhouse the Amsterdam Port Authority Building was erected on the grounds, designed by the architects Dudok en Magnée.
In 1995 a round ProRail Railway Traffic Management Building was built nearby.
Willem van de Poll was one of the first Dutch photographers to make models pose outside the studio. Also new was Van de Poll's use of photo models in advertising.
Willem van de Poll was working with a fixed group of photo models, both male and female. The couple getting into a compartment car at Amsterdam Central Station were the models Waldschmidt and Sandhaus. He also photographed the actress Cissy van Bennekom and had his own stepdaughters pose in some occasions.
It is unclear whether these 1932 photos were meant for NS or for another client. Considering the cigarette Sandhaus offers to Waldschmidt through the compartment door, the photos could be for a North Star cigarettes advertisement, but there is no further evidence for that.
The blonde Eva Waldschmidt was Van de Poll's favorite model because of her natural looks. She was portrayed with actress Cissy van Bennekom and also with a young black woman in the 1932 series 'Black and White'. Some 'naughty' pictures of Eva are also preserved.
In addition to photos with models Van de Poll also made product photos. With great attention to composition he was able to create still life-like pictures. The way he lined up train tickets with hard shadows was also applied to Lucien Lelong perfume bottles while working in Paris a few years later.
The photo archive also contains pictures of a coat, hat and newspaper in a train compartment. Again it is unclear wether these photos were taken for the Dutch Railways or another client. They do show that Van de Poll only needed a few items to set a certain atmosphere.
When Van de Poll's photos were rejected, the Dutch Railways were still a traditional organization, averse to experiments.This changed quickly, though. In 1933 his photos were eventually used for a photo collage on a poster and brochure for fare reductions. Not only advertisements became more modern, also trainsets and finally railway stations.
Railway photos by Willem van de Poll — part 1: Amsterdam
Louis Zweers, Willem van de Poll, 1895-1970. Den Haag 2005
Over Reclame-fotografie en een Reclame-fotograaf in: Maandblad Genootschap voor Reclame, december 1934
Willy van de Poll, Handelskiekerij in: Maandblad Genootschap voor Reclame, oktober 1932
Paul Henken, Stoomlocomotieven NS-serie 6100. De geschiedenis van de Tenderjumbo's. Rosmalen, 2002
H. Waldorp en J.G.C. van de Meene, Locomotiefloodsen en tractieterreinen in Nederland 1839-1958. Haarlem 1992
Nationaal Archief: Fotocollectie Van de Poll
Nationaal Archief: Inventaris archief Willem van de Poll
Het ReclameArsenaal: 75 jaar reclamevakpers
Kunstbus: Nieuwe Fotografie